A NOTE FROM BESSEL VAN DER KOLK
For the past forty years I have worked with my colleagues to build The Trauma Center (“TC”) into a premier research, training and treatment center concerned with children and adults suffering from the sequelae of traumatic stress. In order to ensure the continuity of these services over time, with its unique combination of clinical services, world-wide training capacity and state of the art research, we at the TC raised several million dollars in donations over the past decade, mostly from grateful patients and TC alumni, as well as from our families. The purpose of these funds was to assure the continuity of the TC beyond the tenure and lives of those of us who have worked so hard to build the best trauma center that we could imagine.
In 2005 the TC was searching for a larger, not-for-profit entity that would house the Center, and provide routine administrative services. The Justice Resource Institute (“JRI”) offered to do just this, and pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Memorandum of Understanding that seemed to guarantee a considerable degree of autonomy for the Center, the TC became a program within JRI. At that time, I made a grave mistake: because the TC budget was so meagre, I allowed the TC to enter into this arrangement without the proper legal representation that would have produced all the necessary protective paperwork.
Last year when I returned from an international speaking engagement, I found that the TC’s Executive Director had been terminated by the CEO of JRI, without consultation with me, or with the rest of the management team of the TC. While I did not protest the substantive motivations of JRI with respect to this termination, I did challenge the procedural logistics of the consultation-free firing. The next thing I knew, my employment was also terminated—again without prior warning, without discussion or the potential for corrective action, and without consultation with any members of the Trauma Center management team.
For reasons neither I, my team, nor my attorneys understand, JRI chose to articulate a reason for my termination. The claim was that I had created a “toxic work environment” at the Trauma Center. This came as a great surprise to me and the vast majority of my colleagues at the TC, which has traditionally had a very low staff turnover, and has functioned with a team leadership model, based on consensus, rather than through a top-down decision making process. The TC was characterized by the building of numerous peer support groups over its forty-year existence, and it functioned in a general atmosphere of “once you belong to the Trauma Center family you always will”. Our past trainees often stayed on, either as staff, or as volunteer supervisors, and often continued to participate in the annual Boston Trauma Conference (soon to be in its 30th year). Does our attempt to create a Center focused on collaboration, team work and professional integrity mean that we are able to avoid conflict or hurt feelings? Of course not. Everybody who knows me is well aware that I am a flawed human being who can be gruff and blunt, but I have never targeted specific individuals.
In fact, the Management Team of the Trauma unanimously and vigorously protested my termination by JRI, and by June 2018, the substantial entirety of the TC senior staff has resigned from JRI to work with me in creating a new trauma research and training center, The Trauma Research Foundation (the “TRF”). The TRF is a not-for-profit Massachusetts corporation, that has filed for recognition as a Section 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. But it will take a considerable amount of time before the TRF is fully staffed and in control of its own clinic, and hence there will be a great and palpable reduction in the services the TC can offer to victims of traumatic stress. (JRI has announced that it will continue to operate its own trauma center, known as “The Trauma Center at JRI.”)
While the terms of recently concluded negotiations will see the transfer to the TRF of about a third of the charitable donations the TC had solicited and raised, the remaining funds will remain at JRI, supposedly to fund The Trauma Center at JRI. While I hope JRI will be able to successfully hire replacement personnel who can function in equivalent fashion to those who have left, the particular individual researchers and trainers for whose work the funds were donated, by-in-large, no longer work there. In other words, with some exceptions, the senior personnel who performed the research and training functions at TC, have now been separated from the lion’s share of the charitable donations intended to fund their research and training.
Finally, after my termination, JRI was interviewed by The Boston Globe. JRI elected to say more than what my attorneys assure me would have been more appropriate (“Dr. van der Kolk was an at-will employee, and his employment was terminated. JRI, like any corporation, is not at liberty to further discuss personnel matters.”) Instead, JRI chose to articulate to the Globe its management’s conclusion that my interpersonal style with the TC staff involved “denigration” and “bullying.“ These allegations stunned both me, the entire TC Management team, which has by now largely resigned from JRI in response to these pernicious allegations. While I’m dedicated to always be kind and empathetic, I am also aware that, in times of stress, there is room for me to improve my interpersonal sensitivity. I hope you will take the time to peruse the letters from my staff, students and collaborators that follow. Clearly, they show that the vast majority of persons with whom I have worked for forty years did not experience me in this way and are grateful for the standards I have set to make the Trauma Center into a world-class institution.
