How Trauma Traps Survivors in the Past –
A Look at Trauma Therapy with
Bessel van der Kolk, MD

One of the perils of trauma is that it can destroy a survivor’s sense of time.

But when this happens, how can we help to restore it?

Recently, I spoke with Bessel van der Kolk, MD, considered the world’s leading expert in post-traumatic stress.

Watch below as Bessel explains how trauma affects our patients’ sense of time, and what type of trauma therapy might help re-establish it − it’s only 3 minutes long.

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If what Bessel said here interested you, check out our Rethinking Trauma Webinar series.

What are your thoughts on the effects of trauma on our sense of time? Please share your comments about the video below.



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  1. Replica Bags Wholesale I have found myself coming over to your blog site more often so much that my visits are just about every day now! [Reply]

  2. Yoga, Pilates and other body movement interventions (including controlled breathing) helped me in my 20s to begin to have a sense of self, to improve my sense of my body in space, to improve sense of time, and to improve appreciation for my body, all of which helped to provide a foundation for the healing process that continued for several years. I am glad professionals are beginning to be able to work with individuals as a ‘whole’ person versus specialties, or certain techniques. I believe we are much more able to help people heal now and am happy to still be practicing during a time when the whole person is the focus of treatment. I am enjoying this site and the trainings and appreciate my colleague letting me know about it! I believe one of the best resources I have as a professional is my own personal healing process after years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and having my own health processes validated by research and other professionals now during my winter years!!!!

  3. Thank you for the lectures that you are making available to so many people. This is true education. Understanding these concepts is most liberating. Understanding the role of the breath in keeping these old programs locked into the body is most useful. By learning to breath through the sensations/emotions (emotion=energy moving) people are equipped with a valuable key to opening to the past trauma with confidence and allowing the re programing of the body/mind to happen. Blessings.

    • Boguslaw says:

      as quoted on Helen’s blog: “Frueh, a prsofesor of public psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. “My concern about the policies is that they create perverse incentives to stay ill. It is very tough to get better when you are trying to demonstrate how ill you are.”Frueh’s quote makes no sense to me. Admitting that PTSD is an actuality does not keep a person ill. Why would a young guy want to identify as ill if they weren’t actually ill? That makes no sense to me. He’s acting like those suffering are completely at the mercy of suggestion. I agree that the prevelance of PTSD should not be used as either a rallying cry for the anti-war movement, nor should the rates of PTSD be down-played to support the pro-war groups, either. What does concern me in addition to the mental anguish that is suffered by the soldiers is the incredibly high incidence of head injuries and the number of young men who have lost limbs in this war. I hope that no expense is spared in caring for them. We owe them that at the very least.

  4. Elaine Dolan says:

    Dr. Ruth,

    It seems that what Van der Kolk has to say is solely about
    Somatic Experiencing with some Carl Rogers empathetic
    listening. Am I pretty accurate?

    • Some man says:

      I suggest you work more on your issues, they’re not completely resolved yet. I can feel how hurtful they are. But they will resolve with consistency.

      Just one key thing, do not doubt that in this world you will be alright no matter what.

  5. Elaine Dolan says:

    Boy, I feel as if I could teach people so much about what to do to unravel trauma.
    My newest resource is these subliminal backwards and soft hypnosis recordings of
    affirming messages that the REALITY-CONSCIOUS mind cannot fight off. Subliminal TLC
    runs deep, because there is nothing to deny…your conscious mind can’t hear anything…
    and if there was a problem with either/or both sexes–and this is key—there is no one to distrust.

    I have had two major instances of SEEING or FEELING traumas come forward,
    as if to bubble up out of a hysterical past(no-memory of what happened)…when
    using a headset of positive,love-building affirmations all night. The key seems to be over-riding, or sneaking past the conscious mind(that*knows better*…it *has proof*…it *fights* positive input).
    It is NOT GOING OVER THE PAST– but percolating it like a thought-bubble with TLC.

    Have chosen affirmations concerning all my weaknesses and they feel SO GOOD!
    In the morning after, I can SEE during waking hours, when e.g. I’m socially dysfunctional, and attempt to act differently, without feeling beaten up or to blame.

  6. Joseph Maizlish says:

    In my crisis counseling work with mostly “non-diagnosed” people who are experiencing traumatic stress reactions I have found my way the method Dr. van der Kolk describes. I often start with asking about the person’s bodily status and sensations, and then ask them to compare those with their condition during and immediately after the traumatic event and during the period since. This gets them using the message about change and time. And I do the same with the interview itself, often reviewing the topics dealt with in the order we have moved through them.

    It is helpful to have this directly discussed by Dr. van der Kolk. I believe most experienced trauma clinicians make use of the concept — often without realizing it. It’s very helpful to have it identified so we can use it and evaluate it and learn from it consciously — and help those we treat do the same.

  7. Mary Jazzar says:

    I would have never out their weapons on me .Verble,Sex, hair puling , biting. I don’t believe there was one day a my childhood I was always see someone get beatin up.Still having triggers. The list is so bad I don’t have the whole day to tell you more. Have a blessed day and year. And good for you trying to make life a little easy

    • Hope you are living well now and have a more peaceful life.

