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Some Ideas about the Fort Hood Shooter, PTSD, Vicarious Trauma & Multiple Rotations….

16 Nov

Well, as you might imagine, since the Fort Hood shootings, the phones have been ringing off the hook and emails have been pouring in.  People want to know why the Dept. of Defense and the V.A. aren’t using portable, digitized guided imagery in a more systematic way to combat PTSD in our troops, given the research results we’ve been seeing with it.

It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll just start with some random thoughts. Hopefully they’ll come across as sequential.

  • First of all, it’s always good to have public discussion about posttraumatic stress and our troops, but I’m not at all sure these particular horrific murders had anything to do with PTSD.

  • I don’t have enough detail to diagnose this guy, but off the top of my head, he’s more likely to be a paranoid schizophrenic under extra pressure from an imminent deployment than somebody suffering from vicarious trauma. 

  • Vicarious trauma is the result of a caregiver’s or reporter’s or bystander’s compassion.  In fact, it’s been called “compassion fatigue”.  People loaded up on too much identification with the suffering of others are the least likely bunch to go around shooting innocents.  Mostly, they suffer and smile less.

  • People with PTS rarely shoot anyone, period, and on the rare occasion that they do, it’s most likely to be themselves.  (Secretary Shinseki has already reported that as many service people from Iraq and Afghanistan have committed suicide as have been killed thus far in these wars – and that’s now over 4,000, folks. Do the math and be horrified.)

  • Although it’s certainly possible that this was part of some radical, extremist, Islamicist, terrorist plot, it’s far more likely (again, given the limited info) that, like most paranoid schizophrenics, this guy is using the content of his religion as part of his psychotic delusional system.  It’s possible that both are true, but that would be highly unusual.

  • If we want to get rid of PTSD, the first thing we need to do is stop the cruel, multiple rotations.  We’re sending some of our service people out on their 8th rotation, people.  Do you know what kind of havoc this wreaks on anyone’s psyche, let alone what it does to their families’?
  • We already know from a very decent pile of accruing research that the things that work quickly and efficiently on posttraumatic stress are the image-based, body-based and energy-based interventions - guided imagery, hypnosis, healing touch, biofeedback, EMDR and the like.  This is because PTSD sits in the primitive, survival based parts of the brain, and you need techniques that go straight to those structures to get the job done.

  • The V.A. has to get over its singular love affair with Prolonged Exposure Therapy and start looking for other kinds of therapy as well - methods that don’t create as much distress, that don’t require 12 sessions with a highly trained therapist and that the troops and vets will actually use – like audio self-help, for instance – shown to be their top choice in two separate studies. 

  • The DoD has to stop throwing frantic money at unproven (for combat stress) methods and start seeing what’s actually out there and working reliably for this population of combat-stressed service people. BG Loree K. Sutton MD at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) is drowning in proposals for every possible ‘cure-all’ scheme – but we have solid results in multiple studies with imagery downloads from Duke/Durham V.A. Hospital; with imagery and biofeedback from Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland; from imagery and Healing Touch from Scripps Hospital in La Jolla.  This is where they need to look, for heavens sake.  

OK, I’ll be back, no doubt with more ranting next week.  Feel free to post your own ideas and reactions to all of this.

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