Trauma & PTSD Treatments – New Vs Old
The current mainstream treatment options for Trauma & PTSD may only represent a small part of what is possible therapeutically. Medications and psychotherapy are powerful tools, yet trauma and PTSD are complex, and humans are complex. So maybe it’s not surprising that there is so much more to the treatment of trauma & PTSD than first meets the eye. It is also always worth acknowledging that mainstream doesn’t always mean best. The provision of healthcare often trails slightly behind the spearheads of research and development.
According to America’s National Centre For PTSD‘ about 6 out of every 100 Americans (or 6% of the population) will have full-blown PTSD at some point in their lives. Let’s just hope that our stats here in NZ are a little better. Yet sadly, as a nation, we often come out at the wrong end of stats like these. Worst developed country in the OECD for family violence, for example.
A quick consult with Dr Google is more than enough to confirm the most popular treatment options for Trauma & PTSD in today’s world. Psychotherapy and medication are the clear ‘winners’. Yet if these options were sufficiently effective and readily available, it seems likely we wouldn’t be in the depths of a worsening mental health crisis throughout the entire western world, yet we most definitely are.
Mainstay Trauma & PTSD Treatments
Sometimes referred to as talk therapy or counseling, psychotherapy involves working in person with a therapist to ease anxiety. Sometimes this means digging into the root cause of your trauma and PTSD; at other times, it means learning strategies to cope better with trauma & PTSD.
There are many different types of psychotherapy and many different perspectives. One of the most popular and effective forms of treatment for Trauma & PTSD in psychotherapy is CBT.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a widely respected form of psychotherapy for Trauma & PTSD. CBT focuses on learning specific skills to improve your symptoms and develop strategies that build resilience and enhance coping mechanisms.
The use of psychotherapy for the treatment of Trauma & PTSD is no doubt beneficial and very important in many cases. Yet in the midst of a serious mental health crisis, it is always worth keeping an open mind about what other emerging therapies may be out there.
Medication is a means of altering brain chemistry to bring relief from Trauma & PTSD. This can bring a great deal of relief from the symptoms of Trauma & PTSD. Yet, for many other people, medication as a treatment for their Trauma & PTSD either has no effect or even makes matters worse.
SSRIs ‘Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors’ are probably the most commonly prescribed medication for Trauma & PTSD.
SSRIs treat Trauma & PTSD disorders by increasing levels of the mood-boosting chemical serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries signals between the brain’s neurons. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin into neurons, thus increasing active serotonin levels and improving mood.
SSRIs are, of course, not the only medication for Trauma & PTSD, drugs like benzodiazepines have been a popular Trauma & PTSD treatment option for a long time.
Medications are a valid treatment option for an extremely wide range of health issues, and anxiety is no exception. Yet Trauma & PTSD is a complex intrapersonal process that relates to the entire life of a person, so medication may not be the final word on the treatment of Trauma & PTSD.
Emerging Trauma & PTSD treatments
EMDR Therapy uses therapist-led eye movements in combination with a recall of stressful events. The combination of specific recall and eye movements boosts nerve impulses between the brain hemispheres and takes the emotion out of unprocessed and stressful life events.
The back story behind EMDR Therapy and its current preferred status as a scientifically validated treatment for Trauma & PTSD is an amusing one. And one that serves as a reminder about being open-minded about new forms of treatment for Trauma & PTSD
EMDR was selected as the placebo for a large study into mainstay mental health treatments because the researchers felt that it was clearly a completely invalid form of treatment. Then when the results came in, it transpired that EMDR performed far better than all the mainstay treatments for Trauma & PTSD. Now those researchers are the champions of EMDR and its main supporters.
EMDR is considered the treatment of choice for Trauma & PTSD by many experts.
Trauma Release Exercises
Two of the most popular books in the mental health space in recent years have been ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ by ….. & ‘Waking The Tiger’ by Peter Levine. These powerful and important manuscripts are a very significant and important part of the rising tide of awareness of the significance of trauma and adverse life events in determining our mental health.
Taking this a step further, we are learning that much of our trauma and stress are actually stored in the body, as opposed to just the brain. This is where trauma and stress release exercises come in.
Trauma release exercises tap into the body’s ability to release old stress responses from muscle tissue. This can sound a little strange until it’s explained properly.
Think of the way chronic stress can lead to a build up of muscle tension over time. In the sense we often notice if we are receiving a shoulder massage. That tension actually builds up through countless unprocessed fight/flight/freeze responses firing off in the muscle tissue. And many of the symptoms that Trauma & PTSD sufferers face are caused by these types of build-ups.
When done repeatedly, trauma releases exercises help release primitive ‘stressy’ build-ups from the body’s tissues and can have an absolutely profound impact on the symptoms of stress, trauma & PTSD.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
The vagus nerve is a vital piece of your body’s anatomy to understand if you wish to get your anxiety, trauma or PTSD symptoms under control.
