Once Praised, Now Criticized (& Allegations Fly)
When I first read about C-PTSD, I read Dr. Judith Herman’s “Trauma and Recovery” (as she’d recognized and named the condition first, in 1988, and published her book in 1992). I then read “The Body Keeps the Score” because of the buzz. What I found was that Dr. Herman’s work showed the history of PTSD, how she came to recognize this ‘new’ type of trauma, which parts of the brain were affected, and some ideas about how to treat it, depending on where the trauma came from.
In 1997, it was reprinted with current information, noting that not much had changed since 1992. Another edition came out in 2022. All three were called “the foundational text for understanding trauma survivors.”
In 2014, after two editions of “Trauma and Recovery” had come out and much research had been done on C-PTSD, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk published “The Body Keeps the Score.” His credentials were three decades of work with trauma survivors at his private office, the Trauma Center at JRI. No insurance was accepted there, so it was only available to the upper-middle-class and beyond. Though anyone can be repeatedly traumatized, it is less likely that people with more money experience it in many aspects of their lives on a regular basis throughout the majority of their lives.
Note: his previous books, published in 1984, 1987, and 1996 focus solely on PTSD. TBKTS is the first to mention C-PTSD.
I gave this book one star for the easier-to-understand descriptions of neurology and how trauma affects our brains and bodies on both an infinitesimal and a total-body scale. However, there it ended its usefulness to me and to most people living with C-PTSD.
Dr. van der Kolk introduced various recovery methods, including EMDR, biofeedback, play, yoga, etc. As therapeutic devices, economic accessibility is low, though the treatments themselves may be extremely helpful. I have Medicaid that pays for every specialist and type of care I’ve ever needed. No one has ever referred me to these treatments — likely because they won’t take any insurance or they don’t want to deal with Medicaid. Either way, the lack of attention paid to the average person with C-PTSD was concerning.
Several years later, I heard that much of his past was … questionable: he defended repressed memory theory; used psychomotor therapy, which is not widely practiced nor supported by clinical studies; discourages talk-therapy, which allows a trauma victim to tell and claim their story/stories and to have structured support while they do so until it’s mostly a normalized memory of an unfortunate event, rather than able to trigger and cause fear responses; was mentored by the infamous fraud, Bruno Bettleheim; was cagey when describing what records he had and had kept and to what degree of security relating to “Dissociation and the Fragmentary Nature of Traumatic Memories: Overview and Exploratory Study” which is published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, Volume 8, Number 4, 1995; was ultimately kicked out of the Trauma Center by its parent org, the Justice Resource Institute, due to charges of creating a hostile work environment to women and then claimed the JRI did so to steal $2.5 million in donations to the Trauma Center—long story short: he sued the JRI, they settled out of court, and he founded another trauma center with that money. Meanwhile, the original Trauma Center at JRI closed for good in 2020.
So while his book may have been useful, especially to those who never heard about Dr. Herman, whose shoulders Dr. van der Kolk stood on to make his mark nearly 30 years later, some of his methods, the source of his tutelage, his inaccessibility to those who think/thought they needed him most, and being permanently barred from the JRI for creating a hostile work environment does not merit more than one star for an intelligent but simple explanation of trauma’s effects on the brain and body (not all of which are factual, but I’m done grandstanding).
There are so many better books recommended below, including Herman’s. Please give them a chance. This man doesn’t need your attention or your money.