But in the Globe interview, JRI went further still. The corporate executive who was interviewed used ambiguous terms that could be fairly interpreted to insinuate that some of the complaints that JRI’s investigation of my management style had unearthed amounted to allegations that I had in several instances said inappropriate things to women. This I deny with all my heart and soul. To the extent I sometimes may be gruff and curt, I can assure you I was an equal-opportunity offender.
It is time for me and most of the TC staff to move on and reorganize ourselves to resume our research, and provide the clinical and professional services we have delivered for so many years. We have negotiated a settlement, and I have dismissed the lawsuit I brought against JRI. Perhaps the world and its trauma victims will be better served with two trauma centers—the Trauma Center, functioning under the aegis of the Trauma Research Foundation, animated by those who had formally worked for JRI, and The Trauma Center at JRI, which will hopefully be staffed by the new and skillful professionals that JRI will somehow recruit and hire. I sincerely hope this is the case, because what is important here is to focus on the important goal the two centers will share: their common work on how to better understand and treat the ever-growing number of trauma victims produced by this harsh and violent world of ours.
Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
Sarah Stewart PsyD, Long term Trauma Center student, supervisor and colleague.
I have known Bessel van der Kolk for 30 years. 1989 was when I first came on as a pre-doctoral psychology intern at the Trauma Center. I went on to be a post doctoral psychology intern and then to work and supervise other interns at the Trauma Center for many years. Over that time the Trauma Center moved several times and I sat with Bessel at many scores of team and intake meetings, retreats, conference preparations, had him as a supervisor and then was many years in a peer supervision group with him. The atmosphere has been supportive and with an eye on advancement of student knowledge and the understanding and treatment of trauma.
I have always found Bessel to be deeply supportive of me and my work as well as witnessed him supporting many other people's ideas and work. He has been a pioneer in the trauma field in part because he is so generous with support of others' ideas and research. He supports students and colleagues and is willing to share. Unlike many great innovators, Bessel has been willing to let others shine and has been generous and proud of his students and colleagues who share his passion for helping the field of trauma understanding and treatment advance.
I am very concerned that Bessel's character is being attacked and have a deep suspicion of the motives of anyone who is speaking against him. It is painful to me that a man who has given so tirelessly to the field of trauma is being so maligned without clear cause. I have given money to the Trauma Center because I have trusted Bessel's leadership and I have no reason to trust JRI's leadership and would like my money to go with Bessel and wherever the Trauma Center reconstitutes itself.
Ilya Yacevich, Trauma Center alumna, now Director of the Global Trauma Project, Nairobi, Kenya
Bessel- I have been so torn up about this. We all have our issues and shortcomings. That is for sure. You are not immune from that fact, and neither am I. But as a past (female) supervisee, colleague and friend, you have given me guidance, challenged me to see things differently, pushed me to be a better clinician, encouraged me always when I was ready to give up, and have believed in me and my abilities. The impact of these things is not insignificant. You are tough, yes. And although you push people and push the edges, I have never seen you do anything that is a violation of anyone, anything that could constitute this.
You are open to feedback. You reflect. You have a complete and genuine passion for healing trauma, and pushing this field farther than it would ever be without you. You are a teacher. A mentor. An inspiration. And I know you care for people deeply and would always want to do better if confronted with hurts. I am so heartbroken by this, yet I can only hope that this will push everyone towards greater reflection, and ignite positive growth. Onwards and upwards!
Kevin Charles Smith, Actor/ director in our CDC funded evaluation of theater for violence prevention in the Boston Public Schools.
I have a reputation for infinite patience and diplomacy of a rare kind. I try to weigh my words with care all the time. I try to be just and I try to be fair. Regarding allegations made against you. I can only react with what I have seen with my own eyes for over two decades. I have worked with you and before that, I taught your delightful Son. I consider your daughter to be an amazing artist and a friend that I miss to this day. The following statement comes from this place of knowing you, and from things that I have heard about you from mutual co-workers. So again, regarding these allegations... I make this statement with great consideration. What a crock of bull shit!!!!!!!!
Maria Sauzier MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Cambridge MA
It's hard to see the news in the Globe without wondering, 'Who are they talking about?'
