Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
I have spent my career studying how children and adults adapt to traumatic experiences, and have tried to translate emerging findings from pharmacology, neuroscience, and attachment research to develop and study potentially effective treatments for traumatic stress in children and adults. In 1984 I set up one of the first clinical research centers in the US dedicated to study and treatment of traumatic stress in civilian populations, which has trained numerous researchers and clinicians specializing in the study and treatment of traumatic stress, and which has been continually funded to research the impact of traumatic stress and effective treatment interventions. I did the first studies on the effects of serotonin-specific re-uptake inhibitor anti-depressants (e.g. Prozac) on PTSD; was a member of the first neuroimaging team to investigate how trauma changes brain processes, and did the first research linking bipolar disorder and deliberate self-injury to trauma and neglect in early childhood. Much of my research has focused on how trauma has a different impact at different stages of development, and that disruptions in care-giving systems have additional deleterious effects that need to be addressed for effective intervention. In order to promote a deeper understanding of the impact of childhood trauma and to foster the development and execution of effective treatment interventions I initiated the process that led to the establishment of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), a Congressionally mandated initiative that now funds approximately 150 centers specializing in developing effective treatment interventions, and implementing them in a wide array of settings, from juvenile detention centers to tribal agencies, nationwide. Based on data on 20,000 children followed within the Network we proposed to include a diagnosis Developmental Trauma Disorder within the DSM5. While that effort failed, we continue to systematically study the differential adaptation to trauma in children, in the expectation that this will eventually lead to a more precise diagnostic system that incorporates the effects of early experience on research domain criteria-related neuro-circuits, and provide more precise targets for intervention. Following in the footsteps of Abram Kardiner who called traumatic stress a “physioneurosis” I have focused on studying treatments that stabilize physiology, increase executive functioning and help traumatized individuals to feel fully alert to the present. This has included an NIMH funded study on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and NCCAM funded study of yoga, and, in recent years, the study of neurofeedback to investigate whether attentional and perceptual systems (and the neural tracks responsible for them) can be altered by changing EEG patterns. Having an well-trained clinical team that specializes in the treatment of children and adults with histories of child maltreatment, a treatment model that already is widely taught and implemented nationwide, a research lab that studies the effects of neurofeedback on behavior, mood, and executive functioning, and numerous training opportunities nationwide to a variety of mental health professional, educators, parent groups, policy makers, and law enforcement personnel, puts us in an excellent position to lead the treatment and dissemination parts of this effort.