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Getting to the Bottom of It: What Works Best for Traumatized Troops

13 Sep

Well, imagine my surprise when two practitioners of Healing Touch (there’s a good definition of this modality here) said hi at last week’s annual HT conference in Tucson where I was speaking, and mentioned they were involved with a PTSD study that will eventually include over 200 recently returned troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.  They’re testing the effects of a combination of guided imagery and Healing Touch on the symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Although they’re not at liberty to disclose results yet, it was clear that this combination was exceeding expectations and delivering dramatic results with, in the parlance, an unlikely bunch of Marine grunts.

I had tried to convince them to please not start out using our very intense and evocative Healing Trauma (PTSD) imagery, but rather to work up to it, using some of the simpler, less demanding exercises first from the Stress Hardiness Optimization CD.  

This seemed the wisest course, based on Jennifer Strauss’ feedback from our Duke/Durham subjects, and reports from a few other experienced clinicians at  Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Phoenix V.A..  In fact, for our newest Duke/Durham pilot study with recently returned troops, we switched the intervention to some simpler self-regulation audio tracks, getting terrific results and practically no dropouts.  So we were pretty pumped over this new protocol and I did my best to talk them into using it.

But did they listen??  Noooooo. They were hell bent on using Healing Trauma, so they thanked me kindly for my input, and then proceeded as planned.  To my surprise, a few months later, the principle investigator reported that the PTSD imagery was totally kicking butt with their subjects.  They loved it.  In fact, the controls, who got “treatment as usual”, consisting of individual therapy and EMDR, had begun insisting on getting the CD and an HT treatment when the last post-test was done.

So we were scratching our heads, trying to figure out what the heck the difference was between this group and the same basic population at Duke, who had more mixed reactions to this intense, emotional imagery. We’re committed to figuring this out, because we’re working on an ideal intervention to offer the military for our troops.  

We chewed this over, yet again, with all the investigators and clinicians involved, trying to tease out the variables.  Was it East Coast vs. West Coast? An age or gender difference?  Different combat experiences?   Nupe.  None of the above.

Here is what we’re thinking might make the difference – listen up, clinicians!

  1. For starters, these subjects listened to the Healing Trauma imagery while receiving their Healing Touch treatments.  (HT treatments put people in a deeply relaxed, receptive trance state).

  2. They’re also encouraged to listen to the audio at home with their spouse or partner, as well.

  3. These subjects also listen to the Affirmations track on that audio, after they get done with the imagery – so the intensity of the imagery is mitigated by a second track that’s much less emotionally demanding, but with lots of healing messages – still in this very becalmed, open-hearted, receptive, HT altered state. 

  4. This means that they get a full hour’s worth of intervention in a session, instead of the usual half-hour.  

So I think the mystery may be solved…. At least we’re a lot further along in figuring this out.  In the absence of Healing Touch, it may well make sense to offer the less evocative imagery – major benefit happens either way, and with these audio selections alone, we know we’ve got something effective without being distressing, that’s also portable, completely self-administered and extremely inexpensive.

But wherever the imagery can be combined with Healing Touch?? Well, that just might be the jackpot, Big Kahuna intervention.  The investigators can’t give details, of course, until the study is completed.  But they’re clearly over the moon with the effect sizes they’re seeing.  So this is big.

Oh, and by the way, the Healing Touch people were told by several superior officers that NO WAY would these young, mostly male, returning Marines submit their macho selves to Healing Touch – such a touchy-feely, ooey-gooey, fruitloopy intervention.  Guess what?  They LOVE it.  

So stay tuned.  We’re encouraged and gratified and, yes, finally figuring this thing out. Meanwhile, people, try this combo when and wherever you can.

All best,

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award