My view of history is not a very original one, but it has proven to be correct many times: the physical pendulum tends towards the mean, but the historical pendulum is attracted to extremes and stays stuck in exaggerated black or white. Like with so much abuse, first we are blind, and then we overdo the zealous cleaning up that may catch the guilty but also accuses some innocents, which then creates a backlash which leads the bad guys to self-righteously go back to their abusing ways. But in the meantime lives have been shattered.
We are now at a stage where ‘you hurt my feelings’ is an unanswerable indictment that allows condemning action and no counterpoint or defense. Liberals = our kind of people, are the worst culprits, and there is no arguing without becoming the enemy of progress.
I may be the eternal optimist, but your situation could start a more reasonable discussion about what we are doing in reaction to the truly horrendous Weinsteins in our midst.
Your work and your leadership, past present and future, have been and are an invaluable contribution to understanding human nature and helping those who have been traumatised. Nothing can diminish that. As I said before, the fellows are eager to learn from you.
You have my support and my trust.
Onno van der Hart, Past President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies - one of Europe’ s most highly respected trauma and child abuse specialists
A couple of days ago I saw that nasty article about you in the Boston Globe…..I immediately started wondering what the real situation was, having my doubts about the accusations. I wanted to write you with moral/ emotional support anyhow, but your own response to the false accusations that somebody shared made me want to rush to you with moral support, compassion, and the question how I could possibly be of help to you! The bastards framed you. I very much hope that your own voice will be widely heard and accepted.
Debbie Asplen Ingraham
Dr. van der Kolk - Your work is in motion - it cannot be stopped. (and thankfully, it looks like you can't be stopped either). I don't work at the Trauma Center but count on me to help correct the character assassination that you've experienced this week. I've known you and your work since the early 90's. I am most grateful to you for understanding not just the suffering of trauma, but for believing and helping us to discover that even those with trauma histories have a life force worth finding. I will forever remember you for your humanity and humility ~ and as the trauma therapist/teacher/voice for the voiceless and the suffering, who hung in with us no matter what. No matter how ugly, messy, volatile, complicated the patients, the movement, issues, politics, became for us or for you personally - you never left us. I and thousands of others with trauma histories and the therapists you've taught to help us - we are all your legacy. Together - we got this/we got you - it will be corrected.
Amy Weintraub, Internationally renowned yoga teacher and author
As I have been saying in the various sanghas where this story has been discussed on Facebook, I owe you a great debt. Without the inspiring interview you gave Mary Sykes Wylie in Psychotherapy Networker in 2004, which validated what I had been teaching about the body's role in storing trauma, and how important yoga could be in the treatment of trauma, I would not have had the courage to begin the Lifeforce Yoga Practitioner Training. Your research and advocacy for including the body in trauma treatment inspired me. … I hope that you and the Trauma Center can continue your important work in the world. I am ever grateful! And I believe you …..
Rebecca Porteous, From Cairo, Egypt, where I taught for a week in the aftermath of Tahir Square to help them with the traumas following their political uprising: rapes, incarcerations and torture
Dear Bessel, I have only the very opposite experience of communicating and being with you. As for your work and your relationships with your colleagues, I think they speak for themselves. I am so sorry that you are one of those caught up in what is in danger of becoming. I'm all for calling out the real abusers, and grateful it's happening, but this atmosphere is, inevitably, being exploited in the professional power struggles that go on in any organisation. How ironic that one who has worked to help and give a voice to the abused for such a long and distinguished career should be facing these accusations. This must be a deeply distressing time for you. But you have many dedicated supporters and I count myself among them.
Tian Dayton, Senior Fellow at The Meadows, Arizona, and Director of The New York Psychodrama Training Institute
No one with your genius for trauma work comes by it w/o personal experience, myself included, your work spoke to my soul and has helped me to help others with so much more precision. And no one with your kind of incisive mind does not have some edges, myself included. There is a witch hunting climate out there at the moment…
You are in no way the proper object of this kind of hunt… it’s crazy….you will not be confused with this mess……people aren’t that dumb-- well maybe they are but your following loves and respects you…in ways you will now find out…..only those who envy you will listen and not for that long...
I feel certain that you did not deserve this and I truly feel and get from what you say that this is the general consensus. You will be known as the man who broke the code of trauma understanding, this is your rightful legacy. Period! (Plus the rest of the world thinks the US is nuts anyway at the moment).
