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Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Contributions to Science

Scientific Publications

Click below to view a selection of peer reviewed articles written by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and his colleagues

Scientific Publications
From 150 peer reviewed publications

Basic Mental and Biological Parameters of PTSD

Since PTSD was just becoming a DSM diagnosis as I started my career I began investigating basic processes involved in traumatic stress, including the nature of nightmares in PTSD, as well as basic mental and biological processes, including the first biological model of PTSD, and the first neuroimaging studies of PTSD and Dissociative Disorders, and the first study to confirm immunological abnormalities related to childhood trauma:

Van der Kolk BA, Blitz R, Burr WA, Hartmann E (1984). Nightmares and trauma: Life-long and traumatic
nightmares in veterans. Am J Psychiatry 1984;141:187-190.

Van der Kolk, BA & Ducey, CP (1989). The psychological processing of traumatic experience: Rorschach patterns in PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2(3), 259-274.

Van der Kolk BA, Greenberg M, Boyd H, Krystal J (1985): Inescapable shock, neurotransmitters, and addiction to trauma: toward a psychobiology of post traumatic stress. Biol Psychiatry 20:314-325 (the first published biological model for PTSD)

Van der Kolk BA, (1985) Adolescent vulnerability to post traumatic stress. Psychiatry, 48: 365-370. (one of the first studies to elucidate the role of committing atrocities, “moral injury”, for developing PTSD).

Van der Kolk BA, Greenberg MS, Orr S, Pitman RK (1989): Pain Perception and endogenous opioids in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psychopharm Bull 25: 117-121.

Pitman RK, Van der Kolk BA, Orr S, Greenberg MS (1990): Naloxone reversible Stress Induced Analgesia In Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Arch Gen Psychiat. 47:541-547,.

Rauch S, Van der Kolk BA, Fisler R, Alpert N, Orr S, Savage C, Jenike M, Pitman R (1996): A symptom provocation study using Positron Emission Tomography and Script Driven Imagery. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 53, 380-387. (the first PET study of PTSD)

Saxe GN, Vasile RG, Hill TC, Bloomingdale K, Van der Kolk BA (1992): Temporal lobe changes in Multiple Personality Disorders demonstrated by rCBF and SPECT imaging. J Ment Nerv Dis, 1992. (the first neuroimaging study of dissociative disorders)

Wilson, S N; Van der Kolk, B A; Burbridge, JA; Fisler, R E; Kradin, R (1999). Phenotype of blood
lymphocytes in PTSD suggests chronic immune activation. Psychosomatics, 40, 222-225.

Hopper JW, Spinazzola J, Simpson WE, Van der Kolk BA. (2006). Preliminary Evidence of parasympathetic influence on the basal heart rate in posttraumatic stress disorder. J Psychosom Res 60: 83-90.

Hopper, JW; Frewen, PA; Van der Kolk, BA; Lanius, RA (2007). Neural correlates of reexperiencing, avoidance, and dissociation in PTSD: symptom dimensions and emotion dysregulation in response to script-driven trauma imagery. J. Traum. Stress. 20, 5, 713-725,.


With the promise of psychopharmacology to be a potential solution to PTSD I was the PI/co-PI of the first two teams to study the capacity of fluoxetine and sertraline, respectively, to ameliorate PTSD symptomatology:

Van der Kolk BA, Dreyfuss D, Berkowitz R, Saxe G, Shera D & Michaels M (1994): Fluoxetine in Post Traumatic Stress. J Clin Psychiat, 517-522.

Davidson, J.R., Rothbaum, B.O., van der Kolk, B.A., Sikes, C.R. and Farfel, G.M., (2001). Multicenter, double-blind comparison of sertraline and placebo in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 58(5), pp.485-492.


Our studies of traumatized populations inevitably confronted us with the central issue of memory in traumatic stress – whether conscious (verbal) memory of the event(s) may be absent; the physiological arousal (and dissociation) in response to traumatic reminders, and the unusual fragmentary and sensory nature that accompanies recall of traumatic events:

Van der Kolk BA, Van der Hart O (1989): Pierre Janet and the breakdown of adaptation in Psychological Trauma. Am J Psychiat, 146:1330- 1342.

Van der Kolk, BA (1994): The Body keeps the Score: Memory and the evolving Psychobiology of Post Traumatic Stress. Harvard Review of Psychiatry 1; 253-65.

Van der Kolk BA, Fisler R (1995): Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: background and experimental evidence. J Traumatic Stress, 9, 505-525.

Osterman JE, Hopper J, Heran, WJ, Keane TM, Van der Kolk BA (2001). Awareness under anesthesia and the development of posttraumatic stress disorder, Gen Hosp Psychiatry, 23 (4): 198-204.

Hopper J. W. Van der Kolk B. (2001): Retrieving and Assessing traumatic Memories. Exploring the nature of traumatic memory, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 4: 33-71.

The pervasive role of trauma in psychiatric disorders

As some of the psychological and biological parameters of traumatic stress were getting elucidated, my colleagues and I became curious about the potential role that childhood trauma plays in various psychiatric disorders, including:

Beck J, Van der Kolk BA: Reports of Childhood Incest and Current Behavior of Chronically Hospitalized
Psychotic women. Am J Psychiatry 144:1474-1476,1987.

