Alternative Therapies for PTSD: Exploring Holistic Approaches

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Jan 25, 2024
Last updated:
May 21, 2024

Between 2020 and 2022, about 5.7% of Australians experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That's about 1.1 million people! And it demonstrates how common PTSD is in Australia and why it's crucial to talk about it and find ways to help.

PTSD can cause a lot of distress for the person experiencing it and their loved ones. It can even lead to substance abuse and, tragically, suicide if not treated.

Alternative treatments for PTSD have become more popular recently. While we're still learning how well these treatments work, some studies have shown promising results. But first, let's understand what PTSD is, its symptoms, and how it affects the body.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, can develop after someone experiences a traumatic event. These events might include witnessing or being involved in something frightening, like a serious accident or violence. It can also occur if someone learns about a traumatic event that happened to a close friend or family member.

Simply put, PTSD can make people feel as though they are experiencing the scary event all over again, even when it's finished. It can also lead to other difficulties, such as nightmares, avoiding places or things that remind them of the event, and feelings of fear or anger.

One notable example of PTSD is the historical condition known as shell shock, which affected soldiers who experienced extreme trauma during combat. This term highlights the longstanding recognition of the impact of traumatic events on mental health throughout history.

In the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM-5, PTSD is categorised under 'Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders.' Individuals with PTSD experience various symptoms associated with a traumatic event they have witnessed or experienced.

Symptoms of PTSD

Here are some signs that someone might have PTSD:

  • Thinking about the scary event a lot, even when they don't want to
  • Having bad dreams about the event
  • Feeling like they're going through the event again (like it's happening right now)
  • Feeling upset when something reminds them of the event
  • Staying away from places, things, or people that remind them of the event
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, scared, or angry a lot
  • Doing dangerous things or not caring about their safety
  • Having trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Constantly feeling on edge or like something terrible is going to happen
  • Not being able to enjoy things they used to like

Derealisation or Depersonalisation

Sometimes, people with PTSD might also feel like things around them aren't real or that they're not really themselves. This feeling is called derealisation or depersonalisation

  • Derealisation makes the world seem unreal like it's a dream.
  • Depersonalisation makes people feel like they're not really themselves, almost like they're watching themselves from the outside.

PTSD can also make people do things that aren't safe, like driving dangerously, drinking too much alcohol, or using drugs.

What Is The Endocannabinoid System, and Does PTSD Affect It?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of body parts that help control our mood, appetite, and sleep. It's like a control centre for how we feel and act. 

When people use specific treatments, these treatments can talk to the parts of the ECS to help them feel better. Some treatments do different things in the body.

Researchers are studying how treatments can help people with PTSD. Some treatments might help with feeling stressed out.

Exploring Alternative Therapies for PTSD

While some treatments for the endocannabinoid system might help with PTSD symptoms, there are other options to consider, too. These treatments are different and might work in their way to help people feel better. Let's look at some of these alternative treatments:

1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a therapy technique known for its effectiveness in treating PTSD. During EMDR sessions, people recall tough memories while doing something like following the therapist's hand movements with their eyes or experiencing sounds or touches. This process is thought to help process traumatic memories, making them less intense and reducing their symptoms.

Research has shown that EMDR can help with PTSD symptoms like intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and avoiding things. Many people find EMDR helpful for dealing with challenging experiences and feeling better.

2. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is a program that teaches mindfulness to help manage stress. Through meditation, yoga, and body scans, people learn to be more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and body sensations without judging them.

Studies have found that MBSR can be helpful for PTSD by reducing symptoms like being on edge, reacting strongly to things, and feeling very upset. By learning to pay attention to their experiences with curiosity and kindness, people with PTSD can discover ways to handle their emotions and feel better.

3. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice in which thin needles are inserted into specific points on the body to help balance and heal. Traditional Chinese medicine views acupuncture as a way to regulate the body's energy flow.

Research suggests that acupuncture might help people with PTSD by reducing anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. By targeting points connected to the nervous system and stress response, acupuncture could ease PTSD symptoms and boost overall wellness.