Jane Strong. Director-CoFounder Equus Effect– a program for traumatized combat soldiers
Dear Bessel, I am just reading this now for the first time and am stunned. I know we have only known each other for a few years, but I have found you to be incredibly authentic and down to earth in many ways. When we met at Omega, you were curious about what I did and when I hesitated at your invitation to eat lunch with you, Gabor Mate & Elizabeth Stanley, you said, ‘Oh, no need to be hierarchical. We’re just people’.
To me, you are ‘just a person’ with a very sophisticated mind that goes fast...AND who has endless patience and compassion for people who are sincere. You have always been open-minded and respectful toward me and my partner David.
I know some people are intimidated by strong opinions and intelligence and go into flight or freeze. I also know that this does nothing to resolve or improve anything in real time. I’m so sorry for this turn of events and for the cost to you and the children who need this research...and your presence at JRI.
Lauren G Meem
Dr. Van der Kolk, I've attended several of your trainings and…made it my mission to talk to you. .. what a gracious and considerate man you were. You took nearly 10 minutes of your break in San Francisco to … discuss your views on EMDR and neurofeedback. You are blunt, but in a serious and very passionate-about-trauma way and if people don't understand that, I believe they have their own work to do, including challenging their personalization of it. You have my admiration and support.
From Research collaborators in Australia and Russia
Mirjana Askovic sent the note around informing us of your situation. This is truly appalling. Please be strong and realise you have many many people that support you and your good work.
No matter what happens in this sad saga you will redeem yourself and carry on with your work. Men like you don’t fall.
Malka Faye Katz-Wirch
Dr. van der Kolk, I am truly saddened and shocked, by this chain of events. I am not surprised at the character assassination as that seems to be one thing that we as humans do when others do not act as we think they ought or when we disagree with them. It also seems that attacking a person's character is what we do when we cannot attack the depth and quality of their work. In my mind, they have attacked your character in the hope of drawing others away from supporting and funding your work. I suspect this tactic will not work.
Your work has been pivotal in my work, professionally and personally, as a trauma therapist. Having recently had another psychiatrist try to discredit me and my work I know how painful this can be. As a trauma therapist, I know that my own trauma history has affected how I have treated patients, staff, and colleagues. That is why I continue with my own therapy. But, I know that above all I am human. I will never be perfect. My own issues will continue to impact the lives of others. The question to me is not whether this happens but do I acknowledge that it happens, am I open to feedback/criticism from others, do I appropriately apologize for my actions, and have I sought out my own therapy. When I read your letter, I see all of that in there.
Your work, your research, your understanding of trauma will continue to challenge and teach me in my growth to become a better trauma-informed therapist. Know that I, and many others, will continue to support you personally and will continue to support the work you do.
I have seen a SIGNIFICANT increase with powerful people manipulating public perceptions through the denigration and despising of people who stand for what they see and believe. I just attended your conference in the SLC area, have extensively studied your work, and found you to be an honest and caring man. I saw you spend your breaks in the conference PATIENTLY AND WILLINGLY signing books and visiting with other therapists about similar experiences. This was not a 30 min session at the end of the training. It was EVERY break and at the end of EACH day. It is disgusting that honest people are torn down because they seek to help others and break barriers. Dr. van der Kolk, you have my complete support. The ones who mock and despise you have my prayers for their souls, which are in jeopardy. ROCK ON!
Erin Mccrorey, Intrinsic Value Art Therapy
Dear Dr. van der Kolk,
I write to you from rural Victoria, Australia, in support of the character assassinations you have/are recently enduring. Although I have never worked with you, never met you, I am writing to support you through this time for two main reasons: Firstly because it is your leading work and world wide reach that has profoundly effected my own personal healing journey to which I couldn't be more grateful to both you and my now clinical supervisor Dr. Hassanah Briedis who guided my own Trauma recovery with your top recommendations. To say thank you seems hardly enough, you and your work are not only changing and saving lives all around the globe, for me you are spreading the powerful essence of learning to live a meaningful life. You are an extraordinarily caring man and one need only hear you speak about your work to see this.
Having attended your recent seminar 'Trauma, the Brain & Biology' in December 2017 in Melbourne Australia, I am brought to my second reason for wanting to send you my full support. You have also influenced my own work as an art therapist working with young people who live in out of home residential care here in the Latrobe Valley. At your workshop I saw you present and gift to a room full with 600 people the most invaluable information. But what I also saw was a very patient man give seemingly the majority of his break times to sign books, answer questions and listen to personal stories. I couldn't have been more excited to be attending your workshop and boy did everyone who knows me hear about it. But I left your workshop even more inspired, inspired to do this work, inspired to be more me than ever, inspired by who you are, a passionate, patient, brilliant man with a witty bluntness that wakes people up. I am woken.
