Post Traumatic Stress Disorder commonly abbreviated as PTSD, is a debilitating mental illness that affects about 24 million people in the US alone. It generally manifests when a person is exposed to wars, sexual assault, accidents, and other disastrous events.
It is often characterized by anxiety, depression, hyper-vigilance, and aggression, flashbacks of the event, nightmares and insomnia.
For decades, medical practitioners have tried to find the most effective treatment for PTSD. Treatments such as psychotherapy and drugs or a combination of both are commonly employed in the conventional treatment of PTSD and float therapy is a recent addition to the list.
What is float therapy?
It is an alternative form of treatment which centers on sensory deprivation while being inside tanks called float pods or isolation tanks. Although float therapy is relatively new in the treatment of mental health, it has been popular in the fields of wellness and sports.
The treatment consists of a small pool or a tank filled with six to twelve inches of sterile water. It is heated to 93.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is roughly the same temperature as the human body.
The tank is also filled with 800 lbs to 1000 lbs of medical grade magnesium sulfate or Epsom salt. The high concentration of salt keeps the body floating. The float tank is open and not airtight, so there is a free supply of oxygen.
The treatment is conducted in a dark room, which is also soundproof. The combination of the controlled water temperature and sound and light-free environment induces a feeling of being physically suspended.
How does float therapy benefit patients with PTSD?
Float therapy, also is known as REST, or Restricted Environment Stimulation Technique, has long been known to reduce stress. Individuals who have PTSD often experience increased stress and other symptoms. Following are the ways in which float therapy can benefit those who have PTSD.
- Reduces stress.
When a person is under stress, a lot of physiological change takes place. There is a significant increase in blood pressure as well as cortisol, also called the stress hormone.
Undergoing floatation in an environment without audio and visual stimulation reduces blood pressure and cortisol. Floating has been proven to assist the body to regulate the hormones, which in turn reduces stress.
- Relieves comorbid disorders.
Very often, PTSD patients exhibit what is clinically called comorbid disorders. These can include depression and anxiety, along with substance abuse.
Float therapy has shown a significant reduction in the intensity of these symptoms. Patients have improved sleep and lesser anxiety, which creates a cohesive environment to deal with PTSD.
- Improves mental health.
Most mental health illnesses are magnified due to fear of confrontation and denial. Inside a float pod, without external stimuli, patients can mentally confront the traumatic events without feeling threatened. This feeling of isolation from the distractions has been proven beneficial in many patients undergoing float therapy.
The MRI scans of the PTSD patients who were treated with this alternative method showed that the brainwaves exhibited a theta state. This intriguing state of the brain is experienced moments before sleep and moments after awakening. It is also experienced by monks who practice prolonged meditation.
- Improves physical health.
Physically, when the body is suspended in a floating tank, the spine is decompressed to a certain degree. This allows the sympathetic nervous system to relax, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. This part of the nervous system is responsible for relaxation, reduced muscle tension and improved sleep.
Patients who underwent the treatment experienced psychedelic high similar to the results of ingesting drugs. It is no wonder that float therapy has been used by athletes to combat physical pain and relieve injury.
War veterans and abuse victims who have chronic pain or physical wounds can witness immediate and effective relief from the pain.
- Enhances the effectiveness of the overall treatment.
Whether it is in conventional methods of treatment or alternative treatment like float therapy, meditation is a vital component in the treatment of PTSD.
There is increasing evidence that float therapy enhances meditation. Inside a float tank, safe, calm and free from distraction, it is the ideal condition for meditation. Practitioners have described an increase in the duration, intensity and benefits of meditation while floating.
Where and how to avail float therapy for PTSD?
Unlike a few years ago, float therapy has become more mainstream and accessible. You can undergo float therapy in several spas as well as in dedicated float clinics and float cabins for PTSD patients.
There are some organizations such as Weightless Warrior that offer free sessions of floating to veterans.
What is the duration of float therapy sessions?
The duration typically varies from one clinic or spa to the next. However, you can book a session starting from 90 minutes to an hour or two. The frequency of the float will depend on the experience and the overall condition of the patient.
Float therapy for PTSD is effective, and the results are proven to be long-lasting. It is not an isolated case where the treatment works for some but not for others.
In the United States, the number of veterans undergoing float therapy has rapidly gained momentum. The treatment has literally no side-effects, is very safe and effective.
This alternative treatment for PTSD has become so popular that there is an annual conference. In the event, psychologists, researchers, float center owners and float enthusiasts come to share and partake in the knowledge.