Bessel van der Kolk

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Bessel van der Kolk
Born1943 (1943)
The Hague, Netherlands
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (1970)
University of Hawaii (1965)
Known forPost-traumatic stress disorder research
Scientific career
InstitutionsBoston University School of Medicine
Boston State Hospital

Bessel van der Kolk (born 1943) is a psychiatrist, author, researcher and educator based in Boston, United States. Since the 1970s his research has been in the area of post-traumatic stress. He is the author of The New York Times best seller, The Body Keeps the Score. Van der Kolk formerly served as president of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and is a former co-director of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. He is a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and president of the Trauma Research Foundation in Brookline, Massachusetts.[1]

Van der Kolk has published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific articles.[2] 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 (2014).[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Van der Kolk was born in the Netherlands in 1943.[4] He studied a pre-medical curriculum with a political science major at the University of Hawaii in 1965. He gained his M.D. at the Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, in 1970, and completed his psychiatric residency at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Harvard Medical School, in 1974.[5]

After his training, van der Kolk worked as a director of Boston State Hospital. He became a staff psychiatrist at the Boston Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic. Van der Kolk developed an interest in studying traumatic stress in 1978 while working with Vietnam war veterans suffering from PTSD.[4] He was a research assistant on the 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.[4]


In 1982, Van der Kolk started the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts while he was working as a junior faculty member at Harvard Medical School.[4] Since then, he has conducted numerous training programs and clinical trials.[6] Van der Kolk has performed extensive studies on the nature of traumatic memory,[7] and took a leading role in the first studies on the psychopharmacological treatments of PTSD.[8] He conducted some of the earliest studies on the biological substrates of PTSD[9] and on stress-induced analgesia.[10] Involved in neuroimaging studies of PTSD[11] and Dissociative Identity Disorder,[12] van der Kolk received the first grants from the National Institutes of Health to study EMDR[13] and yoga.[14]

Van der Kolk has a particular interest in developmental psychopathology and the study of how trauma has a differential effect, depending on developmental stage and the security of the attachment system.[15] He coined the term "Developmental Trauma Disorder" for the complex range of psychological and biological reactions to trauma over the course of human development, also known as complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).[16]

In 1999 van der Kolk initiated the creation of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. By 2019, it had grown in to a network of 150 sites specializing in treating traumatized children and their families around the US.[17] He has advocated innovative treatments for traumatic stress in children and adults, such as trauma-sensitive yoga, embodied therapies, neurofeedback, and psychedelic therapies.[18]

Since 1989, he has been course director of the annual Boston International Trauma Conference, which brings together leading scientists and clinicians specializing in trauma, developmental psychopathology, attachment studies, body-oriented therapies, theater and expressive arts.[19]

Van der Kolk's book, The Body Keeps the Score, was published in 2014. As of September 2022, The Body Keeps the Score had spent over 200 weeks on The New York Times best seller list.[20]

In 2017, van der Kolk was terminated from the parent organization of the Trauma Center, Justice Resource Institute, due to allegations of creating a hostile environment that allowed van der Kolk, then executive director of the Trauma Center, to engage in abusive practices.[21] Van der Kolk stated that the termination was an attempt by the Justice Resource Institute to mitigate its own legal responsibility for the alleged misconduct. The executive team of the Trauma Center unanimously protested this termination, and all senior members of the Trauma Center resigned.[22] Van der Kolk filed a lawsuit against the Justice Resource Institute for several counts of action including misrepresentation and defamation. The suit ended in a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).[23] The suit was settled quickly out of court.[22] In 2020, the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute closed permanently.[24]

In May 2018, van der Kolk used the funds won in his settlement with the Justice Resource Institute to found the Trauma Research Foundation.[25][22] The Trauma Research Foundation was registered as a non-profit organization in July 2018.[26]

Van der Kolk teaches within the United States and internationally, having taught all over Europe as well as in China, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, India, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, the UAE, Turkey and South Africa.[5]


  • 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 32 different languages)


