Simple, Effective Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Bob Van Oosterhout, MA,
My experience in over thirty-six years of counseling with trauma victims leads me to believe that recovery
from PTSD is a simple, natural process that involves two basic components:
(1) Understanding how symptoms are formed
and resolved through the interaction of thought, memory, emotion, and physical tension.
(2) Developing the skills
and capacity to allow natural emotions to run their course without resistance through breath-holding and muscle tension while
avoiding stimulating new emotion through thought and memory exploration.
In my experience, recovery is primarily
an emotional and experiential process. Talking about trauma is not necessary and can be counter-productive. Understanding
how each symptom of PTSD is generated and why the recovery process works provides the confidence and security to proceed.
Understanding Symptom Formation
Emotions are physical events. They are experienced in the musculature.
Tensing muscles associated with emotional trauma temporarily diminishes the experience of these emotions. When this tension
is released, emotions are re-experienced. This happens when tension builds to a point where emotions can no longer be restrained.
It can also be triggered by random events, and it occurs naturally as muscle tension is resolved over time. Talking or thinking
about trauma stimulates new emotion, which when resisted, creates additional tension, which in turn draws the mind to dwell
on thoughts and/or memories of trauma. This stimulates more emotion, thus creating a self-escalating process, which
tends to increase the intensity of that emotion when it “breaks through.”
The key to recovery is to allow trauma-related emotions to run their course without resistance
(each episode usually only lasts 2-3 minutes). Labeling the emotion as “a natural response to past trauma”
without further thought or discussion prevents stimulation of new emotion and the likelihood of increased tension. Restoring
and maintaining balance to the autonomic nervous and resolving patterns of tension that inhibit emotion are critical components
of this process. When balance is maintained, emotions associated with trauma tend to arise in a time and place where
they can be fully experienced and released. Once a person has allowed a deep, extremely uncomfortable emotion to run
its course without resistance, he or she sees that balance is quickly restored and realizes that these experiences are brief
and manageable. The usual course of recovery involves resolving patterns of tension and re-experiencing traumatic emotions
repeatedly over a number of months. In my experience, recovery has only extended past a year when there are other stressors
and/or conflicts that complicate the process.
Role of Helper
In my experience, most trauma
victims are able to develop the skills and understanding needed for full recovery within three to five sessions. My
role is to explain the process using simple terms and metaphors, to create an atmosphere where traumatic emotions can be experienced
without resistance, to describe how to restore balance when specific patterns of tension inhibit emotion, and to teach how
to redirect thinking during and after emotional experiences.