Science points to a hyperactive response in the amygdala as the heart of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)…but caused by what exactly? Investigation continues. In the meantime, chemical-based scientists are tossing drug after drug at the issue struggling to find the one that will miraculously bring an end to the struggles of those diagnosed…or win the race to find the cure.
Psychology places its hand in the race, claiming it has guaranteed ways to resolve the issue or simply help those individuals affected to a point where they feel they can adequately manage their symptoms on their own. Therapies, combinations of therapies, all seek the resolution, some even manage to secure a better outlook for their patients and claim success.
How PTSD is treated
We currently treat PTSD with evidence-based methods that have been studied and shown to be effective. The cognitive therapies go by many names: exposure therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy coupled with prolonged exposure therapy, titrated exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, adapted dialectical behavioural therapy, stress inoculation training and then there are medications. There are also the “lesser” schools of psychological thought which employ controversial methods to achieve success, controversial in that studies have yet to fully prove or disprove the methods, thus they linger and are adapted. Therapies such as neuro-linguistic programming, hypnosis, animal therapies and philosophy-based therapies.
Mindfulness, meditation and PTSD
One school of thought being brought up in discussion more and more is the concept of mindfulness and the healing nature of meditation. Eastern philosophy is now being embraced as a treatment for those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, the combat veterans in the U.S. are currently participating in studies where mindfulness meditation is used as part of their treatment. All in all, there is no one cure, though the disorder itself is forcing a revolution in schools of thought that were once mutually exclusive.
Scientists are now looking closer at the biological underpinnings of the effects of meditation and mindful living as evidence-based treatments for those who are experiencing PTSD symptoms. Studies are being conducted that demonstrate the beneficial nature of relaxation therapies such as massage, coupled with changing the reactive nature of the mind through the practice of being mindful and living in the present moment. Focus on breathing techniques to return a sense of peace and calm to the patient while providing a mindful attentive focus on a present action, serve to sever the ties to the emotion laden responses to mental imagery associated with trauma. If trauma is thought to create hyperactive responses in the body, and studies demonstrate higher than average circulating levels of stress hormones in those diagnosed with PTSD, then surely the parasympathetic effects generated by the practice of mindfulness, meditation and relaxation methodologies can all be useful in combating the symptoms of this disorder.
In a sense, PTSD itself is spurring a whole new collaboration in the treatment of what was once thought to be a wholly psychological issue, a mental illness. Science has discovered that PTSD is organic in nature and investigations into neuroplasticity are being utilized to find a cure; a neurological disorder. Psychological practices incorporate cognitive therapies that rely upon the challenge of beliefs and behaviours in order to overcome trauma, however in many cases it is shown that in isolation the success rates are not what was anticipated.
It’s now being more and more understood that scientists, psychologists and spiritualists will have to put aside their differences and work collaboratively on this issue if any success is to be achieved. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to lessen the suffering of those affected by severe traumatic experiences.
image: Rob Schware for Veterans Yoga Project