Art therapy working wonders in PTSD treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be challenging to treat because simply discussing the original traumatic event is such a horrific experience for the trauma victim.  Because direct analytical approaches to therapy can be too overwhelming for some with PTSD, alternative methods are extremely helpful.

Traumatic experiences are stored in the brain in such a visceral way that words are often inadequate to describe them accurately.  Imagery can safely access memories of traumatic experiences, as well as helping trauma victims work on understanding their triggers and changing their reactions to them.

Art therapy, used as a means of exploring the self, can help trauma victims work through what has happened to them in a way that does not trigger panic in the brain because it is abstract.  The practice of art-making can be extremely therapeutic in and of itself, allowing the mind to relax as it focuses in on hand-eye coordination.  Art therapy groups can act as a safe space where PTSD victims find a sense of calm and comfort – a feeling that can be rare for those dealing with trauma.

Art therapy’s success as a supplement to tradition PTSD treatment bodes well for other alternative therapies.  The brain is incredibly complex – why confine treatment to conventional therapy?

What is dual-diagnosis?

Dual-diagnosis is a term used to denote individuals who suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism as well as another mental disorder (often bipolar disorder, PTSD, or eating disorders).

Considering the fact that addicts tend to be people who use and drink to self-medicate for pre-existing problems, it’s not surprising to learn that dual-diagnosis is incredibly common.

The question is: which came first, the chicken or the egg? In one case, an individual may clearly begin drinking as a means of coping with symptoms of a psychological disorder. In another, a long-term drug user may develop a psychological disorder as a result of substance-related mental imbalance.

The answer is: It doesn’t really matter, both disorders must be addressed in treatment in order for an individual to recover.

If an addicted individual attempts to work on deep psychological issues without getting sober, she will not succeed, because she will be incapable of accessing important memories and emotions that are numbed by drugs and alcohol.

If a person with a psychological disorder attempts to get sober without dealing with their mental condition, they will find sobriety miserable, causing them to return to drinking and using.

Each person will discover the true root of their problems in time, as they progress in their personal journey through recovery.  The important thing is to get into treatment, and begin the process of working through both substance abuse patterns and mental health issues.  Nothing will improve until both of these areas are addressed.

Equine therapy for treating PTSD

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that is inherently difficult to treat.  Traditional methods of treating PTSD rely mostly on cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which patients work one-on-one with a therapist to assess situations that trigger traumatic re-experiences, and then intervene by retraining the mind to associate these triggers with new ideas, generally ones that are calming and self-empowering.

CBT is very successful for patients that are capable of delving right into their memories of trauma, but for many, talking about traumatic experiences is difficult or impossible, as these memories may be repressed.  In these cases, experimental or alternative therapies are wonderful tools.

For most women who suffer from PTSD, trauma centers around some type of violation by another person.  For this reason, PTSD can bring with it a profound distrust of other people.  Equine therapy, in which patients work with a therapeutically trained horse, engaging in communicative exercises, gets around this by encouraging the patient to relate to a non-human being.  The experiences the patient has with the therapeutic animal can be eye-opening, mirroring situations or dynamics that the patient has experienced with humans.

The uninhibited nature of these inter-species interactions allows a freedom seldom experienced by trauma victims, who tend to be constantly vigilant in their dealings with people.  Once patients let their guards down, emotions and memories that they have been unconsciously holding back may come forward, allowing for therapeutic progress.