The vagus nerve is the primary nerve pathway of your parasympathetic nervous system. This system controls specific body functions such as your digestion, heart rate and immune system. The vagus nerve is also deeply involved in your body’s fight or flight response, and hence stress, anxiety, trauma & PTSD symptoms.
Vagus nerve stimulation generally involves simple physical exercises that switch off ‘fight/fight activity in the vagus nerve. This can involve gentle tapping, breathing and massage-type movements. These types of exercises are deceptively simple but can bring a great deal of symptomatic relief for trauma and PTSD symptoms.
Brainwave Entrainment is a form of light therapy that aims to reduce mental and emotional stress through changes in the frequency of brainwaves. In the same way that medication seeks to alter brain chemistry, brainwave entrainment seeks to alter brainwave activity.
When neurophysiology researchers scan the brains of Buddhist monks, they see consistently different brainwave patterns than they do when they scan the brain of stressed-out executives. This is because the brain is primarily an electric organ whose fundamental output can be measured in terms of its bioelectric output.
By stimulating brain cells with light that matches the frequency of happy, relaxed brainwaves, entrainment aims to alter mood and mental function in people suffering from trauma & PTSD symptoms.
Many trauma & PTSD sufferers report dramatic alterations in their mood and mental function after even a handful of Brainwave Entrainment sessions.
Brainwave Entrainment still sits very much on the margins of popular and well-known care options for trauma & PTSD symptoms. In much the same way that EMDR Therapy did a short time ago. It should be interesting to see where Brainwave Entrainment research leads in years to come.
NLP, Or Neuro-Linguistic – Programming, is a therapeutic and coaching approach that focuses on how the subtle aspects of how we talk to ourselves and others determine behaviour outcomes.
Richard Bandler and John Grinder developed NLP in the 1970s. They had observed that a key difference between what they called “successful people” and others was the way they used language to encourage themselves and everyone else. A key resource that Bandler & Grinder tapped was word class therapists, whose language partisan they copied and incorporated into the NLP toolkit.
This empowering use of language is supposed to help you change unwanted habits and limiting beliefs, improve relationships, and meet goals easily.
Once trauma and stress have their hooks into the human system, they can profoundly impact self-talk, self-image and body language. In other words, trauma can change how we think and act. By carefully unpacking these patterns (which tend to become unconscious), NLP aims to assist with the installation of newer and more positive patterns. Primarily NLP is about creating change through the use of effective tools.
NLP is still relatively under-utilised in the mental health space. Yet it may have much to offer as we move away from some of the more rigid traditional PTSD and trauma therapy models.
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy
Psychedelic-assisted therapy refers to therapeutic practices that involve the use of a class of currently widely prohibited substances known as psychedelics, Like the cringingly named ‘magic mushrooms’ (psilocybin) and ‘Acid’ LSD. Few people are aware that before the wildly unscientific and entirely political decision to opt for psychedelic prohibition by the US Govt in 1973, there was a growing pool of high-quality research into their use therapeutically. All of which naturally came to a halt after prohibition kicked in. All this happened despite these substances having a toxicity profile that makes many over-the-counter medications look high risk.
Thankfully since the early 1990s, a new generation of researchers has received permission to resuscitate psychedelic research. And the results have been stunning.
The trials have shown that the use of psychedelics like psilocybin in a carefully prescribed and monitored setting can induce an experience that is medically safe and that can lead to profound and lasting psychological and behavioural change in a statistically significant proportion of subjects. This research has been carried out in some of the world’s most respected medical research institutions (Johns Hopkins & Imperial College London). So the time has come for us to respectfully withdraw terms like ‘magic mushrooms’ and ‘drugs’ from the conversation about these desperately important natural therapeutic compounds.
Interventions using psychedelics are showing promise as treatments for alcoholism, nicotine addiction, trauma & PTSD related to a terminal illness. New phases of the research are underway to examine the use of psychedelic-assisted therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder, treatment-resistant depression and social anxiety.
In a world facing an epidemic of mental health issues, there are few more promising areas of research than psychedelic-assisted therapies. Because while the mushrooms may not be magic, so far, the research results seemingly are.
The theory of disordered brain chemistry being the primary cause behind mood disorders like trauma & PTSD is a questionable one. There are a growing number of experts who view this as an outdated theory on mental health. In reality, it may be that those of us who are born with inherently anxious brain chemistry are very few in number.
The assumption that brain-based talk therapies alone represent the only sound alternatives to medication is collecting its detractors among experts in the field of trauma & PTSD. As you can see from the above list, there are many emerging options that sit outside this classical paradigm.
Yet we don’t need to rule out any options when we are seeking to heal from the impact of our ‘Adverse Life Events’ and anxiety. The traditional model has much to offer in specific circumstances, and no doubt so does the new generation of therapeutic and treatment options.