Meet Guest Speaker Dr. Bessel van der Kolk & Licia Sky

Bessel van der Kolk, MD

Bessel van der Kolk, MD, is a clinician, researcher, and teacher best known for his work with posttraumatic stress. Active in the field of mental health since the 1970s, he currently serves as medical director at the Trauma Center in Boston.

Van der Kolk was born in The Hague in 1943, during a time of strife as German forces occupied the Netherlands. Exposed to trauma from an early age, he grew up in the great Dutch famine, surrounded by Holocaust survivors. His own father had been imprisoned in a Nazi work camp. Van der Kolk describes his mother as cold and unhappy and has also disclosed experiencing abuse at the hands of his father, who was prone to rage. He began traveling as a teenager, at one point considering becoming a monk after staying in a French monastery.

In 1962, van der Kolk pursued his education in the United States. He attended the University of Hawaii as well as the University of Chicago and trained as a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. During the 1970s, he spent the early years of his career working at a health center for veterans in Boston, where his interest in trauma solidified. He worked with Vietnam War veterans traumatized by their combat experiences, becoming particularly interested in how symptoms of pos-ttraumatic stress connect to bodily sensation.

Van der Kolk was involved in controversy during the 1990s. A proponent of repressed-memory therapy, he served as an expert witness for some high-profile cases in what are now termed the “memory wars.” The idea that memories can be accurately recalled through hypnosis or other forms of therapy has since been debunked, and van der Kolk was criticized for his stance on repressed-memory therapy. By the late 1990s, his lab at Massachusetts General Hospital was closed, which he attributes to this controversy.

Internationally and throughout the United States, van der Kolk has worked as a lecturer, teacher, and professor. He previously served as President of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and as a co-director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network. He teaches psychiatry at the Boston University Medical School and continues to work as a clinician in his Boston-area private practice.

Until 2018, he worked at The Trauma Center, a nonprofit organization he founded in Massachusetts. In March 2018, it was announced he had been fired due to complaints of bullying and creating a hostile work environment for employees.

Licia Sky

Licia Sky, LMT, BFA will guide participants through guided focused exercises which integrate music, movement, vocalizing, enhanced noticing, listening, and touch, to foster safe, transformative inner and interpersonal connection.   Her methods are informed by over 25 years as an artist, musician, bodywork therapist, yoga practitioner, and dancer; and integrate poly-vagal theory, parts work, and the latest research on trauma and the body.