Float Therapy for PTSD

Colin Cook


The big excitement in PTSD treatment these days is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). EMDR seems to work because rapidly shifting your gaze from side to side can dampen negative emotions. A trained therapist can use this effect to induce the memory of your trauma while diverting your attention from the emotions associated with it. It is still somewhat controversial, but both the American Psychological Association and the Department of Veterans Affairs have endorsed it.

Learn More About EMDR

The originator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, has written a number of books about it. Interestingly enough, one of them is a self-help book, which she promotes as being very accessible. Reading the book might be a good way to get acquainted with the treatment if you think EMDR could benefit you or someone you’re close to.


I doubt Francine Shapiro recommends it, but I am convinced that float therapy can help, too. I think it acts on a similar principle: disrupting the emotional response to stimulus.

My Personal Theory of PTSD

PTSD has yet to be fully explained, but here is my thinking about how it works. When your brain receives a stimulus, it sends it to two places for evaluation: the neocortex (the thinking part of your brain) and the amygdala (the emotional/irrational part). The amygdala is responsible for the fight/flight reaction. If the stimulus includes a trigger for the memory of a trauma, you can relive the traumatic event.


This happens because the amygdala reacts faster than the neocortex. You don’t have the opportunity to think about and evaluate the stimulus before the amygdala takes over and puts you into fight/flight. If you’ve ever tried to break up a dog fight, you probably know how difficult it is for any creature to control its reaction to threat.


This is why I think float therapy can be useful for PTSD. I doubt anyone has ever had a fight/flight reaction in the float tank. There’s no stimulus in there beyond what your own mind produces. There are no sounds, no images, no odors — and no triggers. A float therapy session is one of the most relaxing experiences you can have.

Float Therapy for PTSD

Sensory deprivation reduces the activity of the amygdala. And a study at the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research found that the reduced activity of the amygdala persists after the float session is over. That means once you’ve floated, life continues to be less stressful. I believe the reduced activity of the amygdala can give you the margin needed to get control of the emotional reaction at the center of the PTSD experience. I have suggested float therapy for PTSD before, and I even found news of a police department in England that is using it.


According to PTSD United, in the U.S., about 70% of adults have experienced a traumatic event at sometime in their lives. Of those, as much as one fifth go on to develop PTSD. At any given time, about 8% of Americans have PTSD, which is about 1 in 12 or 13 people. If you are one of the 1 in 12 or 13, or if someone you love is, ask your therapist about Flotation REST (i.e., restricted environmental stimulation technique) as an adjunct to your treatment. Then book a float therapy session at Peak Recovery & Health Care.