Now I just hope that you do not lose that spark. I hope that now in your own time of adversity you use it for yourself to find whatever it is that you are needing right now and use it to wake up the next exciting chapter of Bessel. I can't wait to see what that is!!! Kindest regards and journey well.
For many years while I lived in the Boston area, I attended the Thursday workshop of the Psychological Trauma conference in which Bessel presented. Year after year, this workshop featured the world's leading theorists and trauma treatment.practitioners discussing the state of the art. There could be no better long-term example of an open-minded and flexible approach to trauma treatment as he changed his views and practice to incorporate advances in the field. I was in attendance when he first discussed neurofeedback with Larry Hirshberg and David Kaiser. His continued reporting on NFT over the next few years inspired me to seek training and purchase equipment. That JRI would appropriate the TC's funds is outrageous and I hope the newly formulated TC prevails in court.
My online viewing of speaking engagements done by Dr. van der Kolk display his native "Dutch" demeanor very well. My observation of this culture is their expression is direct and straightforward and I find it honest and clear in understanding. Other cultures who are used to more indirect passive aggressive communication can misread this simple communication as insulting. Is there no room left in social interactions for the differences of culture or at least a questioning of intent? Here I believe lies this grave misunderstanding, unless the other parties were deliberately attempting to destroy someone's character for financial gain?
Reactions of past Trauma Center colleagues and collaborators:
Harry Spence, Former Commissioner Massachusetts Department of Children & Families.
Bessel, I’ve feared that this movement for accountability would one day go overboard, and be itself a source of injustice. This is not the JRI I knew. This action is a source of both outrage and sorrow. It suggests that powerful passion for the mission is now forbidden, and only milquetoasts may lead. That may now be the culture of JRI, God forbid.
So glad you are telling the true story and moving on with the Trauma Center. You must continue your enormous contributions to the world.
Kevin Becker, Managing Director Trauma Center 1996-2004
Bessel, I’m very sorry to see this character assassination taking place. Lord knows, in the 13 years we worked together on a daily basis I never felt bullied or denigrated by you. In fact, just the opposite. You encouraged me many times across those years as I went from being an intern to a member of the management team. No, we didn’t always agree but that’s to be expected in a top notch, cutting edge place full of innovators, like the TC.
As in its previous evolutions the TC will emerge better than ever. And fear not for your legacy...
Paula Morgan Johnson, long term Trauma Center employee
Having worked with you for over 10 years at the Trauma Center, I remember you as a team leader who required excellence, but would never characterize you as bullying or denigrating. More accurately you were a generous teacher who cultivated the clinical skills and careers of many, both male and female. Your standards and contributions have made the Trauma Center a world-renowned, highly respected, cutting-edge treatment and research facility.
From Dr Patti Levin, who was a member of the Trauma Center first class of pre-doctoral students .
In 1988 I met Bessel van der Kolk at the Trauma Center, then at Mass. Mental Health Center. I was applying for a pre-doctoral psychology internship. I got the internship, stayed another year, then did a post-doc. And after that, I was part of the TC family: involved in team meetings, doing research, and supervising. In addition, I’ve been in a peer consultation group with Bessel and eight other senior supervisors from the Trauma Center for over 25 years. Thus, I believe I can speak knowledgeably about Bessel as a person, as a psychiatrist, and as the Chief/Director of the TC. Bessel is an extraordinary man and has paved the way for trauma and PTSD around the world. He’s always on the cutting edge of treatments and is willing to stick his neck out with innovative methods (e.g. trauma-informed yoga) all because he really cares about those suffering with trauma-sequelae disorders.
For 30 years I have watched Bessel grow as a clinician, researcher, and human being. Bessel has a powerful personality and is a charismatic leader. That said, he is mindful of how he uses his “power” and is, in fact, a push-over whenever someone goes head-to-head with him on an interpersonal basis. He listens and learns from his staff, his students, his patients. The character assassinations being thrown around are outrageous and libelous. Moreover, given what he has generously bestowed on the world in the understanding and treatment of trauma, it is cruel and unusual punishment. I have no doubt whatsoever that Bessel will rise from these ashes like a phoenix and the Trauma Clinic will once again flourish. Shame on those who are maligning his character.
