When Part of the Brain Goes Dark

This blog post is the fourth installment of a multi-post series reviewing the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. (see third installment here. In these articles, I summarize each chapter, offer a Christian take on the information presented, and then apply ways Christians can redeem that knowledge for the glory of Christ.

Talking Trauma…

In chapter three, Van Der Kolk tells the story of the joining of trauma and neuroscientific research. He provides an interesting account of some of the first imaging research conducted in this new field of endeavor.

The most important discovery dealt with the way the traumatized brain reacted to memories of trauma. In each case, the survivor’s right side of the brain kicked into overdrive. The emotional, visual, and spatial areas lit up. In contrast, the left side of the brain, the area responsible for logic and language went dark. This finding explained why the traumatized struggle with putting words on their experiences. Often, it is not that they don’t want to talk about their experiences. But, most times, they physically can’t because their brains are not functioning in that area.

Credit: Brain Injury Association of America
Credit: Brain Injury Association of America

                                      Thinking Christianly…

How can we think Christianly about this evidence? Should we minimize it? Should we dismiss it as a fad? Hardly. We need to understand that trauma inflicts neurological damage on people, not unlike stroke victims. There is a body component to consider besides a moral one.

Credit: Joint Task Force Bravo
Credit: Joint Task Force Bravo

Taking Action…

If this is so, Christian counselors must provide a safe, relational environment that encourages trauma survivors to make sense of their experiences. This process can be slow, much like watching paint dry, but it is necessary. Often the survivor will only speak around the edges of the event. But, with time and encouragement, wise counselors will help them slowly move to the center of the story. They help the emotional side of the brain tell its story. This may mean helping people put words on the vivid images triggered by thoughts of the past trauma. It might mean helping them fill in missing gaps of the narrative. This is not an easy process; but, with patient love, Christian counselors can help traumatized people see their stories in light of the Redemptive Story.

Join the Conversation…

How does your understanding of these neuroscientific discoveries help you minister to those under your care?

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