Point of View

Point of View

When Talk Isn’t Enough: Easing Trauma’s Lingering Shock

By Ryan Howes

July/August 2014

As therapists, we inhabit a professional culture that stresses the importance of being accommodating, tactful, nonconfrontational. It’s part of our job description to get along with people, play well with others, and not rock the boat. Nevertheless, there are times when a therapist with a sufficient sense of mission who genuinely cares about underserved clients needs to stop worrying about rubbing some people—particularly the powers that be—the wrong way.

On one level, Bessel van der Kolk looks and sounds like one of the powers that be. Not only is he a classically trained psychodynamic psychiatrist who underwent his own analysis, he even looks and sounds a bit as if he could have been in Freud’s inner circle. Medical director of The Trauma Center in Boston, professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, and director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network, he perfectly embodies the role of Big Cheese in psychotherapy circles. And yet, fundamentally, he’s a rebel—or perhaps a knight-errant would be a better term—who fights on behalf of traumatized people, fervently committed to bringing them the best treatment possible and not afraid to offend the therapeutic establishment in the process.

For the past 30 years, he’s been instrumental in bringing the insights of neuroscience into our understanding of trauma, and was the first “establishment” psychiatrist to publicly champion a range of unconventional mind–body…

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Thursday, July 17, 2014 4:36:20 AM | posted by jeffrey von glahn
The key to trauma resolution is what I refer to as the unforced activation of emotional experiencing; i.e., it spontaneously emerges coincident with the support the person receives for what he/she has been experiencing. Debriefing immediately afterwards on cue violates this principle, and it causes the forced activation of emotional experiencing, which overloads the ANS and isn't therapeutic. This also, unfortunately, gives the impression that crying only makes the person feel worse. With unforced activation, crying is the best medicine. See my brief article in the May/June 2012 issue. EMDR creates exemplary conditions for unforced activation and many clients are reported as crying. In Shapiro's very first article (1989), a person recovered from a childhood trauma with 11/2 minutes of deep crying. Crying is psychotherapy's Best Kept Secret.