Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a growing concern for many patients. Trauma can be a life changing event, one that can impact an individual’s ability to participate in a joyful life and normal daily activities, and is not rare. Approximately 70% of American adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. It is perfectly natural to feel fear during a traumatic event and nearly everyone will experience some degree of reaction afterwards. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event has lasting challenges as a result of it, however approximately 20% of those who reported a traumatic event develop PTSD.
Many people associate PTSD with military personnel who have been in combat situations. Although PTSD is common in this population, it certainly does not discriminate. PTSD can impact children and adults, old and young, male and female (though women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition). Those who develop PTSD may feel frightened, anxious, or stressed even when there is no inherent danger. People who develop PTSD may feel very “on-edge” and may react strongly to noises, sights, and situations. They may have trouble sleeping, have unsettling memories, and avoid anything that reminds them of the event (even if that thing was something they once enjoyed).1
PTSD is an extremely complex condition which requires an equally comprehensive treatment plan in order to offer the best chance of permanent recovery. 39% of people diagnosed with PTSD seek out complementary and integrative health approaches.2 Naturopathic physicians are uniquely trained to offer PTSD treatment options that span a variety of therapeutic options. A naturopathic approach to managing and treating PTSD may include:
Mind-body medicine contains among the most well-researched means of managing PTSD. There are a number of therapies that fall in this category, however not all have been proven empirically effective. Some techniques, proven to help PTSD, include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, both of which are utilized by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as treatment options for service members with PTSD.3
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is, at its core, a combination of the fields of cognitive and behavioral psychology. It is based on the idea that psychological concerns are often manifested and maintained through distorted thoughts and maladaptive behavior. Sessions are focused on current problems and encourage the development of solutions to those problems. The goal of therapy is to support the client in developing and implementing effective strategies to reduce psychological distress. Research has shown that CBT has the ability to significantly reduce the symptoms of PTSD.4
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed as a means of helping people deal with the emotional distress that often accompanies a traumatic event.5 The goal of EMDR therapy is to focus less on the traumatic event and more on the disturbing emotions and symptoms that followed the event.6 The research on EMDR is plentiful. Scientific evaluation has shown that after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions, up to 90% of single trauma PTSD sufferers had overcome the condition.5 Further research reported that all of single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple-trauma victims overcame their PTSD after an average of six therapy sessions.7
The current understanding of the development of PTSD involves dysregulation in a branch of the nervous system known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS has a direct role in how the body responds to stress.8 There are a number of botanical medicines that can impact the stress response (adaptogens) and the balance of the nervous system (nervines). Though certainly not an exhaustive list, herbal formulas containing herbs such as eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), oats (Avena sativa), Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum), and Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) may be particularly useful.
Energy Alignment Therapies
Therapies that utilize and seek to align and balance the energetic pathways of the body can also be useful in the naturopathic management of PTSD. Among the most common are craniosacral therapy, homeopathy, and acupuncture.
Craniosacral therapy is a hands-on approach that is focused upon the gentle removal of restriction within the meningeal membrane system and all of the bones of the skull and vertebral column, including the sacrum and coccyx to which these membranes are attached.9 This technique is essentially risk-free in terms of potential hazards or negative side effects. Studies have been conducted specifically evaluating the effectiveness of craniosacral therapy in the treatment of PTSD. Research shows that craniosacral therapy has the ability to make a positive impact on PTSD symptoms.10
Homeopathy is a discrete system of medicine that was developed over 200 years ago by German physician, Samuel Hahnemann. Homeopathic medicine has its own diagnostic and prescriptive methods. The homeopathic approach considers every symptom related to the possible troubles in the whole person.11 There are hundreds of potential remedies that could benefit someone with PTSD. Prescription of a homeopathic remedy is individualized and relies on the totality of symptoms and not just those related to the condition being treated.
Acupuncture as a medical treatment is thousands of years old. It involves inserting fine needles into specific points in the body for therapeutic or preventive purposes. Acupuncture has been widely used for a number of psychiatric conditions.12 Preliminary results for the use of acupuncture in the management and treatment of PTSD are encouraging. Clinical trials in combat veterans with PTSD are currently underway.13
Naturopathic physicians are uniquely trained to use a multitude of techniques and therapies to manage conditions like PTSD and work with patients to address the root of the issue. Click here to find an ND near you in the United States and Canada.