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Non-Drug Treatment Options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder can be both devastating and far-reaching, affecting not only individuals but also their families and communities as well.

Many depictions of those who suffer from PTSD are heroes returning from war-torn countries, and when they get home, they are unaware of how to seek treatment for their reoccurring nightmares, impulsive behavior, anxiety, and insomnia.

However, in reality, PTSD can affect people of any age, occupation, or background. In fact, PTSD can occur as the result of a wide range of traumatic experiences, such as violence, abuse, accidents, or any number of other difficult, challenging experiences.

The symptoms of PTSD can be so harrowing and difficult to deal with that many afflicted individuals find themselves unable to maintain healthy relationships or complete normal day-to-day tasks.

For many individuals who suffer from PTSD, treatment consists of mood stabilizers, antidepressant and/or antianxiety medications that carry the risks of additional negative side-effects. These side effects, in addition to being unpleasant on their own, may actually serve to exacerbate the initial symptoms of PTSD, as well.  Furthermore, because these medications do not address the underlying cause of the symptoms, any benefit that is derived from these medications is typically reliant on continued use, and symptoms are likely to return when someone discontinues the medication.

At the Drake Institute, we believe that the best treatment for PTSD is to harness the body-mind connection in order to address the underlying dysregulation that is causing the symptoms to begin with. What’s more, our advanced non-drug treatment protocols have shown to provide long-term symptom relief in many patients long after treatment has concluded.  

In this article, we will provide an introduction to PTSD, including its symptoms, and the most state-of-the-art non-drug PTSD treatment options available.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition in which the afflicted individual experiences a variety of intense, negative symptoms when they are confronted with triggers that may remind them of some traumatic event from the past.  

Unfortunately, these negative symptoms can last for days, months, or even years. Furthermore, if left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD may get worse over time.  

What are some of the Causes of PTSD

As mentioned, PTSD can often be caused by the traumatic experiences associated with military service; however, other events can also lead to PTSD as well.

As it turns out, there are a multitude of reasons why someone might develop PTSD, many of which are not as obvious as being on the battlefield.

For example, the trauma of being in a car accident may be enough to cause PTSD symptoms, causing the individual to experience significant anxiety when confronted with things associated with the accident. They may avoid triggers such as the location where it occurred, or even resist the act of driving/riding in a car.

This type of event could be classified as a direct experience event because the person experienced the trauma of the car crash first-hand; however, PTSD can also develop from indirect experiences as well.

An example of this dynamic might be a person who develops PTSD due to hearing several horrible stories of being trapped in an elevator in a high-rise building during a fire or earthquake. Indeed, the repeated exposure to these stories may be enough to elicit a stress response that develops into PTSD, despite the fact that the individual never had first-hand experience with the trauma.

Symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms encompass a wide variety of debilitating symptoms that usually start within one month of a traumatic event or experience.

However, this isn’t always the case: for some individuals, the signs of PTSD may not start until months or years after the event has occurred.

Common PTSD Symptoms:

  • Intense flashbacks
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • “Jumpiness”
  • Paranoia
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Constantly feeling “on edge”
  • Hypervigilance
  • Insomnia

Diagnosing PTSD

Diagnosing PTSD can be tricky, especially since many of the symptoms of PTSD are similar to that of stress and general anxiety.

Indeed, it’s normal for individuals who have experienced a traumatic event to feel anxious, nervous, sad, or to have recurring nightmares, as this is the body’s natural response to stress. For these individuals, simple treatment protocols like counseling and exercise may be enough to significantly reduce their negative symptoms.

On the other hand, individuals afflicted with PTSD will often experience negative symptoms that are far more intense and frequent.

To diagnose the presence of PTSD, the DSM-5 states that the following criteria must be met:[i]

Criterion 1: Stressor

Under this criterion, the individual must have experienced one or more events involving death, threatened death, actual injury, threatened injury, or sexual assault.

