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This book represents everything that is groundbreakingly wonderful and and pseudoscientifically horrendous about trauma research. Individuals who suffer trauma are in need of actual help. This book contains some of the best, latest, and most effective cures for trauma sufferers, which can steer patients toward the help they need. However, van der Kolk seems wholly unable to engage in critical thinking when it comes to various treatments.
When attending courses in cognitive neuroscience and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, my favorite professors were those who ripped apart each treatment to examine it for efficacy. The profs held out hope that cures were attainable but put them under the microscope to make damn sure the "cure" would not actually retraumatize and individual or make matters worse. In order to trust a mental health care provider, that provider should demonstrate not only a knowledge of the literature (as van der Kolk does as he repeatedly throws around his MD and Harvard alma marter to assure his reader of his credentials) but also an ability to sort out fact from fiction. van der Kolk seems entirely enamored with outdated findings (that have since been shown to be incorrect) and therapies that have failed to be backed up by empirical support. Most concerning, he seems completely in denial about how easily false memories form and the damage they can do.
On a more positive note, he does a great job championing individuals who are often rejected by the field of psychiatry. Since false memories are real, and they have wreaked havoc on an already traumatized person's fragile life, many aspects that lead to remembering repressed memories have come under fire. This has served to invalidate the real and true experiences suffered by many people during their childhoods and beyond. Under particular scrutiny is dissociation, something that can be particularly difficult for survivors to deal with, is treated as if it doesn't exist. This is certainly a problem and I do not know how to find a middle ground between dissociation deniers and false memory/ personality creating therapists, but I would venture to say that van der Kolk's approach is not it. There has got to be a better way to validate the real, and sometimes repressed traumas while, at the same time, not creating new ones by promoting fictitious experiences that do not exist.
Additionally, there is a lot of study involving a person's perception that never made it into this book. I understand that, again, it is difficult to take on the effects of perception while simultaneously trying to validate what really happened to people. But, perception can really affect mental health and subsequent behavior. Not only that, there is a very real phenomenon in which excused behavior can cause the trauma sufferer to continue to delve out trauma to others. While van der Kolk mildly touched on this at times, he did not do so in any in depth of concrete manner.
This book could have been half as long and, if van der Kolk had stuck to only empirically sound findings and treatments, could have been a great book. Associating words with Harvard and MD doesn't make them true. It just makes people believe them more. Sometimes that is more harmful than helpful.
Despite the foregoing criticisms, this book, with its many chapters on various treatments, might help trauma sufferers seek a treatment that seems right for them.
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As a law enforcement chaplain, I was looking for a book that would thoroughly describe the effects of trauma on first responders. The author has compiled a thorough description of a variety of traumas, their cummulative affects, signs and symptoms leading to post traumatic stress disorder. The book has been eye opening and intriguing. It is well worth the price. I feel like I completed a university course in PTSD diagnosis and treatment.