4. Yoga and Trauma-Informed Yoga Therapy

Yoga combines physical poses, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall health. Trauma-informed yoga is adapted to suit the needs of people with PTSD and trauma history.

Trauma-informed yoga focuses on safety, choice, and empowerment, letting people move and breathe in a supportive setting. By becoming aware of their body sensations and learning to regulate themselves, trauma-informed yoga can help people with PTSD reconnect with their bodies and feel more grounded.

5. Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animal-assisted therapy involves spending time with specially trained animals like dogs, horses, or dolphins to improve emotional wellbeing. Being around therapy animals can bring comfort, trust, and connection, making expressing emotions and engaging in therapy easier.

Studies show that animal-assisted therapy can be beneficial for people with PTSD by reducing anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. The unconditional love and acceptance from therapy animals can provide much-needed support for those working through PTSD recovery.

Holistic Approaches to PTSD Treatment

Instead of just one form of treatment, it's essential to look at lots of different ways to help people with PTSD. Using multiple forms of treatment is called a holistic approach. It's like having a big toolbox full of things to help people feel better.

Here are some essential parts of holistic treatment:

  • Trying different kinds of therapy, like the ones we talked about before
  • Doing things like talking to a therapist or taking medicine if needed
  • Making changes to the way we live, like exercising or eating healthier
  • Spending time with friends and family who care about us
  • Doing things we enjoy, like hobbies or spending time outside

By looking at everything together, people can feel better and have more control over their lives.

Integrating Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), yoga, acupuncture, and art therapy bring unique benefits to people with PTSD, helping them deal with things like anxiety, flashbacks, and constantly feeling on edge.

Combining Conventional Treatments

Traditional treatments, such as therapy (like cognitive-behavioral therapy) and medications (like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), are vital parts of PTSD treatment. Combining these proven methods with alternative therapies gives patients a full range of support to manage their symptoms.

Addressing Lifestyle Factors

Making changes in daily life, like getting regular exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, and learning to manage stress, is super important for overall health and resilience in people with PTSD. These healthy habits work hand in hand with therapy to help patients build a strong foundation for their recovery.

Supporting Social Connection

Having strong support from friends, family, or support groups is crucial in holistic PTSD treatment. Being part of a community where you feel understood and supported can make a big difference in healing from PTSD.

Emphasising Self-Care

Taking time for yourself—whether it's through relaxation exercises, writing in a journal, doing things you love, or spending time outdoors—is a vital part of holistic PTSD treatment. Encouraging patients to prioritise self-care can boost their overall wellbeing and resilience.

By taking a holistic approach to PTSD treatment, individuals can access a variety of tools and strategies to help them on their journey to recovery. Working closely with healthcare providers to create personalised treatment plans that fit each patient's needs and preferences empowers them to play an active role in their healing process and sets them up for long-term wellbeing.

Evidence-Based Support for Alternative Treatments

Looking at different ways to treat PTSD is essential. By combining new approaches with ones we already know work, we can ensure people get the best care possible.

Even though we're still learning, there's some good evidence that specific treatments might help with PTSD.

Reducing Fear

A recent review of human studies suggests that low doses of particular medicines, sometimes with others, may help reduce fear associated with traumatic memories.

Impact on the Brain

More specifically, a 2020 study explored the effect of specific treatments on the amygdala, the brain region responsible for the sensation and regulation of fear. 

For the study, they split people into three groups: adults with PTSD from past trauma, adults who went through trauma but didn't have PTSD, and healthy adults with no trauma history. Then, they randomly gave them either the treatments or a placebo (fake pill). They found that the group who got the treatments had less activity in their amygdala compared to those who got the fake pill.

Nightmares

Another recent review found that these treatments might help reduce nightmares linked to PTSD by changing REM sleep, the sleep stage when we dream.

However, we still need more studies to understand how helpful these treatments are. Another older study also supports these findings, showing that people had fewer symptoms, like feeling constantly on edge, and fewer nightmares tied to PTSD.

These results show that specific treatments might help manage PTSD symptoms. But, we need more research, especially to see how these treatments work in the long run.

What Are The Risks?

