Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Neuroplasticity and Sound Therapy
PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was originally known as “shell shock”, and is one of the most common disorders among returning veterans. The condition of PTSD can occur in anyone who has suffered a high degree of trauma, and this may include rape victims, battered women, abused children, or emergency service personnel.
Those suffering from PTSD usually have disturbing and intrusive memories, and may experience nightmares or flashbacks where they re-live the trauma as though it was occurring in the present.
Dr. Alaine Brunet, a Researcher at Montreal’s Douglas Mental Health University Institute and Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, has dedicated his career to studying the impact of trauma on mental health. http://www.chrcrm.org/en/rotm/dr-alain-brunet
According to Dr. Brunet, in some severe cases individuals are crippled by their memories and are virtually unable to eat, socialize or leave their homes. When symptoms get to this point of severity, interventions are needed.
Those experiencing PTSD become so overwhelmed because they cannot file the traumatic events in memory so they experience the trauma replaying repeatedly in the present.
New Combination Treatment for PTSD
A new approach to treatment has been developed, combining drug therapy with behavioural intervention as described on the recent SBS series hosted by Dr. Norman Doidge, called “Changing Your Mind.”
The therapeutic approach has been informed by new discoveries from neuroplasticity. Science has found that at the time of mental awareness, when the person is thinking about the event, there is heightened plasticity, so therefore a greater chance of change occurring in the neural pathways.
First, the therapist determines if the fear systems are firing. If so, the patient is given a low dose of propanalol, a sympatholytic non-selective beta blocker, – for hypertension. The patient then has to write an explicit narrative of the traumatic memory. They then read it through – which takes less than 10 mins. The following week and every week, this is repeated. The drug is given, and the patient then re-reads their account of the memory.
Some found at first that this process would trigger nightmares about the trauma. However, by week five, many would notice that all of a sudden they felt some detachment while reading out the memories. All subjects experienced significant recovery and at the end of the experiment, three quarters of the subjects no longer had PTSD!
This change can occur because, as Dr Doidge is fond of saying, neurons that fire apart wire apart. This dual process means that we can chemically block the trauma while re-playing the memory, and this breaks the neuronal link of the memory with the traumatic emotional response.
The link can be broken while remembering, because it is at this point that the network becomes more pliable. This method is not erasing memory, but transforming it so it belongs to the past.
Watching this show made me think about other possible ways to support the process of transforming traumas into normal memory. How else can we heighten neural plasticity while inducing a state of calm and self assurance? What struck me is that we know that Sound Therapy does both of these things. Neural plasticity is enhanced by the intensive sensory stimulation of Sound Therapy, and at the same time it induces a deep state of peace and relaxation.
On its own Sound Therapy has been reported by a number of individuals to have helped significantly with alleviating PTSD. It could also potentially be combined with other treatment approaches such as the one described above.