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Bessel van der Kolk (born 1943) is a Dutch psychiatrist, author and educator based in Boston, USA. Since the 1970s his research has been in the area of post-traumatic stress. He has studied how children and adults adapt to traumatic experiences, and translated findings from pharmacology, attachment theory, neuroscience, and developmental aspects of trauma's effects on people.[1] He has developed and studied potentially effective treatments for traumatic stress in children and adults, such as trauma-sensitive yoga.[1]

Bessel van der Kolk
Known forPosttraumatic stress disorder research

Van der Kolk is professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and President of the Trauma Research Foundation in Brookline, Massachusetts

His books include Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (1984), Psychological Trauma (1987), Traumatic Stress (1996, with Alexander C. McFarlane and Lars Weisæth) and The Body Keeps the Score[2] (2014).


Early lifeEdit

Van der Kolk was born in the Netherlands.


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 he 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 in the U.S. 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 DSM-5. While that effort failed, they have continued 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.

In 2014, van der Kolk published The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, a book exploring what has been discovered about PTSD and how new research in neuroscience is changing the way we understand the effect of trauma on the brain.[3][4]

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 studies of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)[citation needed] and of modern yoga used for therapeutic purposes,[5] and, in recent years, the study of neurofeedback to investigate whether attentional and perceptual systems (and the neural pathways responsible for them) can be altered by changing electroencephalography (EEG) patterns, as well as MDMA and other mind altering substances to change PTSD symptomatology. He has a 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.

Van der Kolk teaches nationally and internationally to a variety of mental health professional, educators, parent groups, policy makers, and law enforcement personnel.

Journal articlesEdit

Van der Kolk has written journal articles on the basic mental and biological parameters of PTSD (including the first published biological model for PTSD; one of the first studies to elucidate the role of committing atrocities, “moral injury”, for developing PTSD; the first PET study of PTSD; and the first neuroimaging study of dissociative disorders); psychopharmacology; memory; pervasive role of trauma in psychiatric disorders; complex PTSD, disorders of extreme stress, and developmental trauma; and innovative treatments.

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[6][7]
  • 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 501(c)(3) organization, the Trauma Research Foundation. The Foundation is organized to promote clinical, scientific and educational projects. Its purpose is to support and conduct non-partisan research, education, and 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.


  • 1984, 1988, 1989 1st prize, Solomon Award, Harvard Dept of Psychiatry
  • 1990–1991 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
  • 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, Alexander C., Weisæth, 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. ISBN 9780670785933. Hardcover. 464 pages. English. Translated into 24 different languages.


  1. ^ a b Interlandi, Jeneen (22 May 2014). "A Revolutionary Approach to Treating PTSD". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-14 – via
  2. ^ Revanche, Jonno (14 September 2017). "Photography saved me. Staring down a lens, I re-ordered painful memories". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-03-14 – via
  3. ^ Viveiros, Nelia (2017). "Review of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk". Journal of Loss and Trauma. 22 (2): 167–169. doi:10.1080/15325024.2016.1173454.
  4. ^ Bhattacharya, Shaoni. "The lifelong cost of burying our traumatic experiences". New Scientist. Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  5. ^ Nolan, Caitlin R. (2016). "Bending without breaking: A narrative review of trauma-sensitive yoga for women with PTSD". Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 24: 32–40. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2016.05.006.
  6. ^ "Famed trauma therapist responds to allegations of bullying: 'It's an outrageous story'". Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  7. ^ Reporter, Liz Kowalczyk-. "Allegations of employee mistreatment roil renowned Brookline trauma center". Retrieved 2019-03-14.

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