THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: A REVIEW

Cover The Body Keeps the ScoreIn his recent book The Body Keeps the Score, Dutch-born psychiatrist Besselvan der Kolk presents a comprehensive overview of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It also describes the often-troubling history of modern psychiatry.

Dr. van der Kolk is well equipped to understand trauma.  He spent his early career treating veterans at a hospital in Boston.  He also spent a considerable time as psychiatrist to another group subject to considerable trauma: female victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault.

The premise behind the his book is that violence done to a person takes a considerable toll in every aspect of that victim’s being.  Even if he or she attempts to suppress or minimize the incident, the trauma will surface through the body or parts of the victim’s personality.  Such suppression causes the victim to become profoundly ill mentally or physically.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, only officially recognized in the past few decades, is a condition suffered by persons who have been exposed, either directly or as witnesses, to  imminent risk of death or serious injury.  As humans, we are a violent species.  The number of persons who have been exposed to such trauma is considerable.  And unfortunately, a large portion of these people are still untreated.

Dr. van der Kolk goes through the diagnosis and treatment for PTSD.  Studies were made during and after World War I of soldiers who suffered from what was then described as shell shock.  When the U.S. was about to enter the Second World War, psychiatrists began to again study these World War I cases. Many psychiatrists understood that a new generation of soldiers was to suffer from the same shell shock symptoms.

Despite the subsequent psychological damage done to Korean and Viet Nam soldiers, most often their symptoms were ignored or misdiagnosed.  It was not until the 1980’s that PTSD was formally recognized by the psychiatric profession. And too often in the subsequent decades funding for research on PTSD was cut with other mental health programs.

This books looks at the often troubling history of the psychiatric profession, going back to Charcot’s studies of hysteria in the 1880’s.   Much attention is given the so-called pharmacological revolution of the 1970’s and 80’s.  Rapid advances in psychotropic drugs led droves of psychiatrists to consider these medications as cure-alls for every sort of psychiatric maladies.  They abandoned older forms of therapy, often and disregarded the theories of such earlier psychologists as William James and Carl Jung.

Concurrent with this attitude has been an alarming trend in medical practice.  The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said that the physician must not study the disease but the rather patient.  Yet with the recent push of medical organizations to achieve maximum profits, many doctors have spent minimal time seeing their patients.  They have prescribed medications without understanding individual patients.  The result has been the opioid epidemic that is now a major public health concern.

While Dr. van der Kolk does not entirely condemn the use of medication in psychological cases, he argues that alternative treatments will have long term effects.  He devotes considerable space to discussing such group therapy practices as role playing.  By acting out their issues, patients come to better understand themselves, and often to identify the sources, repressed traumatic events, of their psychological issues.

Much of the latter part of the book is devoted to looking at alternative therapies.  One treatment, neurofeedback, seems to be cutting edge, but the technology it uses goes back a near century.  The electrocephalogram  (EEG) was invented in the 1920’s.  In neurofeedback the patient is hooked up to an EEG machine.  Brain waves are electrically monitored as the patient is exposed, often by the mere mention of words, to potential stressors.  Based on these brain waves, the troublesome stressors are identified.  As with role playing, the patient comes to see the roots of his or her physical or mental illness.

Other therapies praised here are much more traditional, and may not seem therapeutic at first glance.  Such eastern practices as chanting and meditation have a calming effect, and are of help much to persons afflicted with PTSD.  Choral singing also is beneficial to a person’s mental and physical health, for it heals a person to breathe in sync with others.

Perhaps the most surprising therapy described in The Body Keeps the Score is theatre.  Yet a movement has started called Theatre of War in which veterans perform or watch classical tragedies by Aeschylus and Sophocles.  Through the ancient texts, these veterans come to see the universality of their suffering.  By addressing, by re-experiencing, they are better able to cope in their everyday lives.

Certainly much of the psychiatric profession is subject to much criticism in this book.  Yet not all is not dark.  Dr. van der Kolk has much praise for the large numbers of social workers who treat their patients with sympathy and understanding.