In addition to experiencing an intense event, the way the event was experienced also factors into the equation.

According to the DSM-5, the individual must’ve had direct exposure to trauma, witnessed trauma, or had indirect exposure trauma through a close friend or family member.

What’s more, being indirectly exposed to the details of a traumatic event can also count as a stressor. For example, if an individual is repeatedly exposed to a series of news stories in their town about a serial killer, there’s a chance that they may develop a deep-rooted fear about leaving the safety of their home, especially at night.

Criterion 2: Intrusion Symptoms

Intrusive symptoms include thoughts or memories that enter the afflicted individual’s mind involuntarily. 

To be diagnosed with PTSD, the individual must experience at least one of these intrusion symptoms, such as nightmares, flashbacks, negative emotional and physical reactions to thoughts, places, or things relating to the traumatic event, and reoccurring negative thoughts about the event that the individual can’t control.

Criterion 3: Avoidance

To be diagnosed with PTSD, individuals must also display certain avoidance behaviors, like avoiding thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that remind them of the traumatic event.

And much like those who have experienced a panic attack, those suffering from PTSD will also avoid certain people, places, activities, objects, or conversations that might bring up memories and details of the traumatic event.

<h3>Criterion 4: Negative Alterations in Cognition & Mood</h3>

When a person is afflicted with PTSD, they will often experience dramatic shifts in their mood or cognitive ability.

For example, many individuals who have experienced a traumatic event will have great difficulty recalling specific details of the event that’s causing them so much concern.

What’s more, individuals afflicted with PTSD will tend to have overly negative thoughts about themselves, low self-esteem, decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed, and difficulty with being optimistic.

To be officially diagnosed with PTSD, the afflicted individual must have at least two of these symptoms.

Criterion 5: Alterations in Arousal & Reactivity

In addition to feeling overly negative about themselves, individuals afflicted with PTSD will sometimes act in a manner that is overly aggressive or impulsive.

Indeed, experiencing a traumatic event can lead any individual to feel as if they always need to have their guard up, resulting in a heightened startle response and a constant feeling of being on edge.

These feelings can become so intense that they can disrupt normal thinking and sleeping patterns, which often leads to additional cognitive and behavioral declines.

Under this criterion, the individual must experience at least two of the above symptoms to be diagnosed with PTSD.

<h3>Criterion 6: Duration</h3>

To be diagnosed with PTSD, all the above symptoms must be experienced for at least 1 month.

Criterion 7: Functional Significance

To be diagnosed with PTSD, all related symptoms must cause considerable disruption to normal, day-to-day activities such as going to work, completing work assignments, and socializing with others.

Criterion 8: Exclusion

Finally, to be diagnosed with PTSD, the above symptoms must be distinguishable from a medical condition or issue with substance abuse.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

PTSD treatment typically involves a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

And while these treatment options can be effective for some individuals, they are not ideal for every patient simply because they don’t address the patient’s neurological dysregulation that is causing the underlying anxiety.

Although treatment options like CBT can help the individual develop some degree of self-regulation skills, these therapies lack the necessary neurophysical feedback mechanisms in order to correct the underlying neurological dysregulation. This type of correction is often necessary in order to achieve long-lasting improvements.

That being said, treatments such as Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy can still have their merits.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy, or CPT, is what many people simply refer to as “therapy” or “counseling”, but typically, CPT comes with a bit more structure than traditional therapy.

During CPT, the afflicted individual will receive therapy for 12 weeks, and during that time, the hope is that the patient will be able to distinguish the difference between normal thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and intrusive thoughts that might manifest PTSD symptoms.

At the beginning of this PTSD treatment, the afflicted individual will be required to write a statement that details their current understanding of the traumatic event and why it occurred. Additionally, the individual must describe the impact that this event is having on their life and others around them.

As this treatment progresses, the individual will be asked to not only write detailed accounts of the traumatic event, but also to read these accounts out loud.

