Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Astonishingly, 80% of all maltreatment of children originates with biological parents (van der Kolk, 2005). Interpersonal trauma that begins early in childhood results in developmental delays that produce disorganized internal functioning. In February 2009, a group of experts affiliated with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network composed a criterion for the establishment of developmental trauma disorder. Led by Bessel van der Kolk, this group of individuals synthesized current knowledge of the effects of childhood trauma into a single disorder, developmental trauma disorder. By viewing the effects of childhood trauma as a disorder, treatment could address the cluster of symptoms as a whole, rather than individually. The criterion for developmental trauma disorder can provide educators with guidance when confronted in the classroom with students suffering from this disorder.

“As human beings we belong to an extremely resilient species. Since time immemorial we have rebounded from our relentless wars, countless disasters (both natural and man-made), and the violence and betrayal in our own lives. But traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scale (on our histories and cultures) or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations. They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even on our biology and immune systems.”

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Chronically traumatized children display a multitude of characteristics. When children are continuously exposed to inescapable trauma, the child will organize itself around survival. The maladaptive behaviors that they exhibit will produce labels such as oppositional, compliant, unmotivated and antisocial. It is important to understand that these behaviors are the result of internal dysregulation and have developed as protective measures against threat. Because they are so dysregulated, traumatized children can exhibit altered states of consciousness, e.g. amnesia, hypermnesia, disorientation in time and space, dissociation, derealization, difficulties in attention regulation, flashbacks/nightmare and depersonalization (van der Kolk, 2005).

“Trauma lives on in your body right now…Our challenge is, how do we help people to befriend their bodies, to love their bodies, to feel safe inside their bodies…”

Below is a lecture given by Dr. van der Kolk that introduces the audience to the key concepts of trauma that he discusses in his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and the Body in the Healing of Trauma. Dr. van der Kolk’s book introduced the public to four decades of trauma research that revealed that psychological trauma is stored in various ways throughout the body. Dr. van der Kolk and his colleagues argue that, because of the nature in which we carry our trauma, the healing process must evolve beyond traditional talk therapies and into a whole body endeavor.

Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD)

Dr. van der Kolk has spearheaded efforts to have Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) and added to the DSM. Dr. van der Kolk and colleagues argue that there is no current diagnosis for children suffering from the effects of trauma; they believe this prevents appropriate treatment of trauma and leads to misdiagnosis. Below are two article; the first defines Developmental Trauma Disorder and the second summarizes the reasons that support its acknowledgement by the APA by publication in the DSM.