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Who's in the Video

Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk is a psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of post-traumatic stress since the 1970s. His work focuses on the interaction of attachment, neurobiology, and[…]
  • People usually think about the military when they talk about trauma. But  for every soldier who gets PTSD in a war zone, there’s at least 30 children who get traumatized at home. 
  • The big question continues to be how do you help kids who have been exposed to enormous amounts of violence? How do you help these kids get a sense of self, a sense of agency, so they can make a life for themselves where they can learn, acquire skills, acquire competencies, and become full-fledged human beings? 
  • Bessel van der Kolk’s greatest dream is that in K through 12, kids get taught weekly about self-regulation; what we can do to calm ourselves down and what we can do to orient ourselves. To aid in healing childhood trauma, every school in America would ideally be taught the following: reading, writing, arithmetic, and self-regulation.

BESSEL VAN DER KOLK: People usually think about the military when they talk about trauma. But I like to say, somewhat unscientifically, that for every soldier who gets PTSD in a war zone, there's at least 30 children who get traumatized at home. The big question for me continues to be how do you help kids in particular who have been exposed to enormous amount of violence? How do you help these kids get a sense of self, a sense of agency, so they can make a life for themselves where they can learn, acquire skills, acquire competencies, so they become full-fledged human beings? But the data show is that the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect is the biggest public health issue in America.

One out of four kids get beaten very hard by their parents. One out of eight kids see physical fights within their parents. When we started the work with inner city kids, the amount of trauma that these kids experienced was just unspeakable. People have always noticed that people relive their trauma, but usually people are not aware of it. Kids are not aware that they're reliving their having been beaten or witnessing domestic violence, and when they go to school, they react in a very angry and defiant way with their teachers.

With the kids we work with, we don't talk about the details of their trauma. The main thing we do is we created these conditions, that frighten part of their brain that tells me, "I'm in danger, people are going to hurt me," gets deactivated by having to move together, play basketball together, teach them martial arts. They get a sense of being mutually reciprocally involved with other people where they get a sense of "Oh when I do that, you feel good about me, when I do that, you feel bad about me and vice versa, and we need to make each other feel good about each other." That issue of reciprocity and the cultivation of it is a very big concept these days in the trauma world.

My greatest dream is that in every grade in every school, K through 12, kids get taught every week about self-regulation; what we can do to calm ourselves down, what we can do to orient ourselves, what we can do to have pleasure and evolve with other people to understand what happens in our brains, to experience what happens when you slow down your breathing and you focus on the out-breath, what happens when you toss a ball with people and you play volleyball with people or basketball, and the pleasure of finding your rhythm. And that's what I would do as a core element of the curriculum in every school in America; reading, writing, arithmetic, and self-regulation, and taking care of yourself should be one of the core things that every one of us learns.