I heard some time ago of a young woman who was a New York schoolgirl in 2001.  She was in school less than two blocks from the World Trade Center when 9/11 occurred.   In the following years she developed significant psychological symptoms. She was seen by numerous physicians and therapists, and was prescribed several successive medicines.

She did not improve, for she had been misdiagnosed.  It was only in the relatively recent past that she was correctly diagnosed as having PTSD.

This is not a mistake that should have occurred in the hands of competent professionals.  One of my main hopes as an attorney is for psychological healthcare to become part of the legal system.  Many persons who frequent the legal system, often charged with crimes, have serious psychological issues.

But such a step would also require psychological healthcare to enter medicine’s mainstream.  The mental health field needs to catch up with the better developments in healthcare.

Dr. van der Kolk’s book is a step in the right direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BOOK REMINDER

REMINDER:

Today, October 3rd, is the last day my book ON A RAINY NIGHT is available for free through Amazon Kindle.

 

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POETRY BOOK PROMO

REMINDER: By book of poems ON A RAINY NIGHT, is on sale free of charge through Amazon Kindle from Tuesday, October 1st, through Thursday, October 3rd.  Anyone with a Kindle, laptop, tablet or computer can download a copy.

Please feel free to take a copy.  Reviews are encouraged, however brief they may be.

 

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A BOOK OF VERSES

Recently I published a book of my verses: ON A RAINY NIGHT.  Next week, from October 1st through October 3rd, the book can be downloaded for free through Amazon Kindle.  Anyone with a computer, Kindle or tablet can download the book and the needed Kindle app.

I encourage all to do so.  It’s a good little book, with genres ranging from lyric through narrative through dramatic (monologues that have been performed in theatres) poetry.  And so much of life is in its verses, from grief to new-found love, from political injustice through the cycles of history.

Please download a copy.

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BRICK AND MORTAR

Recent episodes of the Netflix series Stranger Things, set in the early 1980’s, featured scenes in a shopping mall.  The teenage characters were shown walking past such Mall mainstays as Orange Julius and Radio Shack.

Indeed, teenagers of the 1970’s and 1980’s spent a lot of time in malls.  A big chunk of their social lives revolved around them.

The Fayetteville Mall opened in 1974 a mile from my house.  One of my friends, upon seeing it for the first time, rhapsodized to me on how impressively modern the mall was.  That Mall also had a cinema, where I saw my first Star Wars movie.

By the mid 90’s, the Fayetteville Mall was in ruins.  Its 70’s structures were crumbling.  A decade after that, it was torn down and replaced by a strip mall called the Town Center.

I probably shopped more at Shoppingtown than I did at Fayetteville. Shoppingtown, located in DeWitt, had been one of the first strip malls in my area.  It opened in 1954, and was later converted into an indoor mall.

Shoppingtown while located farther from my house than Fayetteville, was still convenient.  Twenty years ago, it was always full of shoppers.  It was packed at Christmastime, but still busy year round.  I was able to do all my Christmas shopping there.

Today there are no stores left at Shoppingtown.  The cinema is still running, and there are spaces where people practice sports, such as boxing and gymnastics.  But the lights are dim throughout most of the mall, and the place is dismally maintained.

Is Shoppingtown a sign of the future?  Certainly so many people are now shopping on line.  Yet I somehow think in-person shopping will someday make a comeback.

In the 1950’s, when television became popular, the film industry was in a panic.  Hollywood worried that people would henceforth stay home and watch TV rather than go out to the movies.  For competition, movies offered such new technologies as Cinerama and 3D.

Today the film industry still has to deal with such TV threats as Netflicks.  Nonetheless, the two industries still coexist.  Cinemas have survived.

In-person shopping offers the shopper experiences that he or she cannot get on-line.  Going to a store allows the shopper to touch, smell and even taste the products.

