Life Well Lived: Trauma treatment redefined

Life Well Lived: Trauma treatment redefined
The Boulder Crest Retreat offers a new approach to those suffering from traumatic events. Their program incorporates yoga, mediation, horse therapy and art therapy, among others. (file photo)

By Mara Benner

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is most often associated with veterans who have undergone significant trauma while serving our country – but PTSD is not just a soldier’s affliction. Trauma comes in many forms and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one half of all U.S. adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives that significantly impacts their ability to function at work, home and in social settings.

Traditional treatments for PTSD consist of combinations of psychotherapy
and medications. Such approaches have shown some success with treating symptoms of PTSD, but now some treatment centers and practitioners are offering alternative therapies for individuals seeking treatment for themselves or their loved ones. One such center exists less than two hours from Alexandria.

The Boulder Crest Retreat, nestled in 37-acres in Bluemont, Virginia, offers a new approach to support veterans and others suffering from traumatic events. Their 18-month program incorporates an array of methods, including yoga, meditation, horse therapy, art therapy and more.

The Boulder Crest Retreat touts its success as showing an overall decrease in PTSD symptoms and an increased quality of life. The real proof of the center’s success, however, is its attendees, who are now living more complete lives and who recommend the Boulder Crest Retreat’s Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing (PATHH) program.

When it comes to PTSD victims, many of us immediately think of veterans —and with good reason. The Veteran’s Administration reports that as many as 15 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as 9 percent of Vietnam veterans, suffer from PTSD. That’s more than 600,000 individuals in our country alone.

But soldiers are not the only people affected by the condition. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 50 percent of women between the ages of 45 to 59 are affected by the symptoms left behind in the wake of traumatic experiences.
Overall, women have significantly higher rates of PTSD than men. The highest prevalence demographically is adults between the ages of 45 and 59 years old, followed by individuals between 18 and 29 years old.

Triggering events can include “violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat and other forms of violence,” as outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health. When such an event occurs, the person may suffer a number of symptoms that, if the symptoms persist for a month or longer, become known as “acute stress disorder,” or PTSD.

Symptoms may vary in intensity, but Psychology Today suggests that some people experience “intrusive memories or flashbacks, emotional numbness, sleep disturbances, anxiety, intense guilt, sadness, irritability or outbursts of anger
and dissociative experiences.”

People with PTSD may feel numb or detached from things, have a lack of interest in social activities, difficulty concentrating and be pessimistic about the future, to name a few implications.

Usually, PTSD is treated with psychotherapy and medications such as Zoloft and Paxil. These approaches have shown some success with treating symptoms.
Now, however, many people are seeking new non-pharmaceutical approaches.

While treatment may have its best results over longer periods of time and with comprehensive approaches, there are some non-drug approaches that are showing success. One such approach is the Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as “tapping,” because it utilizes acupressure points to seek relief from PTSD symptoms.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease reviewed the use of EFT along with traditional approaches and found that 90 percent of the EFT participants no longer suffered from PTSD symptoms while the control group showed only 4 percent with the same results. EFT is being used now to relieve other symptoms too, such as stress, anxiety and depression. It is also used to help support the adoption of positive feelings and habits.

For Boulder Crest Retreat, the leadership is counting on longer-term, comprehensive methods. The program has just completed its first sixmonth longitudinal study,
and the results showed 75 percent improvement in level of psychological, spiritual and relationship growth with a 50 percent reduction in depression and anxiety and 40
percent reduction in stress. The program is now completing a year-long longitudinal study, with the hope of seeing a continuation in this positive track record.

With the demonstrated success of alternative therapies, new solutions such
as EFT or comprehensive programs such as Boulder Crest Retreat may eventually transform the way traumas are treated in the future.

Mara Benner is the founder of Four Directions Wellness, connecting body, mind, emotions and spirit. The organization is affiliated with the GW Center for
Integrative Medicine. Mara is also a member of the Del Ray Business Association’s Well Ray community.