DRMacIver's Notebook

Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

This was an interesting book, and I intend to keep it for reference, but there was a lot I disliked about it. Given that plenty of people rave about how good it is, I'm mostly going to mention what I disliked, but bear in mind that I not only am glad that I read it but it's even staying on my shelves.

It's thought provoking and reasonably well written, and it helped put some personal stories on a number of aspects of trauma that I was not previously aware of. This was very helpful for fleshing out my intuitive sense of what trauma looks and feels like in other people, and I found that quite valuable.

Unfortunately, I have three fairly major complaints with the book, which sharply limited what I was able to get out of it beyond that. The first is about the content, the second is about the author, and the third is about the relationship between the two.

My complaint about the content is that this is not a book about therapy, this is a book of stories about people in therapy. Many of the stories in some way touch on an important feature of therapy but, and I cannot emphasise this enough, they do not illustrate a point of therapy. The types of therapy mentioned in this book are many and varied, and you will learn barely anything about any of them.

The second is that the author thinks he is very interesting and wants to make sure you know this. There is a type of didactism where the primary thing you are trying to teach is that you are very clever and people should respect you, and this book is very much of that type. In particular he drops names so hard that the rate is almost names dropped per page, not per chapter.

The third is that he seems extremely credulous about the therapies he is writing about. The strongest statement of doubt he ever expresses is "This works really well but we have no idea why". If he is to believed, we live in a world where there are a huge number of different therapies, all of which work wonders, and the only thing stopping us fixing everyone's problems is lack of resources. It seems plausible that this is at least somewhat true and that we are currently resource constrained and many more people should be in therapy than currently are, but it also seems plausible that actually many of the cures he thinks work magically well and should be widely distributed in fact don't work at all. And by "plausible" I mean "that's what the scientific literature seems to show".

All that being said, the book contains a number of interesting anecdotal observations about people in therapy, and I do intend to keep it around to refer back to, it's just that the process of referring back to it will be so that I can do follow up literature searches to find information from people who I like more and whose opinions I actually trust.