God created a perfect world, defined by the words “it was good,” including mankind as his image bearers, in psychosomatic unity of body and soul. Ever since the fall, however, history has been dark with death and suffering through war, abuse, slavery, violent crime, and disease: travesties of God’s design for humanity. Such circumstances often break the boundaries of what people are designed to endure, resulting in post-traumatic stress. This severe suffering cannot be rightly understood apart from a holistic understanding of a person’s most fundamental identity as defined by the Creator. A traumatic event is an affront to the whole person, a unity of body and soul created in God’s image.
Anthony Hoekema employs the term psychosomatic unity to define man as a whole person with “two sides,” soul (psyche) and body (soma), divisible by death yet united in interdependent expression. Biblical authors write of man as a unity, using physical and spiritual terms for man’s whole person. Since the soul outlives the body, the body cannot equal the soul; however, the body gives visible expression to the soul. Neither is complete without the other, and the intermediate state is the only exception to this natural unified existence.
Trauma demonstrates this unity: trouble to the body can result in brokenness of spirit, and spiritual suffering likewise afflicts the body. Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk could not state a clearer thesis than the title of his bestselling book: The Body Keeps the Score. He thoroughly illustrates trauma’s impact on the body. Viewing humanity from a secular perspective, Van der Kolk centers his explanation of trauma on the material aspect of the survivor. However, his interpretation of his research and clinical experience includes the role of perception in the traumatic experience, suggesting there is more to trauma than matter.
In this paper, I will argue that trauma should be viewed from a theological perspective, in light of the whole person’s identity as an image bearer created as psychosomatic unity. I will employ the writings of Anthony Hoekema and John Cooper to define psychosomatic unity. I will then seek to interpret Van der Kolk’s research findings through this theological perspective and conclude with brief implications for trauma care.