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CBT that Recruits Sense of Smell Shows Success for Combat-Related Traumatic Stress

05 Mar

Since the sense of smell plays a prominent role in traumatic memories, investigators from the mental health division of the Israeli Defense Forces conducted an open, prospective study with patients suffering from chronic combat-related PTSD, whose condition had not improved with other treatment modalities, to see if the olfactory sense could be utilized for healing the symptoms of PTS.

A technique called hypnotherapeutic olfactory conditioning (HOC)1  was tested with 36 outpatient combat veterans with chronic PTS that featured resistant olfactory-induced flashbacks.  They were treated with six 1.5-hour sessions using hypnosis.

The authors used the revised Impact of Events Scale (IES-R), Beck Depression Inventory, and Dissociative Experiences Scale as outcome measures.

Significant reductions in symptoms were recorded by the end of the 6-week treatment period, as shown on the IES-R, as well as the Beck Depression Inventory and the Dissociative Experiences Scale. Twenty-one (58%) of the subjects responded to treatment by a reduction of 50% or more on the IES-R.

Improvement was maintained at 6-month and 1-year follow-ups. Use of medication was reduced.

The research team concluded that HOC shows potential for providing benefit to individuals suffering from combat related PTSD with olfactory components.

Citation: Abramowitz EG, Lichtenberg P. A new hypnotic technique for treating combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder: a prospective open study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 2010 Jul;58 (3): pages 316-28. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1 HOC incorporates elements of CBT, wherebythe patient develops mastery over anxiety symptoms by being conditioned to associate a pleasant odor with a state of calm. Using olfactory cues, the patient then learns how to cultivate a “safe place” where one can learn to manage one’s anxiety and to gain a sense of mastery over fear and stress. In the next phase, the patient is finally able to withstand imaginal exposure to the traumatic memory itself. Finally, the patient, who has learned the role of scent in producing his or her symptoms, is able to replace the traumatic olfactory cues with pleasant ones.