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Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk (born 1943) is a Boston-based 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 developmental aspects of trauma’s effects on people.

Bessel van der Kolk
Known forPosttraumatic stress disorder research

Bessel van der Kolk MD, professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and President of the Trauma Research Foundation in Brookline Massachusetts, has spent his career studying how children and adults adapt to traumatic experiences, and translated emerging findings from pharmacology, neuroscience and attachment research to develop and study potentially effective treatments for traumatic stress in children and adults. In 1984 he set up one of the first clinical/research centers in the US dedicated to study and treatment of traumatic stress in civilian populations, which has trained numerous researchers and clinicians specializing in the study and treatment of traumatic stress, and which has been continually funded to research the impact of traumatic stress and effective treatment interventions.

He conducted the first studies on the effects of SSRIs on PTSD; was a member of the first neuroimaging team to investigate how trauma changes brain processes, and did the first research linking BPD and deliberate self-injury to trauma and neglect in early childhood. Much of his research has focused on how trauma has a different impact at different stages of development, and that disruptions in care-giving systems have additional deleterious effects that need to be addressed for effective intervention.

In order to promote a deeper understanding of the impact of childhood trauma and to foster the development and execution of effective treatment interventions I initiated the process that led to the establishment of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), a Congressionally mandated initiative that now funds approximately 150 centers specializing in developing effective treatment interventions, and implementing them in a wide array of settings, from juvenile detention centers to tribal agencies, nationwide. Based on data on 20,000 children followed within the Network he and his colleagues proposed to include a diagnosis Developmental Trauma Disorder within the DSM5. While that effort failed, they have continue to systematically study the differential adaptation to trauma in children, in the expectation that this will eventually lead to a more precise diagnostic system that incorporates the effects of early experience on RDoC-related neurocircuits, and provide more precise targets for intervention.

Following in the footsteps of Abram Kardiner who called traumatic stress a “physioneurosis” he has focused on studying treatments that stabilize physiology, increase executive functioning and help traumatized individuals to feel fully alert to the present. This has included an NIMH funded study on EMDR and NCCAM funded study of yoga, and, in recent years, the study of neurofeedback to investigate whether attentional and perceptual systems (and the neural tracks responsible for them) can be altered by changing EEG patterns, as well as MDMA and other mind altering substances to change PTSD symptomatology. He has an well-trained clinical team that specializes in the treatment of children and adults with histories of child maltreatment, a research lab that studies the effects of neurofeedback on behavior, mood, and executive functioning, as well as a MAPS funded laboratory that studies the effects of MDMA on PTSD. He teaches widely ,. Nationally and internationally, to a variety of mental health professional, educators, parent groups, policy makers, and law enforcement personnel.

Van der Kolk was born in the Netherlands.



Contributions to science (from 150 peer reviewed publications)

Positions and EmploymentEdit

1982-2000 Founder and Director, Trauma Center

1992-1997 Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

1997-1999 Professor, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

1996- Professor of Psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine

2000- Research and Medical Director, Trauma Center

2008- 2018 Vice President of Research, Justice Resource Institute

2012- 2017 Co-Director, CTTN, National Child Traumatic Stress Network

2018- Director, Trauma Research Foundation

In March 2018 Van der Kolk and the senior management of the Trauma Center formed a new independent 501c3 the Trauma Research Foundation. The Trauma Research Foundation is organized to promote clinical, scientific and educational projects. The purpose of this corporation is to support and conduct non-partisan research, education, & informational activities dedicated to innovative clinically informed projects to develop and implement optimal methods, treatments, and modalities to help children and adults heal from traumatic experiences.


Honors (Sample)

1984, 1988, 1989 1st prize, Solomon Award, Harvard Dept of Psychiatry

1990-91 President, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

1994 Eli Lilly Lecturer, Royal College of Psychiatrists, London

1996 Cohen Chair in Child Mental Health, NY Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services

1998 Lifetime Achievement Award, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

1999 Benjamin Rush Award, American Psychiatric Association

2001 Ben Wiesel Visiting professor, Institute for Living, Hartford. CT

2001 Visiting professor, University of Salamanca, Spain

2002 Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

2006 Bowlby Memorial Lecture, University of London

2006 Richard Lederman Lecturer. Performing Medicine Association Aspen CO

2008 McNamee visiting professor Dartmouth University

2013 Reiss Davis distinguished professor, Los Angeles

2014 Visiting professor, Center for Consciousness Science, University of Virginia;

2013 Visiting professor, University of Bahia, Brazil

2014 Keynote, International Society for the prevention of child abuse, Nagoya. Japan

2016 Wallerstein Lecturer UCSF, Keynote

2017 Royal College of Psychiatry, London.


  • Van der Kolk, B. A., ed. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Psychological and Biological Sequelae. Washington DC: American Psychiatric, 1984.
  • Van der Kolk, B. A., Psychological Trauma. Washington DC: American Psychiatric, 1987.
  • Van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane AC, Weisaeth L (editors): Traumatic Stress: the effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body and society. New York: Guilford, 1996
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Viking, 2014.
    • Hardcover: 464 pages
    • Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (September 25, 2014)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN 9780670785933 translated into 24 different languages