  1. ^ "Meet Our Board". Trauma Research Foundation. Archived from the original on February 25, 2020. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  2. ^ "Information and Products by Faculty: Bessel van der Kolk". PESI Inc. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b c d Williams, Zoe (September 20, 2021). "Trauma, trust and triumph: psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk on how to recover from our deepest pain". The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 20, 2021. Retrieved August 20, 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Curriculum Vitae of Bessel van der Kolk M.D." Bessel Van Der Kolk. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  6. ^ "Training and Education Program". Trauma Center. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  7. ^ van der Kolk, BA; van der Hart, O (1989). "Pierre Janet and the breakdown of adaptation in Psychological Trauma". Am J Psychiatry. 146: 1330–1342.
  8. ^ van der Kolk, BA; Dreyfuss, D; Berkowitz, R; Saxe, G; Shera, D; Michaels, M (1994). "Fluoxetine in Post Traumatic Stress". J Clin Psychiatry: 517–522.
  9. ^ van der Kolk, BA; Greenberg, M; Boyd, H; Krystal, J (1985). "Inescapable shock, neurotransmitters, and addiction to trauma: toward a psychobiology of post traumatic stress". Biol Psychiatry. 20 (3): 314–325. doi:10.1016/0006-3223(85)90061-7. PMID 2858226. S2CID 34436511.
  10. ^ van der Kolk, BA; Greenberg, MS; Orr, S; Pittman, RK (1989). "Pain Perception and endogenous opioids in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder". Psychopharm Bull. 25: 117–121.
  11. ^ Rauch, S; van der Kolk, BA; Fisler, R; Alpert, N; Orr, S; Savage, C; Jenike, M; Pitman, R (1996). "A symptom provocation study using Positron Emission Tomography and Script Driven Imagery". Arch Gen Psychiatry. 53 (5): 380–387. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830050014003. PMID 8624181.
  12. ^ Saxe, GN; Vasile, RG; Hill, TC; Bloomingdale, K; van der Kolk, BA (1992). "Temporal lobe changes in Multiple Personality Disorders demonstrated by rCBF and SPECT imaging". J Ment Nerv Dis. 180 (10): 662–663. doi:10.1097/00005053-199210000-00009. PMID 1402846.
  13. ^ Levin, P; Lazrove, S; van der Kolk, BA (1999). "What psychological testing and neuroimaging tell us about the treatment of PTSD by EMDR". J Anxiety Disord. 13 (1–2): 159–172. doi:10.1016/S0887-6185(98)00045-0. PMID 10225506.
  14. ^ van der Kolk, BA; Stone, L; West, J; Rhodes, A; Emerson, D; Spinazzola, J (2014). "Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial". J Clin Psychiatry. 75 (6): 559–565.
  15. ^ van der Kolk, BA; Pelcovitz, D; Roth, S; Mandel, F; McFarlane, AC; Herman, J (1996). "Dissociation, somatization and affect dysregulation: the complexity of adaptation to trauma". Am J Psychiatry. 153 (7 Suppl): 83–93. doi:10.1176/ajp.153.7.83. PMID 8659645.
  16. ^ Treleaven, Sarah (January 30, 2020). "What Developmental Trauma Disorder Looks Like in Kids". Today's Parent. Retrieved June 23, 2020.
  17. ^ "Who We Are". Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  18. ^ Interlandi, Jeneen (May 22, 2014). "A Revolutionary Approach to Treating PTSD". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 14, 2019 – via
  19. ^ "Trauma Research Foundation 'Our Mission'". Trauma Research Foundation. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  20. ^ Blum, Dani (2022-09-19). "'One Foot in the Present, One Foot in the Past:' Understanding E.M.D.R." The New York Times. Videos by Sophie Park. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-04-09.
  21. ^ Kowalczyk, Liz. "Allegations of employee mistreatment roil renowned Brookline trauma center". Boston Globe. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  22. ^ a b c "Behind The Globe". Bessel van der Kolk. Archived from the original on April 8, 2020. Retrieved June 24, 2019.
  23. ^ "Famed trauma therapist responds to allegations of bullying: 'It's an outrageous story'". Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  24. ^ "The Trauma Center at JRI has closed". Retrieved 2022-04-17.
  25. ^ "Trauma Research Foundation 'Our Mission'". Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  26. ^ "Trauma Research Foundation Inc - Nonprofit Explorer". ProPublica. 2013-05-09. Retrieved 2023-04-09.

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