20 March 2009: This article recently appeared on articlesbase.com.
Santa Rosa, CA: Researchers have published findings indicating that PTSD may be successfully treated in veterans in just six therapy sessions, without drugs, opening the possibility of help for the estimated 300,000 troops returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with traumatic stress disorders.
According to a pilot study published in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Healing and Caring, veterans with high levels of PTSD saw their PTSD levels drop to within normal limits after treatment. They reported that combat memories that had previously haunted them, including graphic details of deaths, mutilations, and firefights, dropped in intensity to the point where they no longer resulted in flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD. The study involved veterans from Vietnam, as well as more recent conflicts.
One Vietnam veteran in the study had been obsessed by the details of his best friend’s killing for 40 years. When the two of them went on patrol, his friend always walked to his left. On the day of his death, his friend was on his right, and the veteran believed for decades that "my buddy took the sniper’s bullet that was meant for me." After treatment, his guilt evaporated, and he realized that "my buddy would willingly have died for me."
Practitioners in the study had veterans report the emotional intensity of such memories on a scale from zero to 10, with 10 being very intense, and zero being no intensity. They reported that, over the course of the six sessions, the intensity of most combat memories dropped to zero, and remained there subsequently. Measured on standardized psychological questionnaires, the PTSD levels of veterans in the study dropped by 50 percent. Their scores also dropped by 49 percent for depression and 46 percent for anxiety, indicating that other psychological problems that often accompany PTSD improved too.
The method used in the study is called EFT or Emotional Freedom Techniques. It involves the veterans recounting their memories of combat trauma, while rubbing or tapping 14 specific acupuncture points on their bodies. Scientists theorize that linking the mental recall of emotionally disturbing incidents to the physical stimulation used by EFT makes the person’s body feel secure. This associates an unsafe memory with a safe physical stimulus, which breaks the link between the emotional trauma and physical stress. After EFT treatments, veterans are still able to remember the incidents, but without an emotional charge.
The pilot study is the first step in a large nationwide study of EFT and veterans currently taking place. The pilot study produced statistically highly significant results with just 7 veterans, while the national study is collecting data from over 100 veterans with PTSD. Both are being conducted by the Iraq Vets Stress Project (www.StressProject.org), a nonprofit which connects veterans to free and low-cost treatments using rapid therapies like EFT.
With up to one in four returning veterans reporting PTSD, as well as other psychological problems, the military has been increasingly open to new approaches. Such studies are a first step to implementing effective new therapies in the Veterans Administration system, according to Dr. Stephen Ezeji-Okoye, head of the VA Field Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. His office examines potential alternative therapies that can help veterans. If the clinical trials show good results, he says, they’re "exactly the sort of thing we want to take a look at."
Veterans with PTSD are able to enroll in the nationwide study through www.StressProject.org and receive six free sessions of EFT. Dr. Dawson Church, the Stress Project’s director, says, "I’m hoping our society does not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam, where we brought a quarter million troops back home without adequate PTSD treatment. That’s why I’m so interested in therapies like EFT, that are fast, safe and effective."