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Flotation REST for PTSD

Colin Cook

Given the complexity of our society, not to say its violence, there are numberless opportunities for people to be involved in horrific events. Plane crashes, auto accidents, muggings, bombings, school shootings, rapes, natural disasters, child molestations… the list of incidents that can traumatize you, either as a victim or a witness, can seem to go on forever. When you live through one of these events, you’re left with unpleasant memories that should fade with time.

But sometimes the memories don’t fade. Sometimes the experience becomes “encapsulated” in your brain, lying in wait to be triggered. With the appropriate stimulus (it might be a traffic helicopter passing overhead, a car backfiring, some particular strain of music, or even a particular smell), you relive the experience and all its physiological stresses. This is what is meant by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The horror of combat tends to generate quite a bit of PTSD, and it has probably been studied most intensively among veterans. But PTSD can happen to people in any category.

According to WebMD, PTSD is treated with psychotherapy (to help patients gain the skills needed to manage the symptoms), medication (to control some of the symptoms), or both. But some people have found relief in flotation REST (REST means restricted environmental stimulation therapy). I recently did a Google search on “flotation REST for PTSD,” which yielded more than 102,000 hits. One of these hits was a video of clinical psychologist David Manfield addressing the Float Conference in 2012. It is particularly interesting that at the time of the speech, Manfield had been treating PTSD successfully with eye movement therapy but had never tried to use float therapy. Two days before giving his speech, however, he had a float session and was so impressed that he became an overnight convert: “I’m looking forward to introducing it into my practice.”

If you are interested in PTSD, the video of Manfield’s speech is worth watching. He says that because floating reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure and heart rate, it inhibits stress. It relaxes you and counter-conditions your anxiety, which may enable you to contemplate your traumatic memory without its associated stress, thus creating a bridge between the traumatic event and your current safety and security, which makes it a memory rather than stimulus to unpleasant psychophysiological reactions. He suggested a plan for using flotation REST as a treatment for PTSD:

    1. Identify a safe place you can return to in your mind if your memory becomes too intense.
    2. Bring up the memory with the knowledge that it can no longer hurt you; add bilateral stimulation, such as a rhythmic tapping on alternate sides of your head or body.
    3. Make positive statements to yourself about your current safety and security.
    4. Return mentally to your safe place before finishing the floating session.

If you are being treated for PTSD, you may find flotation REST to be helpful. Talk with your therapist about it and create a plan for your float session so you can get the most out of it. Then book a float pod session with Peak Recovery & Health Center. Be sure to let us know if your treatment calls for particular enhancements, such as music.

Image: “Audie Murphy (20 June 1925 – 28 May 1971),” public domain photo uploaded by Robert Sullivan. Murphy – an author, a movie star, and the most decorated soldier of World War II – may also be the best known victim of PTSD, which in his day was called “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.”