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ van der Kolk B, Blitz R, Burr W, Sherry S, Hartmann E (February 1984). "Nightmares and trauma: a comparison of nightmares after combat with lifelong nightmares in veterans". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 141 (2): 187–90. doi:10.1176/ajp.141.2.187. PMID 6691477.
  3. ^ Van der Kolk BA, Ducey CP (July 1989). "The psychological processing of traumatic experience: Rorschach patterns in PTSD". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2 (3): 259–74. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  4. ^ The first published biological model for PTSD; van der Kolk B, Greenberg M, Boyd H, Krystal J (March 1985). "Inescapable shock, neurotransmitters, and addiction to trauma: toward a psychobiology of post traumatic stress". Biological Psychiatry. 20 (3): 314–25. PMID 2858226.
  5. ^ One of the first studies to elucidate the role of committing atrocities, “moral injury”, for developing PTSD; van der Kolk B. "Neurofeedback to enhance executive functioning in children with histories of severe abuse and neglect: Applying the lessons from neuroscience research". The Eppley Foundation for Research. Retrieved 2018-12-25.
  6. ^ van der Kolk BA, Greenberg MS, Orr SP, Pitman RK (1989). "Endogenous opioids, stress induced analgesia, and posttraumatic stress disorder". Psychopharmacology Bulletin. 25 (3): 417–21. PMID 2626517.
  7. ^ Pitman RK, van der Kolk BA, Orr SP, Greenberg MS (June 1990). "Naloxone-reversible analgesic response to combat-related stimuli in posttraumatic stress disorder. A pilot study". Archives of General Psychiatry. 47 (6): 541–4. PMID 2350206.
  8. ^ The first PET study of PTSD; Rauch SL, van der Kolk BA, Fisler RE, Alpert NM, Orr SP, Savage CR, Fischman AJ, Jenike MA, Pitman RK (May 1996). "A symptom provocation study of posttraumatic stress disorder using positron emission tomography and script-driven imagery". Archives of General Psychiatry. 53 (5): 380–7. PMID 8624181.
  9. ^ The first neuroimaging study of dissociative disorders; Schlumpf YR, Reinders AA, Nijenhuis ER, Luechinger R, van Osch MJ, Jäncke L (2014-06-12). "Dissociative part-dependent resting-state activity in dissociative identity disorder: a controlled FMRI perfusion study". PLOS One. 9 (6): e98795. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...998795S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098795. PMC 4055615. PMID 24922512.
  10. ^ Wilson SN, van der Kolk B, Burbridge J, Fisler R, Kradin R (May 1999). "Phenotype of blood lymphocytes in PTSD suggests chronic immune activation". Psychosomatics. 40 (3): 222–5. doi:10.1016/S0033-3182(99)71238-7. PMID 10341534.
  11. ^ Hopper JW, Spinazzola J, Simpson WB, van der Kolk BA (January 2006). "Preliminary evidence of parasympathetic influence on basal heart rate in posttraumatic stress disorder". Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 60 (1): 83–90. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2005.06.002. PMID 16380314.
  12. ^ Hopper JW, Frewen PA, van der Kolk BA, Lanius RA (October 2007). "Neural correlates of reexperiencing, avoidance, and dissociation in PTSD: symptom dimensions and emotion dysregulation in responses to script-driven trauma imagery". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 20 (5): 713–25. doi:10.1002/jts.20284. PMID 17955540.
  13. ^ van der Kolk BA, Dreyfuss D, Michaels M, Shera D, Berkowitz R, Fisler R, Saxe G (December 1994). "Fluoxetine in posttraumatic stress disorder". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 55 (12): 517–22. PMID 7814344.
  14. ^ Davidson JR, Rothbaum BO, van der Kolk BA, Sikes CR, Farfel GM (May 2001). "Multicenter, double-blind comparison of sertraline and placebo in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder". Archives of General Psychiatry. 58 (5): 485–92. PMID 11343529.
  15. ^ van der Kolk BA, van der Hart O (December 1989). "Pierre Janet and the breakdown of adaptation in psychological trauma". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 146 (12): 1530–40. CiteSeerX doi:10.1176/ajp.146.12.1530. PMID 2686473.
  16. ^ van der Kolk BA (January 1994). "The body keeps the score: memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress". Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 1 (5): 253–65. PMID 9384857.
  17. ^ van der Kolk BA, Fisler R (October 1995). "Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: overview and exploratory study". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 8 (4): 505–25. CiteSeerX doi:10.1007/BF02102887. PMID 8564271.
  18. ^ Osterman JE, Hopper J, Heran WJ, Keane TM, van der Kolk BA (July 2001). "Awareness under anesthesia and the development of posttraumatic stress disorder". General Hospital Psychiatry. 23 (4): 198–204. PMID 11543846.
