Learning to Bear the Unbearable

Learning to Bear the Unbearable

How MDMA Works

By Bessel van der Kolk, Rich Simon

September/October 2018

Over the past three or four decades, Bessel van der Kolk has been as influential as anyone in shaping the landscape of the trauma treatment world. As an author, researcher, and outspoken voice on the conference circuit, he’s devoted himself to seeking out the newest developments and focusing attention on the innovative approaches that he believes advance clinical practice, no matter how unconventional they may seem. He’s most widely known as the author of The Body Keeps the Score, a New York Times bestseller that tells the story of how our understanding of the role of trauma in mental illness has changed profoundly over the past 20 years. Here, he assesses the importance and possible impact of the growing psychedelic-therapy movement.

Psychotherapy Networker: Let’s start with the obvious. With all the clinical approaches we already have, why do we need something like psychedelic therapy?

Bessel van der Kolk: Lots of traumatized people continue to be overwhelmed by the memory of their traumas. Now that trauma has become a widely recognized issue in psychology and psychiatry, there’s a tendency to trivialize it as simply a “bad experience,” as in “tell me your trauma story.” However, the nature of trauma is that it overwhelms; it’s unbearable in its horror. Nobody in his right mind would want to voluntarily relive it in all of its horror and pain. One additional issue is that victims often can’t stand the role…

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