Lana Epstein, long term Trauma Center supervisor
Dear Mr. Pond, I was surprised to learn that Bessel van der Kolk had been fired by you and that JRI is attempting to retain the Trauma Center that was built brick by brick by Dr. van der Kolk’s efforts. I was dismayed to learn that donations that I and many others have made over the years for the furtherance of the Trauma Center were being held by JRI. Lastly, I was outraged to learn that Bessel was fired with spurious and unspecified accusations that besmirch his character and insinuate impropriety. I have known Dr. van der Kolk since 1997 when I was accepted as a Trauma Center supervisor. As a supervisor, I sat in and participated in countless team meetings . I have additionally been in a peer supervision group with him
and a number of Trauma Center Senior supervisors for almost 20 years, and feel in good position to talk about a man I know well as a psychiatrist, a clinical director, a team leader and a person.
Although he can be demanding at times, Bessel is never pointlessly so. I have never considered him abusive or misogynistic, despite my sensitivities in those areas. Bessel is a charismatic leader of strong opinion and that, in itself, can be intimidating He sometimes speaks his mind directly and bluntly, but not maliciously.… as is a kind of graciousness and charm that draws the best minds in the field to him. I have personally gone toe to toe with him, and have observed others do the same, on a number of differences over the years, and have always found him approachable and willing to change his opinion. Bessel is dogged in his pursuit of the most humane, effective ways to treat individuals suffering from the sequelae of trauma. He has dedicated himself not only to his patients, but to the field, itself. His passion and dedication are infectious and have made the Trauma Center a place that leaders in the field of trauma treatment want to congregate to share ideas. Moreover, unlike many in his position, Bessel bends over backwards to bring along those who work for him—fostering their growth and celebrating their successes.
I understand that the Trauma Center may currently be considered the Jewel in the JRI crown, because it has been administrated by JRI in recent years. But the Trauma Center existed for decades before JRI arrived on the scene and I hope will continue its independent quest for the best ways to treat trauma in the decades to come. The Trauma Center (and not JRI) has been the professional home to many and the fact that the bonds between Trauma Center staff continue for years after they leave speaks to the kind of atmosphere that Bessel has created. I consider the accusations you have made against Dr. van der Kolk not only libelous but in danger of doing harm to the population he has tried to serve all these decades.
Robert Aiken LICSW
In 2009 I moved to New England and began working at the Trauma Center, in both the Brookline and Acton offices. It was Dr. van der Kolk’s work and the Trauma Center's association with him that led to my continued trauma studies. I studied with numerous leaders in the field of trauma therapy. It is within three circles that I was again reminded of the centrality of Dr. van der Kolk’s work.
Never once did these experts ask about my work and association with “The Trauma Center at JRI”, instead they recognized where I work by stating, “You work for the clinic that Dr. van der Kolk pioneered and envisioned”. These include many of those outside the Trauma Center's web of influence, as I completed my early play therapy and sand tray studies with Eliana Gil, years of trauma informed play therapy with Nancy Boyd Webb, advanced level training in attachment focused family with Daniel Hughes, EMDR with Deanie Laliotis, over 300 hours of Jungian Sand Play training and supervision with the president of the International Association of Sand Play Therapists, Barbara Turner. With each of those mentors, I was reminded of the foundational and pioneering work of Dr. van der Kolk.
While working at the Trauma Center I found solace in the atmosphere that is an incubator for new ideas and foundational approaches to treating trauma: the comprehensive models such as Attachment Regulation and Competency (ARC) treatment developed by Blaustein and Kinnburgh; the Sensory Motor Arousal Regulation Therapy developed by Warner, Cook, Westcott, and Koomar; Lanius’s EMDR work; Anderson’s work with Internal Family Systems; Janina Fisher’s Dissociation Model; Macho Ian’s teenage depression work; not to mention the Neurofeedback and yoga approaches. All of these were nurtured, encouraged, and mentored by Dr. van der Kolk at the clinic he designed and envisioned. There is a long history of nurturing and mentoring therapists and researchers to change the course of the field and to more adequately provide treatment to clients who have experienced unspeakable trauma.