      • Lori says:

        I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be just what I’m liokong for. Do you offer guest writers to write content for your blog? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write regarding here. Again, awesome website!

  8. Crystal Hawk says:

    It’s certainly true that people get caught in a past time zone with trauma. Thats’s why Energy Psycology modalities can be such a great help. Six sessions of Emotional Freedom Techiques – EFT- offered to American Veterans during a recent American Study (I was the co-ordinator) allowed 90% of them to eliminate their PTSD or get their numbers so low that they were no longer considered to have the PTSD. And especially the modality called Matrix Reimprinting which allows the person with trauma to revisit the time zone in which the tauma took place and actually change the outcome. With Energy Psychology modalities clients are completely relieved from the trauma and have a new sense of safety in their present time zone.

    • I think Eft is great as you get to speak your ‘truth’ in your own way as you tap and you deal with what arises from the subconscious mind. Tapping away through thoughts and emotions as they emerge from the energy body gives release. The story surrounding the trauma unfolds during the tapping. We acknowledge it and there is no need to reframe it or change it. It is what it is, as awful ad it is . By applying Patricia Carringtons lovely choice statements the truma sufferer can choose to believe that their suffering can end and do trust in the impermanence of fearful thoughts and emotions and beliefs.

  9. Marty says:

    Excellent concepts about time. Most childhood complex PTSD suffers describe feeling like a child when triggers explode. Ever hear I do not have time to heal?

    Time in my mind is man made. When we become late and rush, we leave this moment. Awareness and getting in touch with our own inner world is needed.

    How do you convince a person that trauma thoughts are not real or have absolutely no power. Difficult when the body is firing like we face a lethal threat. How can you stay present with this fear exploding is the issue. What therapy do you use to be able to stay focused on the breath instead of avoiding or dissociating.

    From a lay persons view point thoughts are air without action. Trauma thoughts are long over with absolutely no effect on anyone. others do not even know what we carry from childhood or do they care.

    These thoughts in my mind have the switch to our fight or flight or freeze mechanism. maybe in a way it is our trauma stored in our amygdala that is disordered and active now. The amygdala is not available consciously or cognitively for us. It acts five full seconds before cognitive skills arrive.

    What skill will stand up to a trigger firing with cortisol and adrenaline dumping into our nervous system.

    Mindfulness for me is the answer. meditation is to abstract and has so many negative connotations.

    here is a breathing model that allows novices to focus long enough on the breath till an emotion, thought or feeling fades. As explained in the video emotions, feelings and thoughts are impermanent and change or fade without attention.

    Here is a comparison of the counting method and a continuum that stands up under the adrenal stress moment of trauma. As a person who has used mindfulness and refined it, I am trying to give the experience of healing from inside.

    Somehow clients of those who have healed need a spot to give feedback and maybe best practices. From a clients stand point the presentations of therapies are numerous and complex. We have no,idea what works best, average time spent healing. So, my responses are an offering from someone who has walked the walk and tried to simplify the path for others. if nothing else my breathing track allows novices to use mindfulness easily. Thank you for this site. Cutting edge and informative.

    • Kathryn says:

      Marty, I really appreciate your blog — wonderful resources you’ve compiled here for all! Thanks very very much! :)

      • Trix says:

        A good many vaulbales you’ve given me.

      • Marty says:

        Thank you very much. I am not trying to be an expert. My goal is to share my experience and maybe wisdom of my journey. My skill set has many things that therapists never experience. The same goes for me and the experience a therapist has with education and on the job working.

        briefly my father was a critical violent narcissist with an over zealous mother speaking to God at times. My father used two tools to make me a professional baseball player. criticism and violence. My personality was actually suppressed to introvert to survive. I was forced fed once a week and beat when I threw up the Lima beans.

        I was agoraphobic for six months before slowly using mindfulness(meditation for four hours a day for five years. my experience healing and now reading everything pertinent about trauma, mindfulness, fear, survivor personalities and a professional athletes visualization and ability to focus has made the path crystal clear.

        I have spent the last four years distilling and simplifying a healing model. My blog lacked a way of getting viewers to understand and practice mindfulness. That is when my breathing track model idea became my intention. It was basically looking where we always get lost in meditating and then connecting the inhales and exhales with two flat arches. Then, before me was more, a balanced inhale and exhale.

        This model is specific concrete and you can trace with eyes open with the breath. My viewers have been able to observe triggers from a distance. This eats the cortisol and slowly starts to,integrate. Any client using this model will be more receptive and be able to,practice what direction you give.

        What if you had a handout first session of my model and practice. If someone can find more ways to be present and resist thinking we have a better chance to heal. Childhood trauma takes a concerted effort to reverse the stuck parts and bring them to present moment. We do not know the difference of actual traits and coping mechanisms. From inside my mind this is what I felt, confused.

        Also adjusting our core is a necessity. no negative self talk ever and add affirmations. C-PTSD people like me have low self image and almost a core flawed by our thought. Thanks for the chance to share and learn also.


    • Marty says:

      Here is a visual comparison of the counting method for mindfulness. notice this is a visual that I made to express the description.

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