And while this process is likely to cause the individual suffering PTSD great distress, they may also learn how to control their intrusive thoughts and keep them from bringing about negative emotions.

Once the patient has grown comfortable with this process, they can then attempt to apply these sorts of coping strategies outside of treatment.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Another common treatment for PTSD is prolonged exposure therapy, or PET, and as the name suggests, PET is the process of helping afflicted individuals confront their fears in an adaptive way.

Typically, PET lasts for about 3 months, with the patient attending one 60 to 120-minute session per week.

In the beginning, the therapist will provide the patient with an overview of the treatment methodology, along with some tips for controlling their anxiety-related symptoms, like breathing techniques for managing stress responses.

Once PE commences, it is broken up into two components: Imaginal Exposure and In Vivo Exposure.

During the imaginal exposure stage, the therapist and the patient will discuss the traumatic event in detail. Through this process of back and forth discussion, the patient will be “exposed” to the traumatic event and their responses/reactions will be recorded.

The reason for this recording is so that the patient can analyze how he/she is responding and if their emotional reactions are progressing in the right direction.

The second component, In Vivo Exposure (“in life” exposure), is the process of exposing the patient to symptom-inducing stimuli in real life situations.

During this portion of PET, the therapist and patient will agree upon stimuli that will be used, and assess the possible dangers and outcomes that may come from exposure. Once the patient exposes themselves to the stimuli, they will return to PET to report how they reacted.

PTSD Medications

Finally, another common treatment for PTSD is the use of medications like Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, and others.

In many cases, sufferers of PTSD have dysregulated brain functioning—specifically, their “fight or flight” response mechanism. In these cases, the brain is incorrectly signaling to an individual that they are in a life-threatening situation, even if the reaction is vastly disproportionate to the circumstances.

And while treating PTSD with medication can sometimes temporarily reduce symptoms, the results are typically temporary, that is, once the medication stops, the symptoms of PTSD may return.

What’s more, many of these PTSD medications carry the possibility of negative side-effects which can actually exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD. Specifically, possible side effects of these medications include:

  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased levels of anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of libido

Drake Institute’s Non-Drug Treatment for PTSD

Since 1980, the Drake Institute has been utilizing the mind-body connection to provide symptom relief for a variety of stress-related disorders, including PTSD. Since this time, the Drake Institute has worked extensively to help patients regain their lives, which had been taken away from them by PTSD. This includes a research study working with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in order to assist officers struggling with stress and PTSD to return to their jobs without becoming ill again. The treatment had such a profound impact on the officers receiving treatment (including the Chief of Police and several deputy police chiefs), that a joint news conference was held by Mayor Tom Bradly to commend the Drake Institute for their pioneering work.  

This research study was instrumental in providing additional insight into how stress damages a person’s health, and more importantly, how reversing psycho-physiological stress can restore one’s physical and mental state into good health.

What’s more, the advanced treatment protocols utilized by the Drake Institute are 100% drug-free and non-invasive, so patients looking for relief from their PTSD symptoms don’t have to worry about experiencing any negative side-effects from prescription medications.

Drake Institute Treatment Technologies

The Drake Institute uses FDA-approved treatment technologies that can produce long-term symptom reduction for a variety of attentional and stress-related disorders.

In addition to disorders like PTSD and ADHD, our treatment technology has also proven effective for both Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s.

Our advanced treatment technologies include three main treatment processes, including Brain Mapping, Biofeeback/Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation Therapy.

Brain Mapping

The foundation of our neurotherapy treatment protocols at the Drake Institute is derived from qEEG brain mapping, which provides us with a window into the patient’s brainwave patterns.

As mentioned before, those afflicted by PTSD often experience brain dysregulation, and with the help of qEEG brain mapping, we can identify the regions that are under or over-activated that contribute to an individual’s symptoms. These regions subsequently become the targets of treatment in order to provide the brain with the regulation needed in order to alleviate a person’s distress.

