Checking the Score: History, Evolution, Gratitude


By: Ruth Cohn, MFT, CST

When I noticed that this year will be the 34th Annual Boston International Trauma Conference, I was momentarily amazed. I went to most of them. That makes me pretty old! And it also means I’ve been at this for a pretty long time. I remember I would start watching for announcements of the May date as soon as the year turned. I was probably the first person to sign up. Before that, we only had the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, ISTSS, which seemed to me like an “Old Boys’ Club: lots of white guys in suits, many with European accents, and lots of science. But I went to those too. And the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, ISSD, which was a little gentler and seemed to have more women.    

      Trauma training and information were hard to come by in those days. So I went to all of them – I was a shy and silent child of neglect, used to floating around like an invisible ghost. I never spoke to anyone, always sat in the front row, and scribbled away madly. I bought all the audiocassettes of the lectures and listened to them endlessly in my old Corolla on the long commute to my job at the SF VA.   

     I was slightly ashamed that my specialty area in graduate school was “Somatics,” as it seemed rather “soft” and not to be taken seriously by these serious research types. I would come home from the conferences loaded down with books, and I have accumulated a pretty darn good trauma library to show for it. I poured over those books, having grown up in a time when girls were told they were not good at what are now called STEM subjects, I struggled and tried hard to learn the stuff. “Binge” listening to the tapes, (not a term we used then) I knew all the stories by heart. Pierre Janet, World War 1 Shell shock, World War 2 Battle Fatigue, then Vietnam, and the Rorschach. And I must have heard the story about the patient who first said, “the body keeps the score,” a million times. 

     Everyone was rather shocked when Bessel started talking about the body. It was radical enough that our field was talking about the brain. But I loved it. And then Voila, we got the Trauma Conference, which has been a long and continuing hotbed and Petrie dish of tremendous growth and knowledge for us all as a field and certainly for me.

     When I was about 23, I was ravaged by alcohol and anorexia. My enlightened therapist, recognizing that I needed something adjunctive that addresses the body, sent me to a colleague/friend who practiced a body-oriented approach called Self Acceptance Training. I don’t remember much, it combined Bioenergetics and Gestalt, a measure of woo woo, and lots of grand declarative platitudes. “You are a body with sensations. That’s all.” And “All headaches are anger.” But I spent many a four-day weekend sitting on the floor in those circles (admittedly still often distracted by figuring out who in the room was thinner or fatter than me).  I suppose I must have learned something about regulation because I felt better. And I did stop drinking eventually. The eating disorder took much longer, but I am sure the “SAT” helped. So long ago.

     The Body Keeps the Score is a favorite book partly because it tracks my own story. It is no accident as I followed Bessel’s work diligently, long before he knew I existed. Each chapter reminds me of stages of my own professional and personal evolution and development. First EMDR, which I loved, until I learned about Peter Levine and Pat Ogden. I traveled to Boston every month for several years and had the privilege of training with Pat and getting certified in Sensorimotor, which I also loved. Then at a Trauma Conference in 2008, I heard Sebern Fisher talk about Neurofeedback, and it seems since then, all I have wanted to do in combination with depth psychotherapy, is that. (Although admittedly I am compelled by the wide world of psychedelics) … Oy vey. I need another 34 years! But what a great problem to have.

     There is a reason why The Body Keeps the Score is an unbudging fixture on the NY List. The book is a must read and a “must practice”. As a survivor and a clinician, I fervently believe that for trauma depth, and most especially developmental trauma and neglect, depth, attachment-based psychotherapy is necessary but not sufficient; and a body approach, my preference being neurofeedback, is necessary but not sufficient. Together, however, we have a winning combination, and countless people have a chance at a regulated and even pleasurable life. I can attest to that! With all the chaos and misery of this godforsaken world, what a great time to be alive. Thanks Bessel!

Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

Sign up to our newsletter and be the first to get our news and updates direct to your inbox.