I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about various methods for treating veterans with PTSD and moral injury. What works, and why?
PTSD is frequently referred to as a mental condition, but in truth it it’s a condition of the body and mind. One can understand many PTSD symptoms as blocked energy stored in the body. The researcher who has championed this view is Bessel Van der Kolk. His rather long book, The Body Keeps the Score, is very worth reading, but if you don’t have time for that, do read this article by Mary Sykes Wylie which explains his huge influence in trauma treatment.
Various IVW members have high skill levels in the following treatment modalities: yoga, healing touch, mindfulness based stress reduction, Reike, and ceramics (which involves sculpting and painting). All these employ mind-body approaches to healing; and not surprisingly, all have proven helpful in treating PTSD in military veterans.
IVW also includes some highly skilled writers, but writing, it seems to me, is not a mind-body discipline. Like talk-therapy, writing stimulates the top of the brain rather than the bottom (see Van der Kolk’s explanation of the difference in The Body Keeps the Score). This suggests to me that writing may not be very good at relieving most symptoms of PTSD, but on the other hand, will probably prove very useful in treating moral injury, because moral injury is a wound to the conscience, and conscience has to do with reflection, a high brain function.
Some of the brief group exercises in sessions of the Alternatives to Violence Project require reflection, and some utilize movement, so AVP seems to me a hybrid modality. Most of the treatment modalities being used for PTSD are one-on-one, whereas AVP is a group modality. And since the goal for returning veterans is to reintegrate them into society, an experience of belonging within a group would seem most appropriate.
Finally, where do religious resources fit into this schema? Dr. Nagy Youssef from Augusta University in Georgia is working with a V.A. hospital there to explore how veterans with PTSD and moral injury may find religion helpful in recovery. My hunch is that lived religion, not just espousing religious beliefs, but living according to those beliefs in a community, serves as a hybrid treatment modality for inwardly wounded warriors. Not just embracing religious ideas, but also performing religious ritual is fundamental to lived religion; and ritual is a mind-body activity. Participation in a religious community would seem to be healing because it engages both the mind and the body, and involves the individual in a community of support whose purpose transcends its own boundaries.