Psychiatry Must Stop Ignoring Trauma, with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Kermit Cole

Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk explores his field’s long, complex, and stubborn history with trauma. Dr. van der Kolk explains how psychiatry as a whole avoided progress, often misdiagnosing trauma as hysteria or, in the case of shell-shocked soldiers, malingering. The experiences of abused women and children were more or less ignored for a century. They’re still being ignored in ways, he says. Psychiatry is still too focused on abstract diagnoses and not cognizant enough of the traumatic experiences that lead to them. His latest book “The Body Keeps the Score” was written to draw attention to how traumatic disorders can be avoided.

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected]

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  1. Bessel’s book, “Body keeps the Score” was given to me by my chaplain, Becca Stevens. She needed someone to read and write a review of this book, as she deals with trauma daily in the Magdalene, a program that helps women to get off the streets and end prostitution and drug abuse. I experienced narcissism in my second marriage and read that it was incurable, but I had hope that it could be. When I read this book and took notes for the summary, I worked through a lot of my issues, fears, and re-processed a lot of small traumas that were tucked away in the cracks of my consciousness. It wasn’t easy, there was a flu infused depression, but I pulled myself out of it by breathing, singing, yes, singing my favorite song over and over again was the most amazing therapy! Then I realized that narcissists are traumatized individuals, they started treating me differently. It was magic, they all wanted to talk to me. We need more practitioners that would seek non-chemical non-drug treatments, and I pray that Bessel’s proposal to create a complex trauma diagnosis will be approved.

  2. Thanks for posting this video. It would be nice to see more trauma awareness building content on this site. Psychiatry has long ignored trauma. Psychiatrists need to be more thoughtful about prescribing medications and diagnosis. Too many people are misdiagnosed with supposed brain biochemistry disorders when the root of their pain and suffering is trauma. It is not enough to critique the DSM or question the role of Big Pharma. We need to start questioning why trauma is denied? Why are so many psychiatrists uncomfortable asking the difficult questions? When will trauma informed practices become so much integrated into healthcare systems that psychiatry will have no choice to adapt to this new paradigm of understanding mental health?