Herman JL, Perry JC, Van der Kolk BA (1989): Childhood Trauma in Borderline Personality Disorder . Am J Psychiat 146: 490-495.

Van der Kolk BA, Perry JC Herman JL (1991): Childhood origins of self- destructive behavior. Am J Psychiat 148: 1665-1671,

Moleman N, Van der Hart O, Van der Kolk BA (1992): The Partus Stress Reaction: a neglected aspect of post partum psychopathology. J Nerv Ment Diseases, 180 271-272.

Saxe G, Van der Kolk BA, Chinman G, Berkowitz R: Dissociative Disorders in the Mental Hospital. (1993) Am J Psychiatry; 150: 1037-1042.
f. Herzog DB, Staley JE, Carmody S, Robbins WM, Van der Kolk BA (1993): Childhood sexual abuse in anorexia nervosa and bulemia nervosa. J Am Acad Child Adolsec Psychiat; 32. (5): 962-966

Complex PTSD, Disorders of Extreme Stress, and Developmental Trauma

Our studies of psychiatric populations paved the way to study the differential impact of traumatic experiences depending on stage of development and relationship to the perpetrator. Much of this work was done in my role as the co-PI of the DSM IV Field Trials for PTSD.

Van der Kolk, BA, Pelcovitz D, Roth S, Mandel F, McFarlane AC, Herman, J (1996): Dissociation, somatization and affect dysregulation: the complexity of adaptation to trauma. Am J Psychiat 153: 83-93.

Roth SH, Newman E, Pelcovitz D, Mandel FS, Van der Kolk BA. 1997. Complex PTSD in victims exposed to sexual and physical abuse: results from the DSM IV Field Trial for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. J Trauma Stress 10(4): 539-555.

Van der Kolk BA. (2005). Developmental Trauma Disorder: toward a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals 35: 401-408,.

Van der Kolk, BA, Roth S, Pelcovitz D, Sunday S, Spinazzola J. (2005). Disorders of Extreme Stress: The Empirical Foundation of a complex adaptation to Trauma. J Trauma Stress 18 (5) 389-399.

Spinazzola J, Blaustein ME, Van der Kolk BA. 2005. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Treatment Outcome Research: The Study of unrepresentative samples? J trauma Stress 18; 425-436.

D’Andrea, W., Ford, J., Stolbach, B., Spinazzola, J. Van der Kolk, B. A (2012). Understanding
Interpersonal Trauma in Children: Why We Need a Developmentally Appropriate Trauma Diagnosis. Am J Orthopsychiatry, 82: 187–200,

Ford JD, Grasso, D Greene, C; Levine J; Spinazzola J; Van der Kolk, BA (2013) Clinical Significance of a Proposed Developmental Trauma Disorder Diagnosis: Results of an International Survey of Clinicians J Clin Psychiatry 74(8), 841–849, 2013.

We recently submitted three more empirical papers on this subject, data from a multi-site study involving over 300 children and adolescents.

Innovative Treatments

As we became more aware of the profound neurobiological dysregulation produced by childhood trauma and saw the limited capacities of cognitive behavioral or drug treatments to produce substantial alterations in children and adults with histories of severe abuse and neglect we became intrigued with the potential of non-traditional methods to change the imprint of traumatic memories, and the pervasive physiological dysregulation and sensory integration problems.

Levin P, Lazrove S & Van der Kolk BA (1999): What psychological testing and neuroimaging tell us
about the treatment of PTSD by EMDR. J Anxiety Disorders. 13,159-172

Van der Kolk BA, Spinazzola J, Blaustein ME, Hopper JW, Hopper EK, Korn DL, Simpson WB. A Randomized clinical Trial of Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), Fluoxetine, and Pill Placebo in the Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: treatment Effects and Long-term maintenance (2007). J Clin Psychiat 66 (1), 37-45.

Zucker, M., Spinazzola, J., Pollack, A. A., Pepe, L., Barry, S., Zhang, L., & Van der Kolk, B. (2010). Getting Teachers in on the Act: Evaluation of a Theater-and Classroom-Based Youth Violence Prevention Program. Journal of School Violence, 9(2), 117-135.

Van der Kolk BA, Stone L, West J Rhodes A, Emerson D, Spinazzola J (2014): Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry 75(6):e559-65.

Gapen, M., van der Kolk, B. A., Hamlin, E., Hirshberg, L., Suvak, M., & Spinazzola, J. (2016). A pilot study of neurofeedback for chronic PTSD. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 41(3), 251-261.

van der Kolk, B. A., Hodgdon, H., Gapen, M., Musicaro, R., Suvak, M. K., Hamlin, E., & Spinazzola, J. (2016). A Randomized Controlled Study of Neurofeedback for Chronic PTSD. PloS one, 11(12), e0166752. (2017 Award for outstanding contribution to science, Foundation for Neurofeedback & Applied Neuroscience)

Van der Kolk BA: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Viking Press, 2014
Over the past few years much of my efforts have gone into writing this book about what we have learned about traumatic stress, including childhood abuse and neglect, and its treatment. It has been the best selling book in psychiatry for the past 6 years, and a New York Times Science best seller.


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