Dr. Bessel van der Kolk: Psychiatry Has a Long, Stubborn History with Trauma

One of the field's most acclaimed psychiatrists explains the dangers of neglecting the severity of intense traumatic experiences. 

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk: Psychiatry Has a Long, Stubborn History with Trauma

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk argues in his latest Big Think interview that the psychiatric field has a complex history with trauma that has, more often than not, consisted of psychiatrists sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling, "I can't hear you!"


Okay, so maybe it hasn't been that churlish, but certainly stubborn. The good doctor explains below:

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
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Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.

An artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
  • The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
  • The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
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Scientists find the "magic number" that links forces of the universe

Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.

The Universe and the fine-structure constant.

Credit: Adobe
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  • A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
  • This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
  • The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
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A new system separates oxygen and hydrogen from Mars’ water

Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.

Illustration of Mars' long-gone Jezero Lake

Technology & Innovation
  • Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
  • Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
  • The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
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How officials will ensure the COVID-19 vaccine stays cold enough in transit

Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?

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