  19. ^ Hermans D, Van den Broeck K, Belis G, Raes F, Pieters G, Eelen P (July 2004). "Trauma and autobiographical memory specificity in depressed inpatients". Behaviour Research and Therapy. 42 (7): 775–89. doi:10.1300/j146v04n02_03. PMID 15149898.
  20. ^ Beck JC, van der Kolk B (November 1987). "Reports of childhood incest and current behavior of chronically hospitalized psychotic women". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 144 (11): 1474–6. doi:10.1176/ajp.144.11.1474. PMID 3674230.
  21. ^ Herman JL, Perry JC, van der Kolk BA (April 1989). "Childhood trauma in borderline personality disorder". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 146 (4): 490–5. doi:10.1176/ajp.146.4.490. PMID 2929750.
  22. ^ van der Kolk BA, Perry JC, Herman JL (December 1991). "Childhood origins of self-destructive behavior". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 148 (12): 1665–71. doi:10.1176/ajp.148.12.1665. PMID 1957928.
  23. ^ Moleman N, van der Hart O, van der Kolk BA (April 1992). "The partus stress reaction: a neglected etiological factor in postpartum psychiatric disorders". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 180 (4): 271–2. PMID 1556567.
  24. ^ Herzog DB, Staley JE, Carmody S, Robbins WM, van der Kolk BA (September 1993). "Childhood sexual abuse in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: a pilot study". Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 32 (5): 962–6. doi:10.1097/00004583-199309000-00011. PMID 8407770.
  25. ^ van der Kolk BA, Pelcovitz D, Roth S, Mandel FS, McFarlane A, Herman JL (July 1996). "Dissociation, somatization, and affect dysregulation: the complexity of adaptation of trauma". The American Journal of Psychiatry. 153 (7 Suppl): 83–93. PMID 8659645.
  26. ^ Roth S, Newman E, Pelcovitz D, van der Kolk B, Mandel FS (October 1997). "Complex PTSD in victims exposed to sexual and physical abuse: results from the DSM-IV Field Trial for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 10 (4): 539–55. PMID 9391940.
  27. ^ Van der Kolk BA (August 2017). "Developmental Trauma Disorder: Toward a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories". Psychiatric Annals. 35 (5): 401–8.
  28. ^ van der Kolk BA, Roth S, Pelcovitz D, Sunday S, Spinazzola J (October 2005). "Disorders of extreme stress: The empirical foundation of a complex adaptation to trauma". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 18 (5): 389–99. doi:10.1002/jts.20047. PMID 16281237.
  29. ^ Spinazzola J, Blaustein M, van der Kolk BA (October 2005). "Posttraumatic stress disorder treatment outcome research: The study of unrepresentative samples?". Journal of Traumatic Stress. 18 (5): 425–36. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/jts.20050. PMID 16281240.
  30. ^ Ford JD, Grasso D, Greene C, Levine J, Spinazzola J, van der Kolk B (August 2013). "Clinical significance of a proposed developmental trauma disorder diagnosis: results of an international survey of clinicians". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 74 (8): 841–9. doi:10.4088/JCP.12m08030. PMID 24021504.
  31. ^ Levin P, Lazrove S, van der Kolk B (January 1999). "What psychological testing and neuroimaging tell us about the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder by Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing". Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 13 (1–2): 159–72. PMID 10225506.
  32. ^ van der Kolk BA, Spinazzola J, Blaustein ME, Hopper JW, Hopper EK, Korn DL, Simpson WB (January 2007). "A randomized clinical trial of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), fluoxetine, and pill placebo in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: treatment effects and long-term maintenance". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 68 (1): 37–46. PMID 17284128.
  33. ^ Zucker M, Spinazzola J, Pollack AA, Pepe L, Barry S, Zhang L, Van der Kolk B (April 2010). "Getting teachers in on the act: Evaluation of a theater-and classroom-based youth violence prevention program". Journal of School Violence. 9 (2): 117–35. doi:10.1080/15388220903479628.
  34. ^ van der Kolk BA, Stone L, West J, Rhodes A, Emerson D, Suvak M, Spinazzola J (June 2014). "Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 75 (6): e559–65. doi:10.4088/JCP.13m08561. PMID 25004196.
  35. ^ Gapen M, van der Kolk BA, Hamlin E, Hirshberg L, Suvak M, Spinazzola J (September 2016). "A Pilot Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD". Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. 41 (3): 251–61. doi:10.1007/s10484-015-9326-5. PMID 26782083.
  36. ^ van der Kolk BA, Hodgdon H, Gapen M, Musicaro R, Suvak MK, Hamlin E, Spinazzola J (2016-12-16). "A Randomized Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD". PLOS One. 11 (12): e0166752. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1166752V. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166752. PMC 5161315. PMID 27992435.

External linksEdit