Dr. Jed Diamond shares some basic insights into what PTSD is as well as what methods have had some success in treating it.
Fear and stress reactions are part of everyone’s lives. They enable us to pursue important goals and to respond appropriately to danger. In a healthy individual, the stress response (fight, freeze, or flight) is provoked by a genuine threat or challenge and is used as a spur for appropriate action.
An anxiety disorder, however, involves an excessive or inappropriate state of arousal characterized by feelings of apprehension, uncertainty, or fear. The anxiety response is often not triggered by a real threat. Nevertheless it can still paralyze the individual into inaction or withdrawal. An anxiety disorder persists, while an appropriate response to a threat resolves, once the threat is removed.
We often think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as being associated with war, but it is an anxiety disorder and can be caused by a wide variety of traumatic situations including child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse and other forms of violence, and the response to natural disasters.
There are three basic sets of symptoms associated with PTSD. They may begin immediately after the event or can develop up to a year afterward:
- Re-experiencing. In such cases, people persistently re-experience the trauma in at least one of the following ways: in recurrent images, thoughts, flashbacks, dreams, or feelings of distress at situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Children may engage in play, in which traumatic events are enacted repeatedly.
- Avoidance. Patients may avoid reminders of the event, such as thoughts, people, or any other factors that trigger recollection. They tend to have an emotional numbness, a sense of being in a daze or of losing contact with their own identity or even external reality. They may be unable to remember important aspects of the event.
- Increased Arousal. This includes symptoms of anxiety or heightened awareness of danger (sleeplessness, anger, irritability, being easily startled, or becoming overly vigilant to unknown dangers).
Depression is very common in people with PTSD and other anxiety disorders, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other because either or both can be accompanied by anxious feelings, agitation, insomnia, and problems with concentration.
Using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) for Treating PTSD
Common treatments for PTSD include the use of medications including antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. Trauma-focused psychological treatments include exposure therapy, trauma-focused cognitive therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Newer treatments that have shown to be effective include Emotional Freedom Techniques (also known as EFT or Tapping) and MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy.
In my book, Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well I describe the ways EFT has been used in treating many types of stress and trauma including helping returning soldiers and survivors of the killings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Hundreds of thousands of US military personnel are returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones. An estimated 300,000 of them suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The Veterans Stress Project is determined to make a difference. It offers returning vets free or low-cost sessions using EFT, a method which many therapists and coaches are using to help veterans with PTSD to get their lives back.
Scarlett Lewis’ son, Jessie, was killed on December 14, 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the aftermath of the tragedy she was helped greatly by the use of EFT to deal with her trauma. She has moved beyond anger and fear and turned her grief and loss into positive action. She set up the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation which collaborates with professional educators to bring lasting meaning to Jesse’s murder by developing school-based educational programs to change our current culture of violence to one of safety, peace and love for everyone in our world.
Using MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for Treating PTSD
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is a non-profit research and educational organization, founded in 1986, that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana. MAPS furthers its mission by:
- Developing psychedelics and marijuana into prescription medicines
- Training therapists and working to establish a network of treatment centers
- Supporting scientific research into spirituality, creativity, and neuroscience
- Educating the public honestly about the risks and benefits of psychedelics and marijuana.
The highest priority project at MAPS is funding clinical trials of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) as a tool to assist psychotherapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Preliminary studies have shown that MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy can help people overcome PTSD, and possibly other disorders as well. MDMA is known for increasing feelings of trust and compassion towards others, which could make an ideal adjunct to psychotherapy for PTSD.
MDMA is not the same as Ecstasy. Substances sold on the street under the name Ecstasy do often contain MDMA, but frequently also contain harmful adulterants. In laboratory studies, pure MDMA—but not Ecstasy—has been proven sufficiently safe for human consumption when taken a limited number of times in moderate doses. In MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, MDMA is only administered a few times, unlike most medications for mental illnesses which are often taken daily for years, and sometimes forever.
MAPS is undertaking an eight-year, $18.5 million plan to make MDMA into an FDA-approved prescription medicine by 2021, and is currently the only organization in the world funding clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. For-profit pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing MDMA into a medicine because the patent for MDMA has expired. The idea of the therapeutic use of MDMA to assist psychotherapy of any kind for any specific clinical indication has long been in the public domain.
A new book, Manifesting Minds: A Review of Psychedelics in Science, Medicine, Sex, and Spirituality, is a wonderful anthology from the MAPS describing a wide range of uses for MDMA and other therapeutic medicines. It features essays and interviews with Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, Ram Dass, Albert Hofmann, Alexander (Sasha) Shulgin, Daniel Pinchbeck, Tim Robbins, Arne Naess, and electronic musician Simon Posford.
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–Photo: Stanford EdTech/Flickr