And while no one individual carries the mantle for trauma treatment, at this time there is no other thought leader whose current publications are more translated, distributed and well received regionally, nationally and internationally. In my 5 plus years at the Trauma Center and Metro West Behavioral Health, I found Dr. van der Kolk to be engaging, encouraging and one who took a genuine interest in my work. He often stopped to look at my clinical work, offered opportunities to present my work tool wider audience of trauma therapists, and encouraged me to continue on in my travel work. Never once did I find him to have acted in an intimidating or hostile manner.
Without Dr. van der Kolk’s guidance and visual, I fail to see how the Trauma Center will remain at the cutting edge of trauma treatment, let alone maintain its ability to secure a top level NCTSN regional designation. To see the bureaucratic actions of JRI chip away and possibly destroy the small, at times struggling, trauma clinic that to Dr. van der Kolk’s vision has been a beacon of hope for therapists across the globe is a travesty. I fear that a while wider national and international audience may not have ever associated the Trauma Center with JRI in the past, there will be an enduring recognition of JRI’s role in the demise of the Trauma Center.
Janet Osterman, Vice Chair for Education, Emeritus Boston University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry
I have read the public information pertaining to the Trauma Center and like others am greatly distressed. We have worked together for 20 + years in teaching and research. During that time, I have been present in research meetings, in seminars, and case conferences where I have observed your interactions with trainees, faculty peers, and patients. In each of these setting, I have witnessed only highly professional, thoughtful, and sensitive interactions. Your teaching of your impressive knowledge of trauma stress has enlightened many from trainees to colleagues locally, nationally, and internationally.
President, Playmakers, a program, of Life is Good Foundation, a long term TC staff member, colleague and fellow teacher.
Hey Bessel - bullies target the weak and those who are unable to adequately defend themselves. In my experience, you've been an advocate for those who've been bullied and a strong opponent of those who use their power carelessly and destructively. I've learned a great deal from you and your work and I hope that truth and justice ultimately prevail.
Stephan Wolfert, Combat veteran, Shakespeare actor, Director of De-Cruit , a program, to heal veterans from PTSD
I had not heard nor seen any of this. I am dumbfounded. I never worked at JRI full time but I can speak to my experience with you over the last years (and I AM self-aware that I am a 51 year old white male, perhaps devaluing my statement); However, we have traveled together, shared the stage together nationally and internationally and here is my statement of support: not only have you treated me and my wife with compassion, integrity and deep respect, but I have also witnessed this same behavior extended to everyone that we encountered during every moment of our travels! I watched you present for hours and then skip your breaks, meals and stay long after each day’s end to LISTEN to the throngs of people waiting to meet you, share with you and even challenge you! And you listened PATIENTLY, and treated each and every one with compassion, respect and patience.
I know nothing of the unfolding drama, the inner workings of the Trauma Center, etc etc. so I cannot speak to others experiences with you. I only know that, for me, you have been and remain a role model in the field.
Dear Dr. van der Kolk,
Whatever happened to you, our appreciation to what you have done for our country, especially for the victims of the East Japan Great Earthquake on March 11, 2011, never fade out. I am still working with their traumas through yoga and mindfulness.
I am thinking of you from Kobe.
Satoshi Ikeno, Ph.D., M.S.W.
School of Human Welfare Studies
Department of Social Work
Kwansei Gakuin University, Japan
I have permission to post this from a therapist and their client who attended a recent workshop:
Hi, I recently learned of the changes in Bessel's circumstances, which gave me pause to reflect on his influence.
I have a DTD client who attended his recent Kripalu workshop. She was profoundly affected by the experience. Not just by the organized and comprehensive information he offers the world on the realities of trauma, but perhaps most especially by his presence. She clearly felt so met and cared for from her opportunity to speak to him directly, that soon after he showed up in one of her dreams as a healing presence helping to guide her treatment in the work she is doing with me.
For myself, I am deeply appreciative of the way he made space for us when we all felt the need to share more on the struggles and realities of … providers. When I spoke up to clarify he was more than gracious in listening and allowing a genuine conversation to occur that I think was one of the highlights of our time together. I felt heard and respected in his willingness to engage with us when he might have dismissed our concerns.
I know in speaking to another colleague, how deeply he is valued in our field. As clinicians, we all now work in a world that has a context for trauma that did not exist before he charted the path so vocally. I know he will go on to make more ongoing contributions and hope that he will continue to interface with our field in ever more profound ways.
I hope that whatever the complexities are the brought about the present situation, Bessel's deeply needed work will continue on and prevail in ever broader ways. It is the wish I make for all of us in our field and will hold that especially for him and his work in this time of change.