Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop in anyone who suffers through a disaster…is a victim of violence or a crime…or experiences another traumatic event, such as a heart attack. Military personnel who are in combat are at particularly high risk for this anxiety disorder. Untreated PTSD can destroy lives, increasing the odds of substance abuse and even suicide—but many sufferers don’t seek treatment due to the stigma attached to mental illlness or concerns about medication side effects.
Good news: A special type of hands-on therapy can ease PTSD symptoms, according to a recent study conducted at Camp Pendleton, a military base in California.
Participants included 123 Marines returning from combat zones who were experiencing one or more of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD (flashbacks, nightmares, racing heart, jumpiness, concentration problems, anger, aggression, isolation, emotional numbness). At the start of the study, all were tested for symptom severity and rated on a numerical scale, with a score of 50 or higher meriting a PTSD diagnosis. Participants had an average pretreatment score in the mid-50s.
All participants continued to receive whatever standard treatment they were already getting (i.e., psychotherapy and/or medication). About half of the participants also received twice-weekly Healing Touch therapy, a biofield therapy in which trained practitioners use a gentle, noninvasive touch designed to work on the body’s vital energy system to stimulate a healing response. (The concept of vital energy, often called chi or prana, is well-known in Eastern medical traditions. It is considered a subtle, nonmaterial field that interacts with and influences the functioning of the mind and body. During Healing Touch, practitioners enter a meditative state in which they act as conduits to sense and regulate patients’ vital energy systems to promote mind-body healing.) In addition to the Healing Touch, this group of participants listened to a guided-imagery CD that used visualization techniques to induce deep relaxation and promote a sense of security.
Results: After three weeks, everyone was reevaluated. In the control group, the average PTSD score barely changed, dropping from the mid-50s to 52. In the Healing Touch/guided imagery group, however, the average score dropped to 41, which is a very significant improvement—in fact, these Marines no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
More research is needed to determine whether Healing Touch therapy with guided imagery works for people whose PTSD stems from non-combat–related trauma (though it makes sense that it might)…how long the benefits last…and the optimal length of treatment.
In the meantime, if you are interested in trying Healing Touch therapy as a complement to conventional PTSD treatment, you can find a trained practitioner through the Web site of the Healing Touch Professional Association or Healing Touch International. Check with your insurance company to see whether the treatment is covered.