Above all, the live market allows the shopper to look at, listen to, gossip with and socialize with other shoppers.  We need the in-person experience.  As Aristotle commented, humans are social animals.

It may be rocky for the next decade or so, but I do believe that in-person shopping will make a significant comeback.  Somehow on-line shopping and brick and mortar will find ways to co-exist.

 

 

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HUSTLERS

went to see the film Hustlers the other the night without much in the way of expectations.  After all, the film, directed by Lorene Scofaria, stars Jennifer Lopez. whose film career has faltered time and again from less than adequate acting.

The story is based on journalist Jessica Pressler’s New York Magazine expose of a group of former strippers.  These former dancers are shown to be financially struggling.  Some, like the characters plagued by Lopez and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) are single mothers.

Like The Big Short of a few years ago, the new film deals with the financial meltdown of 2007-2008.  It is this crisis that has, among other factors, placed these women in such distressing circumstances.  But also like that film, Hustlers touches on the corruption that contributed to the meltdown.

The main characters formerly worked at a strip club that greedily took back a big chunk of the strippers’ earnings.  Most of the patrons of this club were wealthy Wall Street types, and the large majority of these men seemed to have earned their wealth from financially preying on others.

Lopez’s character, Ramona, launches a plan to exploit the exploiters.  She and her colleagues devise to take these men out for nights of drinking, and then to get them drunk and drugged up.  Once these slimy patrons have lost control of their faculties, the hustling women take money from their charge cards.

So the story moves forward, and the hustlers eventually have to face the consequences of their own actions.  Ramona, of course, is herself a predator.  She is also greedy.  The amounts she steals become successively larger.

Yet she is also nurturing.  At the film’s heart is the troubled but truly symbiotic friendship between Ramona and Constance Wu’s character, Destiny.  Ramona has a way of taking unfortunate young women such as Destiny under her wing, and protecting.

But she also brings to mind the Dickensian character Fagin, who took wayward boys from the streets of London, and turned them into pickpockets.  Ramona exploits her protegees as well as her male customers.  It should also be noted that not all the men she steals from are unsympathetic.

Yet Hustlers does not force us to decide whether Ramona is ultimately a surrogate mother or ruthless predator.  She is both.  It is this film’s willingness to present its characters in their full complexity that makes it compelling fair.

Finally, the actresses in this film give uniformly strong performances.  To my pleasant surprise, Jennifer Lopez not merely excels in her role: she is the force that drives the film.

 

 

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A BOOK OF POEMS

As an undergrad, I majored in English.  I knew by then that I wanted to be a writer, and I anticipated that this would be the best route to go by.

So my last year and a half at the university concerned intensive studies in mostly English literature, interrupted only by one course in the post-Civil War American novel. By this time, I was past the usual adolescent obsession with Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

My main interest then was in the English poets, particularly the earlier ones, such as Chaucer and Shakespeare.  I was also happy, in a medieval history course, to also read Dante’s Inferno.  My appreciation for such bards as Milton and the Pearl Poet would develop later.

Being an English major turned out to be unpleasant in many ways.  I have consistently found literary environments to be uncongenial.

But writing is meant to be experienced in solitude.   Soon after I finished college, my grandfather passed away, and left me his large library.  This kept me reading, and enabled me to become a writer.

For a long time I considered myself primarily a prose writer.  Poetry today is little read.  Prominent poets have been compelled for their livelihood to write novels, plays or nonfiction books.

But through my writing of songs, I came to write poems on the side   Song lyrics are poetry.  Through the songs and recited poems, I came to see that my readings of the older English poets had been a major help to me.  My decision to become an English major had been the correct one.

After years of writing poems, I decided to put together a collection.  My book, On a Rainy Night, is now on sale through Amazon Kindle.

I encourage readers interested in my work to purchase a copy.  Poetry remains, in my opinion, literature’s highest achievement.  A poem constitutes language in its most distilled state.

On a personal level, the writing of a poem is always a happy surprise.  I’ve enjoyed writing these poems, and I hope you will enjoy reading them.

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