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?
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.