The Ezra Klein Show: This Conversation Will Change How You Think About Trauma

New York Times Opinion New York Times Opinion 8/24/21 - Episode Page

“Trauma is much more than a story about something that happened long ago,” writes Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. “The emotions and physical sensations that were imprinted during the trauma are experienced not as memories but as disruptive physical reactions in the present.”

Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist by training, has been a pioneer in trauma research for decades now and leads the Trauma Research Foundation. His 2014 book “The Body Keeps the Score,” quickly became a touchstone on the topic. And although the book was first released seven years ago, it now sits at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, a testament to the state of our national psyche.

The core argument of the book is that traumatic experiences — everything from sexual assault and incest to emotional and physical abuse — become embedded in the older, more primal parts of our brain that don’t have access to conscious awareness. And that means two things simultaneously. First, that trauma lodges in the body. We carry a physical imprint of our psychic wounds. The body keeps the score. But — and I found this more revelatory — the mind hides the score. It obscures the memories, or convinces us our victimization was our fault, or covers the event in shame so we don’t discuss it.

There’s a lot in this conversation. We discuss the lived experience of trauma, the relationship between the mind and the body, the differences between our “experiencing” and “autobiographical” selves, why van der Kolk believes human language is both a “miracle” and a “tyranny,” unconventional treatments for trauma from E.M.D.R. and yoga to psychedelics and theater, how societies can manage collective trauma like 9/11 and Covid-19, the shortcomings of America’s “post-alcoholic” approach to dealing with psychic suffering, how to navigate the often complex relationships with the traumatized people we know and love, and much more.


“The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study” by Vince Felitti et al.

Study on efficacy of EMDR

“REBUS and the Anarchic Brain: Toward a Unified Model of the Brain Action of Psychedelics” by Robin Carhart-Harris et al. 

Book Recommendations:

The Apology by V 

Love in Goon Park by Deborah Blum

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan 

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein.

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“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld, audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.