By Abbie Burgess
► What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? An estimated 8 percent of Americans have the condition —that’s the size of the population of Texas! According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, the demand for treatment continues to grow. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect survivors not only of combat experience, but also other traumatic events such as natural disasters or assault. It has been recognized as a psychobiological mental disorder since 1980, though symptoms often go untreated or undetected. Some sufferers are now finding help through complementary medicine. Holistic practitioners experienced in working with PTSD abound in Eau Claire—and with treatments including massage, therapy animals, and yoga, their methods might pleasantly surprise you.
► Treating PTSD with Bodywork Therapy Chris Hayden of Driftless Bodywork in Eau Claire and Menomonie treats patients with therapeutic massage, acupressure, Rolfing Structural Integration, AMMA Therapy, and Tai Chi. “Body therapists have long been aware that emotions play out in the body as well as the mind,” Hayden explains. “This is never more obvious than in the case of trauma, which can create such overwhelm that one’s body becomes locked into a pattern of tension and guarding…it is as if part of the person was frozen in time at the moment of trauma, unable to process the experience and move on.” By engaging the body’s tissues in a mindful way, Hayden says bodywork can help these patterns to release, allowing the body and mind to be whole in the present moment.
► Equine Assisted Therapy They may be too big to fit in a lap, but horses make ideal therapy animals. According to Trinity Equestrian Center, horses have an innate ability to read a person’s body language. The Eau Claire organization offers free veteran horse therapy to qualified military individuals and their families, no prior riding experience required. The program helps veterans struggling with PTSD identify their triggers and create tools to manage reactions, behavior, and choices. “Through experiential work with horses, we help veterans rediscover their identity and re-establish their purpose,” says Trinity Equestrian Center Therapist Sylvia Piekarz. “It is a meaningful experience that will change their heart and therefore, change their life. Working with our horses creates a connection of their hearts that is indescribable and so very effective.”
► Healing Emotional Trauma with Yoga Yoga is becoming increasingly recognized as an effective treatment for reducing symptoms of PTSD. It can also help with prevention—a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that sensory-enhanced hatha yoga shows potential to effectively address symptoms of combat stress before they develop into full-blown PTSD. Sandra Helpsmeet, a registered yoga instructor and psychotherapist at Vantage Point Clinic, teaches Yoga for Anxiety and PTSD class and Yoga for Pain and Depression. Both classes are offered in partnership with her clinic, specialized to address the needs of patients within an environment where they can be comfortable going at their own pace. Helpsmeet says yoga is a beneficial auxiliary treatment to therapy and believes the two complement each other well. “People think yoga is yoga. They don’t realize the broad spectrum of applications it has.” Its emphasis on breathing makes it ideally suited for treating trauma conditions. “Yoga is inherently calming and grounding,” she explains. Helpsmeet says any yoga class could be potentially beneficial, especially if the instructor has a high level of certification, but an instructor with experience working with veterans is ideal. This is just a sampling of what holistic practitioners can offer to help patients cope with PTSD. Whether you or someone you love is interested in holistic therapies, the important thing is there are options available. The best way to find out if a method is effective for an individual is to give it a try.