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A revolutionary change in the treatment of PTSD has begun with a holistic approach at the Fort Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center in Texas.7 The program, created by clinical psychologist John Fortunato, was launched in the summer of 2007 after a long struggle for funding. His six- to nine-month program includes a rigorous 35-hour treatment week that combines group and individual therapies that include alternative therapies such as: massage, reiki, qigong, tai qi, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, exercise, games, hot-stone therapy treatments and “rehearsal therapy”, which includes telling your most painful memories over and over until they lose their power.
Fortunato uses acupuncture in the treatment of anxiety, panic and tension-induced pain. Reiki treatments are used to assist in treating hyperarousal symptoms. According to Fortunato, “In order to stay alive, their bodies have been hyperaroused for so long, that they come back and cannot turn it off. Their body doesn’t even remember how to relax again, and because of that they don’t sleep and are irritable. … The massage has helped soldiers sleep.”
And the holistic healing approach for soldiers is paying off: 12 of the 37 soldiers have returned to their units and only two have ended up having to take medical discharges from the army.
According to a 2005 study,8 positive changes have been shown in biochemistry following massage therapy including reduced cortisol and increased serotonin and dopamine. By decreasing the clients’ cortisol levels with bodywork, a client can reduce the constant feelings of hyperarousal and danger. By increasing serotonin and dopamine in the brain, an ease of suffering and anxiety is felt.8
A study on sexual abuse victims suffering from PTSD conducted by Cynthia Price, concluded victims of PTSD showed a significant decrease in physiological and physical symptoms, after massage and body-oriented therapy (in addition to psychotherapy).9
Alternative medicine, massage and bodywork, along with traditional methods, can help victims of PTSD in the recovery process. With PTSD numbers on the rise, and more troops coming home every day, there are plenty of sufferers in need. In the hands of a well-intentioned therapist, massage for clients with PTSD acknowledges and helps to restore the most basic human needs of safety, trust, control, self-worth and intimacy. When these needs are satisfied in the context of a healthy therapeutic relationship, an individual may not only succeed but re-learn or discover for the first time how to thrive.2