In simpler terms, brain mapping is analogous to a physician performing a bacterial culture on a sick patient to determine which antibiotic would be best for treating the infection. What’s more, brain mapping tells us if the symptoms are neurologically based or linked. When the symptoms are neurologically linked, then there’s a high probability of treatment success using Neurotherapy.

During the brain mapping process, 19 sensors are placed on the surface of the head, allowing brain wave activity to be rendered. Please note that brain mapping is non-invasive and completely painless.

Once complete, the recordings are then processed through the FDA-registered normative database in order to identify regions that deviate from “normal” activity that are linked to symptoms.

Once this dysregulation is discovered, a custom treatment protocol using Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation therapy can be developed for each individual patient. By customizing the treatment to each individual patient, we’re able to produce much better results compared to treatment processes that utilize a “one size fits all” approach.

Biofeedback & Neurofeedback

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback treatment is a non-invasive training process that assists an individual to identify and correct the neurophysiological patterns that may contribute to their symptoms.

In short, Neurofeedback is a lot like learning how to ride a bicycle: although finding your balance is difficult at first, the combination of visual cues and sensory feedback from the bike allows the rider to develop and stabilize a sense of balance over time.

During Neurofeedback, nothing invasive is performed: your brain is not stimulated, and drugs are not administered.

Instead, a sensor is placed on your head that both records and displays your brain’s current functioning pattern on a monitor.

Through this setup, Neurofeedback can provide patients instantaneous feedback of how their brain is working, and allows the patient to develop self-regulation for improving brain functioning to reduce symptoms.

In many respects, Neurofeedback is like physical therapy for your brain in that it’s self-generated and able to provide long-term improvement.

In one of our Neurofeedback treatments, the patient’s brainwaves are converted into a computer game of a car driving down a highway. As the patient’s brainwaves shift to a more normal functioning frequency, the car moves and stays in the proper lane and an auditory tone goes off. This tone is repeated every half second that the patient sustains this improved response, and the improved response becomes more stabilized with continual auditory and visual feedback. If the brain begins to “fire more normally repeatedly”, then it can rewire into the more functional, normalized pattern.

With enough practice, the patient will be able to achieve this balanced state without the help of the instrument feedback, allowing them to self-regulate better brain functioning over the long-term.

Neuromodulation

In 2014, the Drake Institute integrated neurostimulation into our existing treatment protocols, and the results have been extraordinary.

As a matter of fact, this new treatment technology has been so successful in providing fast, therapeutic relief that we’ve now fully integrated it into our treatment protocols for 2019.

Neurostimulation provides therapeutic neuromodulation of dysregulated brain functioning, enhancing and accelerating therapeutic improvements gained from Neurofeedback.

How does Neurostimulation work?

In essence, Neurostimulation stimulates a brainwave pattern that the patient’s brain is deficient in, and once established, the brain can then mimic or emulate the stimulation to form healthier brainwave patterns. This process can also increase blood flow in damaged areas and reduce inflammation.

A simple analogy would be learning how to hit a forehand stroke in tennis: in the beginning, your instructor will hold your wrist and move your arm through the correct motion, helping you hit the tennis ball. This support will only allow you to swing the “proper” motion. However, even though the instructor is the one moving your arm, the act of repeating the motion again and again will cause the brain to reorganize in order to make that movement more natural and internalized. With time and repetition, the instructor will be able to step back and motor memory will allow you to execute the better swing without the instructor’s physical guidance. This is the same process that the brain undergoes during Neuromodulation.

This treatment technology is so safe and effective that is now used around the globe in many world-renowned medical centers such as Harvard University School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, UCLA School of Medicine, and many other institutions.

Contact the Drake Institute

If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, please don’t hesitate to call us for a free consultation. Our non-drug treatment protocols have provided many patients with long-term symptom relief.

 

[i] https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/dsm5_ptsd.asp

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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Behavioral Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Behavioral Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Behavioral Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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