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Frontiers of Trauma Treatment: The Roles of Attention, Memory, Arousal Modulation and the Therapeutic Relationship

Dr Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Held 22-23 March 2010

This seminar explored how trauma affects people’s rhythms within themselves and with their surroundings. Trauma changes the way the brain processes information and the body engages with the world. Because of altered biological systems traumatised people continue to be trapped by their history and react in a myriad of ways to current experience as a replay of the past. Dr van der Kolk explored the neurobiology of self-regulation and examine ways of befriending one’s body, both of which are essential for the integration of traumatic memories: sensations, action patterns and physical sensations derived from the past. Most experience is automatically processed on subcortical (i.e. “unconscious”) levels in the brain; therefore, insight and understanding have only a limited influence on people’s control over these processes.  This seminar studied the capacity of techniques such as EMDR, Yoga, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Theatre work, and Neurofeedback to help people overcome a traumatic past and regain the capacity to be fully alive in the present. This seminar was held at the Sydney Masonic Centre and was very much appreciated by the 259 people who attended.

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An article summarising the issues raised by Dr van der Kolk in his seminar was published in STARTTS’ Refugee Transitions magazine.

About Dr Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Bessel A. van der Kolk M.D. has been active as a clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of post traumatic stress and related phenomena since the 1970s. His work integrates developmental, biological, psychodynamic and interpersonal aspects of the impact of trauma and its treatment. Dr. van der Kolk and his various collaborators have published extensively on the impact of trauma on development, such as dissociative problems, borderline personality and self-mutilation, cognitive development in traumatised children and adults, and the psychobiology of trauma. He was co-principal investigator of the DSM IV Field Trials for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His current research is on how trauma affects memory processes and brain imaging studies of PTSD. Dr. van der Kolk is past President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, and Medical Director of the Trauma Center at HRI Hospital in Brooklyn, Massachusetts. He has taught at universities and hospitals across the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, Israel, and China. See the website of the Trauma Center for more information about Dr Bessel van der Kolk.