Alternative Therapies for PTSD

By Patti Richards

A loud noise makes you want to run. When you walk in a dark parking lot, you feel as if someone is following you. Fireworks remind you of artillery fire and a tornado warning sends you to the basement or into the bathtub each and every time. You struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and that means that heart palpitations, cold sweats and the inability to breathe each time you relive the moment that changed your life forever are now your new normal.

You know you need help, but sitting and talking to a counselor or participating in a support group just isn’t enough. No matter how hard you try to feel comfortable in traditional treatment scenarios or how often you attend meetings, your progress feels stalled. For someone like you, alternative therapies in addition to standard treatment may be the answer.

Traditional Treatment

Traditional treatment approaches are always the best place to begin when PTSD is controlling your life. These methods usually involve some type of exposure therapy where the person struggling learns to move past the cycle of reliving the trauma and see it in a different way. Exposure therapies, including EMDR, cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy, are all based in learning to reframe the negative thoughts and fears associated with the trauma. Along with these traditional treatments, medication is often used in people suffering from PTSD. SSRI antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), drugs used to treat anxiety and depression, are usually helpful when it comes to increasing an overall state of calm while reducing the symptoms of PTSD.1

Holistic Treatment Additions

Yoga leg liftsLike the reaction to trauma itself, not everyone with PTSD processes and reacts to standard treatment in the same way. For some, all that is needed is some type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and the right medication, and PTSD becomes more manageable. But for others, healing can take longer and be more complicated. When this is the case, adding a holistic option, like yoga, meditation or even scuba diving, can make all the difference in the world. According to Karen Soltes, LCSW, MAED, E-RYT, for Social Work Today, “Not all people who have PTSD present with the same needs or the same symptoms, and no one prescriptive approach works for everyone.” Soltes is co-founder of Warriors at Ease, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing yoga and meditation to military communities and those struggling with PTSD around the world.2

And that’s where organizations like Karen’s and people like dive master Mike Hilliard come in. Hilliard, a former army sergeant who fought PTSD after two tours in Iraq and a serious gunshot wound to the head, leads groups sent by the military on dives in the Georgia Aquarium’s largest tank. In an article published by the New York Times, Hilliard said, “Treatment had always been someone telling me I was dysfunctional and giving me a bunch of pills. I became withdrawn to the point I was considering ending it all.” And then he tried scuba diving. “As soon as I was underwater, everything went quiet. Seeing the fish, hearing the ocean — there is a complete innocence about it. There are no bad memories in the water. Everything just wants to live. It made me want to live again.”3

Alternative Options, Promising Results

Although traditional treatment methods are the first step and remain the gold standard for helping those struggling with PTSD, new alternative treatments are showing some promising results. One such method, called mindfulness-based exposure therapy, combines body scan, focused breathing and self compassion, all mindfulness techniques, with PTSD group behavior therapy. According to Tony King, assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, it’s important to have a next step when it comes to treating those who suffer from PTSD. “We wanted to have a Plan B — a therapy that could be available for people who thought they weren’t ready or weren’t willing to do trauma-focused therapy,” he said.4

A 16-week study found that patients who had experienced mindfulness therapy showed increased connections between the brain’s default mode network and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This is the area that allows the brain to consciously shift its attention from one thing to something else. When brain activity was measured, the connections found in the mindfulness therapy group could be directly associated with a reduction in PTSD over the course of the study. And that’s good news for people looking for additional help in their recovery from trauma.4

Finding Help for PTSD

No matter what treatment you choose, the good news is that PTSD symptoms can be controlled and improved. And that means living a normal life again is possible. If you or a loved one struggles with PTSD, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options. You are not alone.


1PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” Treatment of PTSD – PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Accessed 29 Nov. 2017.

2 Jackson, Kate “March/April 2014 Issue Treatments for Veterans With PTSD — Outside the Traditional Toolbox.”
Social Work Today, 29 Nov. 2017.

3 Philipps, Dave. “Scuba, Parrots, Yoga: Veterans Embrace Alternative Therapies for PTSD .” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Sept. 2016.

4 Hoffman, Adam. “Can Mindfulness Help Treat PTSD?Greater Good Magazine, 13 June 2016.