It's super important to follow your doctor's advice when using any kind of treatment, especially for PTSD. Taking too much of specific treatments could make anxiety worse in people with PTSD  instead of better, so it's crucial to stick to the amount your doctor tells you to take.

Specific treatments may also have some links to psychosis in vulnerable people, particularly when used illicitly or excessively. Psychosis is a mental health condition where a person might have trouble understanding what's real and what's not. They might hear or see things that aren't there or have beliefs that aren't true. It can make it complicated for them to think clearly or act in a way that makes sense.

However, When used with a medical professional's guidance, these treatments are usually safe.

Accessing Alternative Therapies for PTSD

While alternative therapies show promise in helping with PTSD symptoms, some people might face challenges in getting access to these treatments. Understanding and finding ways to overcome these barriers is essential so that everyone can get the support they need.

Cost

Sometimes, health insurance doesn't cover alternative therapies like certain medicines or complementary treatments. Not having insurance to cover alternative treatments or medicines makes them expensive for some people, especially if they have limited funds. 

Solution: Look into community programs, places that offer discounts based on what you can pay, or free services from non-profit groups. Some practitioners may also offer payment plans or reduced rates for those facing financial hardship.

Availability

In some areas, it might be hard to find places that offer alternative therapies for PTSD. Availability issues arise when there aren't enough trained people to provide these treatments, especially in rural areas. 

Solution: Explore telehealth options or self-guided programs you can access from anywhere. Additionally, advocating for more funding for mental health services can help make these treatments more available in underserved areas.

Stigma

Even though more people are accepting alternative therapies, there's still a stigma around mental health conditions and treatments that aren't traditional. Some people might feel judged or discriminated against if they talk about their mental health or try alternative therapies. 

Solution: Have open and accepting conversations about mental health everywhere, from schools and workplaces to doctors' offices. More acceptance can help reduce stigma and make it easier for people to get the help they need.

Lack of Awareness

Many people might not even know that alternative therapies for PTSD exist or how helpful they can be. This lack of awareness means they might not use these treatments even if they could benefit from them. 

Solution: Public campaigns, workshops, and online resources educate people about these therapies. By spreading the word and talking openly about treatment options, we can help more people get the support they need for their mental health.

Seeking Help For PTSD

If you're experiencing symptoms that worry you, scheduling an appointment with your healthcare provider is a good idea. They can check out your symptoms and determine the best plan for you. Sometimes, they might suggest specific treatments for PTSD, but only if other treatments haven't worked or if they've caused problems.

You can also go to a medical clinic to talk about prescription options if you prefer. PTSD is a severe condition that needs the right kind of care, so it's vital to reach out for help if you're feeling concerned about your mental health or someone else's.

Telehealth Accessibility

Telehealth services are an excellent option for people who want to try alternative therapies for PTSD but face challenges like distance or scheduling. With telehealth, you can have appointments with qualified providers and get help without leaving home.

Many telehealth platforms focus on mental health and offer different kinds of therapy to help with PTSD symptoms. They usually have flexible schedules, secure video calls, and private communication channels to keep your information safe.

Using telehealth can be especially helpful if you live far from treatment centres or have a busy schedule. It lets you get the support you need without worrying about transportation or other issues.

If you're curious about telehealth for PTSD treatment, you can look into reputable online therapy providers or ask your healthcare provider for suggestions. With telehealth, getting help is easy and convenient, putting you on the path to healing and recovery with just a few clicks.

Empowering Recovery

Exploring alternative therapies for PTSD  can give hope to people struggling with its challenging symptoms. While traditional treatments are helpful, alternative therapies can offer new paths to feeling better.

Taking a holistic approach means using a mix of alternative therapies, traditional treatments, and lifestyle changes. Each alternative medicine, like mindfulness or yoga, has its benefits that can help with PTSD symptoms.

It's essential to tackle barriers like cost or stigma so everyone can access these treatment options. By speaking up, raising awareness, and supporting each other, communities can make a big difference in helping people with PTSD get the help they need.

Recovering from PTSD takes time and support. Different therapies can help people feel more in control and hopeful about the future. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness—it's a brave step towards feeling better and finding happiness again.

Related articles