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Meet the famous author at center of trauma-program controversy

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a best-selling author whose research on post-traumatic stress disorder has attracted a worldwide following, was fired from his job over allegations that he bullied and denigrated employees at his renowned Trauma Center, the Globe reported Wednesday. His removal capped a tumultuous three months at the center, and he has since filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against its parent company, Justice Resource Institute.

Here is some background about van der Kolk.

■  Van der Kolk, 74, was born in the Netherlands, three years into the German occupation. His father was imprisoned in a Nazi work camp. According to a New York Times magazine profile of him in 2014, van der Kolk often begins sessions with patients with a personal anecdote. The piece described him explaining that his mother was un-nurturing and unloving. But by using a technique to rewrite bad memories, he could fully sense “what it is like to be loved and nurtured by her.’’

■  Van der Kolk is well known for his early work with veterans suffering from PTSD. Later, he became a pioneer of more unconventional therapies, such as yoga, that don’t just engage the mind — like traditional cognitive behavioral therapy does — but also the body. In 2016, Stat News wrote about a program called Trauma Drama, a theater-based therapy program for teenagers with severe emotional and behavioral problems. Studies of similar programs, though, have had mixed results.


■  His 2014 New York Times bestseller, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma,” transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring — specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, somatically based therapies, EMDR, psychodrama, play, yoga, and other therapies,’’ according to the Trauma Center website.


■  Quote (from 2014 Globe interview): “We are very social animals, and trauma interferes with our social being. An important part of healing trauma is to reconnect with the people around you. The individual model of “let me fix you” is in many ways not such a good model. In the same way that people can drive each other mad, the company of people, and being understood by people, can also heal us. ‘’

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at