Years ago, I gave birth to a stillborn baby. This was traumatic and although I can’t say that developed full-blown PTSD from it, I was never able to view pregnancy as a magical experience after our stillborn baby was born. I had unresolved fears about pregnancy and although I never had flashbacks or difficulty sleeping or any of the other symptoms of PTSD, I did become cynical about pregnancy. And ambivalent. Years later, after I had some distance between me and the traumatic event, I realized how trauma had affected my life and how it’s even affected how my daughter views pregnancy. Most people at one time or another experience traumatic events in their lifetime, but some people have difficulty processing specific traumatic events for reasons that are fully understood scientifically. These people may have problems releasing the traumatic memories which can lead to the development of PTSD.
I can’t number how many people I know who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I work with kids a lot and it never ceases to surprise me how many of them have mothers or fathers with PTSD. And it also troubles me when I hear how this problem affects the lives of the PTSD sufferer as well as family members. PTSD symptoms include:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event or events in the form of memories, flashbacks, or nightmares.
- A feeling of being emotionally numb along with the desire to avoid triggers like people, places, or activities that are related to the trauma.
- An inability to sleep or concentrate, and chronic feelings of edginess, irritation, or anger.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can be caused by any traumatic event or even by learning about a traumatic event that happened to a loved one. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had a direct traumatic experience or whether the traumatic event was an indirect experience where you witnessed something or heard about a person close to you experiencing trauma. Therapists who work with trauma regularly have noted that trauma tends to be stored in the body. At the moment when a traumatic event happens, our bodies lock up and sometimes, for reasons that aren’t fully understood, they lock in the trauma. Releasing traumatic memories is not just a psychological event, but often it’s also a physical one. Some trauma-workers use movement therapies to help people with stress disorders release traumatic memories.
The neuroscience behind PTSD indicates that certain areas of the brain’s cortex may shrink in chronic PTSD sufferers in both the right and left hemispheres. Weihui Li and a group of doctors in China have been studying how brain structures change in PTSD sufferers at the Second Xiangya Hospital at Central South University. Research has indicated that very specific regions of the brain are affected by PTSD and that an imbalance between the size of the right and left hemispheres of the brain is one of the primary PTSD causes. Scientists acknowledge that communication between the right brain and the left brain plays an important role in the maintenance of PTSD. Therapies that are able re-establish right-left brain communication have been important in treating this disorder in psychotherapeutic settings. Talk therapy that allows the right and left brain to put together a coherent and meaningful narrative about the traumatic event can help PTSD sufferers regain control over their lives.
Interestingly though, for many years psychologists have been using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as a PTSD therapy that involves eye, hand, or finger movements that encourage right to left and left to right brain hemisphere communication. EMDR in addition to talk therapy can help manage and sometime obliterate the symptoms of PTSD. EMDR is a fascinating treatment strategy that can be helpful even for people who don’t have PTSD, but who still have troublesome memories that affect their daily lives. EMDR treatment for PTSD is simple and painless. Patients think about a traumatic event and at the same time the psychotherapist uses a light or a machine to create a right to left, left to right sensory experience (like a tapper that sits in the hands) to help the brain process the traumatic event. EMDR is quick and often, patients walk out of the office feeling as though nothing has changed. But over the course of a few days or weeks, the changes become more apparent.
My husband did EMDR therapy briefly a few years ago to work with and process memories of his dad, an alcoholic. The therapist put a “tapper” in each of his hands and then asked John to think about memories that troubled him. John came up with a memory right away when the therapist activated the tapper. In the memory, John was sitting at the kitchen table with his family when John choked on a piece of chicken. His mom did the Heimlich maneuver on him and saved John’s life. John’s dad never acknowledged the choking and in fact, didn’t seem to care that John’s life had been in peril (or that he’d been save). John said that the memory came to mind almost immediately when the tapper went off in his hands. It was a memory that he’d forgotten (or so it seemed). John told the therapist about the choking incident and that was it. That’s EMDR (though there are some different versions of it). The tapper tapped back and forth from his right to his left hand. After the session John came home and told me about his experience.
“It was a little like being in a trance, but different than that.” He said. “And I felt like nothing really changed afterward…”
But over the weeks that followed, John was a LOT less irritable and a LOT less prone to anger at home. Was the EMDR session responsible for lessening John’s stress? It’s hard to say for sure, but something lightened his mood.
Lately, I’ve been reading about a PTSD cure that’s intriguing to me mostly because I like cures more than “treatments”. Cures are what interest me most. This particular PTSD cure is called Iboga, a root that grows natively in Gabon, Africa. There it’s used ceremonially to initiate young people as a rite-of-passage. But in other parts of the world like Mexico or Costa Rica, Iboga is used in a somewhat safer form known as Ibogaine. Both Iboga (the root) and Ibogaine (the medication that was synthesized from the root) can be used as a PTSD cure as well as a cure for addictions.
Iboga and Ibogaine are entheogens that produce a psychedelic experience, but they’re not recreational substances. Ibogaine was developed to help standardize the amount of the active ingredients in Iboga that are administered at Iboga treatment facilities. Patients who seek out Iboga/Ibogaine have intense and sometimes uncomfortable sensory experiences while taking these substances. One author described the experience of taking Iboga as having a wise guru step into your brain to explore the deepest, most hidden beliefs and memories with a bright flashlight that exposes, defragments, and disposes of the pieces that don’t belong or that aren’t connected properly to one another. Good PTSD treatment centers that offer Iboga or Ibogaine often also provide on-site medical personnel (doctors and nurses). Patients stay in the facility for one to two weeks to fully process the experience. Iboga and Ibogaine are a PTSD cure, but despite that, they’re not the type of treatment to be taken lightly. About 33% of patients vomit and sometimes this vomiting may be intense and last for several hours. And the patient’s experience may include moments of pure ecstasy followed by intensely uncomfortable and powerful hallucinations.
If you suffer from PTSD, it’s important to realize that there are treatment options and even PTSD cures. As I understand it, Iboga and Ibogaine are not a quick or “easy” fix; the experience of taking these substances isn’t easy or comfortable, but the results can be powerful. PTSD sufferers may have to commit to some important lifestyle changes to get the best results from taking Iboga/Ibogaine, but for people who are ready to do whatever needs to be done to lessen or get rid of their PTSD symptoms, this treatment is worth considering.
Iboga and Ibogaine are illegal in the United States, but legal in many other parts of the world including Mexico and Costa Rica.
Further, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is used by some doctors to treat PTSD. Some doctors in the U.S. are willing to use this therapy “off-label” (since it isn’t approved by the FDA for this particular purpose). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy involves sitting in a treatment chamber for a specified period of time to increase oxygenation of the blood.