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Part 2 | 6 Pre-Traumatic Conditions | A Summary of Dr. van der Kolk's "The Body Keeps Score"

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

By Jennifer Worley, LPC

This blog is the second part of a summary of the free and open webinar by Dr Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score (If you haven't read Part 1 of this 2 part series, you can read that here).  It focuses on reviewing his identified practices to steer ourselves through new and developing traumas related to social distancing and Covid 19. Dr. van der Kolk discussed protective actions that can be taken now to help people deal directly with COVID-related stressors.  The webinar was structured by  six pre-traumatic conditions that are setting up in the shadows of personal safety and economic concerns. The last three pre-trauma conditions are highlighted below. Check out the first three here. 

#4 Numbing Out or Spacing Out (Are you still watching…?)

Numbing out or spacing out can take many forms while participating in homebound restrictions.  Endless hours of netflix, social media scrolling, alcohol consumption, video games and excessive sleep are a few of the activities people point to with regards to numbing out. 

This is a challenging condition in that the amount of activities that individuals are accustomed to having at the disposal, are significantly reduced.  While filling the day now may look very different than it did a few months ago, having an awareness of the prevalence of numbing activities now is an important component of keeping a balance.

With that awareness, one could begin to include activities that link breath to movement such as yoga or tai chi as a protective factor against numbing out.  Another idea is taking part in music or creative expressions, or any activities that bring attention and awareness to yourself, which can offset the hours lost on screens or away from ourselves.  

#5 Loss of time or Sequence  (groundhog’s day)

People have mentioned time passing in a variety of ways, but often heard used as a description is: groundhog's day. One day blending into the other with no defining distinction of a Monday from a Tuesday etc. This point loops into the initial point raised in the webinar which underscores the importance of a schedule.  However, this is differentiated in that we can help accentuate a sense of time by noticing and tolerating sensations in various moments throughout the day.  If you live with others they can help you and you them by noticing feelings and moods.  For instance: You seem tired this morning, you look like you are feeling great after that run etc.  Further, when you can have concrete differentiations of time like crossing days off of a calendar, having special activities on certain days, or other methods that are meaningful to you can assist in accounting for durations of time and reducing the everyday as groundhog’s day phenomenon.

#6 Loss of Sense of Purpose or Identity  (Nurturing our Identities)

The example that first came to mind was the experience many teacher friends shared as a result of their change in methods of teaching.  In schools across America, teachers problem solve, create content,  instruct, answer questions and guide students as part of their activities of daily life. They went from constantly interfacing with students, staff and parents in the school and community to entirely online platforms from home.   It made sense that this was challenging to re-calibrate because the identity of the teacher from in person classroom leader to no in person classroom dynamic was a big shift. Teachers did indeed pivot and now are meeting needs of students in new ways hence imagining and executing how their professional identity and sense of purpose stays intact when the historical ways of experiencing it is no longer possible. 

Loss of identity and purpose can manifest for individuals in as many ways as there are individuals!   This can include identification with hobbies and sports, professions, faith based organizations, volunteering, caregiving and countless other examples. A protective factor here is the adjustment or  creation of  sense of purpose and identity through different channels. 

Maybe the yogi who went to class many times a week now takes part in sessions online or youtube, or perhaps the person whose faith practice is foundational participates in a study group online or personal reflective practice.  By nurturing our identities in alternate ways, our sense of purpose is insulated and protected.    

Bessel van der Kolk’s statement that there are no experts in the field currently is a valuable reminder.  We are all using what we know to inform the response to the possible mental health outcomes of Social Distancing which are unknown. Communicating and sharing of ideas and information from a place of compassion of self and others is foundational... yesterday, today and tomorrow.



If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Jenn, you can reach her via email: or call our intake line: 608-709-6972.

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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]

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