Long Road Back, Part II

Written by Eric on November 19, 2012 in: Uncategorized |

Connie Louie-Handelman, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, was impressed with the success of the “tapping therapy,” Emotional Freedom Techniques, during the year she worked as an Army Reserve psychologist at a forward operating base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Prior to her deployment in July 2011, she had been using EFT as a performance-enhancing technique among athletes, and she continued using it with soldiers.

“I found it worked quickly in eliminating fears, limiting beliefs, pain, and releasing traumatic events,” she told me. “It was quick and easy to get relief. Most importantly, it was something I could teach soldiers to do on their own.”

Louie-Handelman remembers one sergeant with deep religious convictions who was tormented with nightmares because he feared he was desecrating the bodies of soldiers when he took DNA samples. The nightmares were so severe he was unable to function, she said.

“But after four tapping sessions, he told me he was surprised that his nightmares had gone away,” she said. “He was able to finish his tour, and I saw him until he went home.”

When soldiers asked her how EFT works, she explained that it’s an energy therapy. “Any negative emotion blocks our energy flow, and we know it’s there because we keep reliving that event,” she said. “Tapping helps us push that negative emotion out of the way.”

Louie-Handelman said her records showed she had about 575 therapy sessions with nearly 200 soldiers. “I used EFT on 90 percent of my patients,” she said, “and I estimate 60 to 70 percent of them got better.  I know that because they were able to go back to work.”

But it’s still a therapy that’s scientifically unproven. John Medina, author of the best-selling book “Brain Rules,” called it “promising,” but told me: “The data are mixed concerning PTSD and acupuncture currently; nothing definitive that I am aware. The biggest reason is that there have been no randomized double-blinds with sufficient numbers.”

Medina pointed me to a study five years ago, the first scientific randomized controlled pilot trial that looked at the effects of acupuncture on PTSD. It found that “Acupuncture may be an efficacious and acceptable nonexposure treatment option for PTSD.”  Specifically, it found acupuncture to be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy, and both to be preferable to no treatment at all. “Larger trials with additional controls and methods are warranted to replicate and extend these findings,” it concluded.

Dr. Dawson Church and several colleagues recently concluded a study of 16 teenagers who had been abused. Half the group which received no treatment did not improve in measurements of two components of PTSD (intrusive thoughts and avoidance techniques), but the other half improved with a single session of EFT. “These results are consistent with those found in adults, and indicates the utility of single-session EFT as a fast and effective intervention for reducing psychological trauma in juveniles,” the study concluded.

The Veterans’ Stress Project is looking for vets with PTSD who are willing to participate in a study measuring the effectiveness of EFT in treating PTSD.  You can get more information about the project from its research coach, Marilyn McWilliams, at  Marilyn@EFTCatalyst.com

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Courage After Fire

Written by Eric on November 12, 2012 in: Uncategorized |

“Courage After Fire” was the name of a conference I recently attended. It was about transitions, about bridging the gap between military and civilian life.

We’re all familiar with “courage under fire,” the phrase that defines our military heroes, but today on Veterans’ Day, “courage after fire” seems a more appropriate phrase.

Today, more than 57,000 vets are homeless, tens of thousands have no jobs, and close to one third of those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or major depression.

These are problems that our society must address, and thankfully, a number of organizations and individuals are stepping up to the plate.

U.S.VETS, for example, has an innovative program called “Outside the Wire.” At six Southern California community colleges, U.S.VETS staff and interns from the University of Southern California and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology reach out to veterans who may be unaware they’re dealing with PTSD or who may be hesitant to seek help from the VA out of fear it could hinder their efforts to get jobs, especially in law enforcement.

Early intervention is a very cost-effective strategy; U.S.VETS treats a student veteran for approximately $560, about a tenth of the cost of an in-house program later on when a veteran’s psychological issues have become more intense.

“Outside the Wire” also counsels the families of these returned warriors — their spouses, children, even their parents — who grapple with the effects of their loved ones’ combat experiences. In the last year, “Outside the Wire” has served 400 vets and their families.

On this Veterans’ Day, remember that it’s also important to support those who are reaching out to help our vets.

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Long Road Back

Written by Eric on November 7, 2012 in: Uncategorized |

Dan Hoaglin may be the poster-child for PTSD in upstate New York.

Last spring, Hoaglin talked with News8 television in Rochester, N.Y., about how difficult it was to return to civilian life after being conditioned by years of survival under battlefield conditions. A retired staff sergeant with the 89th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas, Hoaglin has served tours of duty in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and two stints in Iraq during 11 years in the Army.

“Most people don’t have the ability to say yes, I saw a mortar round blow up five car lengths away, but I have. So now when a car backfires, that same response, the same initial surge that kept me alive years ago causes problems for me,” he said. “It can be devastating. My heart will begin to race. I start to look for spotters on the tops of buildings. I’m looking for who guided this in. If I see something, that will pose a threat to me. And all threats to me, I deal with with a great deal of hostility.”

His wife Angie told the news channel that her husband’s behavior changed drastically after his second tour in Iraq. “He was not happy,” she said. “It was like five hours after he got home we got into a huge fight.”

Hoaglin said he tried just about everything – diet and nutrition, hypnotherapy, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, and Reiki energy therapy – but he was still thinking about committing suicide on a daily basis.

It all came to a head on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, when Hoaglin told the news channel that he began to experience an “empty rage.” He began drinking heavily and passed out in the driveway of his upper New York state farm with a sword in his hand. “When I woke up, there was a person in a black uniform pointing a pistol at me,” he said. “It was a cop that was coming to pick me up to take me to the hospital. But I didn’t recognize him because I had slipped back into being down range.”

After that, Hoaglin quit drinking, and he turned to an alternative energy therapy called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques).  That involved remembering the events that stressed him, then telling himself that he was not to blame for those events. As he did so, he began tapping on his acupressure points on his face, his torso and his hands.

Some energy therapists believe this allows the body’s energy to flow freely after being blocked by bad memories, but Tempe, Ariz., psychologist James R. Lane, writing in “Energy Psychology” magazine, had a more detailed medical explanation:

“Recent research indicates that manual stimulation of acupressure points produces opoids, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and regulates cortisol. These neurochemical changes reduce pain, slow the heart rate, decrease anxiety, shut off the fight/flight/freeze response, regulate the autonomic nervous system, and create a sense of calm. This relaxation response reciprocally inhibits anxiety and creates a rapid desensitization to traumatic stimuli.”

Hoaglin learned the technique from Tom Porpiglia, a Vietnam vet who runs Life Script Counseling Services in Rochester and who is working with the Veterans’ Stress Project to test the effectiveness of EFT on combat vets with PTSD.

Porpiglia said Hoaglin tested in the 70s on his initial PTSD evaluations (the max is 85, and anything above 50 is considered clinical PTSD), but that he dropped to a 24 after six sessions. That was last April, and News8 said only time would tell whether the improvements would hold up over time.

Last week, Porpiglia told me that Hoaglin’s scores had risen from 24 to 38, adding “this is a bit unusual so early in the cycle, but given all that he has been through, understandable.”

Tapping the acupressure points to remove anxiety is something that Hoaglin can do himself, but Porpiglia said he would offer more services if Hoaglin’s condition worsens.

Vets suffering from PTSD can learn more about EFT and the Veterans’ Stress Project from Marilyn McWilliams. Her email is Marilyn@EFTCatalyst.com

Next up, we’ll talk with an Army Reserve psychologist who successfully used EFT on soldiers in Afghanistan.