Hello fellow veterans. I hope all is well in the past few months. I have been doing some research lately into alternative therapies to help with mental health. Reiki has been one I have found to have some exciting results and outcomes, especially when dealing with PTSD. However, before we proceed, let me recap some facts on PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined as a debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event that involves a real threat of injury or death. This can include combat, a natural disaster, an assault, physical or sexual abuse, or other traumas.
People with PTSD have an amplified sense of danger and impending doom. Their ordinary “fight or flight response” is damaged, causing them to feel stressed in safe conditions. PTSD occurs due to chemical changes in the brain, not due to character flaws or weakness.
Symptoms of PTSD
The most common symptoms of PTSD:
· Re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks
· Insomnia because of nightmares
· Intrusive thoughts – unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts that often pertain to disturbing themes
· Concentration problems
· Numbness usually results in depression
· Feelings of distancing from others; wanting to be alone
· Hypervigilance – always being on alert; ready to fight
· Sudden startling
· Irritability; angry; panic
· Feeling shame; guilt (to include survivors’ guilt)
· Avoids situations
· Increased anxiety in general
One of the primary reasons people do not report these symptoms is that these can be easily mistaken for signs of mental illness. Many people fear a PTSD diagnosis, its stigma, and all the consequences involved. Therefore, less than 50% of veterans seek help.
People with PTSD are usually not the only ones affected by trauma. Those in helping professions like medical personnel, first responders, therapists, social workers, and reporters can experience the effects of trauma because of an empathic connection. Being responsible for helping others, seeing suffering every day, being exposed to horrific trauma or inhumane acts can eat at the soul. Hope can be lost, causing “compassion fatigue” to set in, often leading to burnout. The person who was dedicated to assisting others loses hope and can also become depressed him or herself.
War: A rite of passage
In the past, going to war for the reason of protecting the tribe, family, or nation was seen as a rite of passage. War today is much more destructive and has lingering effects both physically and emotionally. Chemical warfare, bombs, Gunfights, and other forms of attack can affect soldiers while in battle and after they return home. Soldiers often come back to a society of denial like the Vietnam War. Rituals for healing are non-existent, and vets are often isolated with no sense of community. They do not get to tell their story to aid in healing. Denial is what occurs. Does this potentially contribute to the development of PTSD?
Injury to the soul
PTSD can develop after a trauma to the soul. The primal urge to survive controls the human experience. In times of trauma, people will do anything to survive. A person may be robbed or raped, assaulted, or beaten and may surrender to stay alive. In times of war, innocent people may be killed, horrific things may be done, or a soldier can survive when others did not.
The soul can distinguish the difference between good and evil or right and wrong. The above examples are impossible dilemmas. The same things they used do to survive may be causing conflict with their core ethical and moral beliefs. A person may have to go against their conscience and find it challenging to believe in their worth and goodness afterward. Shame and guilt may result, which may add to their PTSD as well.
What is Reiki?
Reiki is a Japanese technique to help in stress reduction and relaxation to promote healing. It is managed by “laying on hands” and is based on the “life force of energy” that runs through us and causes us to be alive. If this energy becomes low, then we get sick or feel stressed, and if it is high, then we achieve happiness and good health. Reiki is a non-invasive, utterly gentle healing technique that is becoming more popular. Reiki in Practice Researchers have examined the effectiveness of Reiki, calling it the “Healing Touch.” Researchers observed a drop in PTSD symptoms by 14 points using the PTSD checklist, which is considered clinically and statistically significant.
Reiki benefits the military population and people with PTSD because it elicits what we call the relaxation response. People that have experienced trauma and are anxious have difficulty reaching this healing state on their own. The relaxation response is a form of peace that allows the body and mind to reset itself and heal.
Reiki is growing for consideration by military medicine as a treatment for PTSD. Like so many therapy options, Reiki could be considered a core treatment for PTSD because of its holistic approach to combat symptoms of PTSD.
How Reiki helps with PTSD
Reiki calms the person’s spirit. It promotes relaxation and reminds the body how to feel calm again. The act of sharing Reiki also reminds the body that physical touch is nurturing and therapeutic. Reiki promotes inner peace and calm. When the spiritual self can be calmed, the physical begins healing the body.
Emotions are often buried to assist the person through the traumatic experience. Often, feelings can get trapped and stored in the body as cellular memory. Those trapped emotions and trauma can be gently released through deep relaxation and calming of the spirit.
Reiki heals at the soul! So, a person’s experience or outcome can never be predicted. Trusting and following energy will always provide direction and address the person’s needs at that moment.
Reiki for Veterans
Many veterans have shared their perspectives on Reiki and how it has affected their lives. Here is what they said:
“The Reiki helps me sleep through the night.”
“I can focus better, and I am looking at life more positively.”
“I have not had a panic attack in four weeks and have not awoken with a nightmare.”
“The Reiki helps me to be more open with my wife. I am talking more.”
“I can relax now, and I am sleeping better.”
“I had two to three panic attacks a week when we began. I have not had any in weeks.”
“The Reiki helps my headaches. I am decreasing my pain meds with my doctors’ direction.”
“I have never shown any emotion related to my survivor guilt. The Reiki helped me to let the emotions out.” (Vietnam vet)
“I can’t believe my pain is decreased. The narcotics can’t do that.”
“I have not been able to relax since Iraq. The Reiki allows me to relax for the first time.”
“I have started to do things I always wanted to do. I am no longer doing things I should not do. I am letting things go and not getting angry about everything. I am becoming who I am.” I am like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly.”
“Reiki helps me go to a place of peace inside.”
PTSD is a complex condition that many people will experience sometime in their life or the lives of their loved ones. The more knowledge we gain, the more we will understand and can help. As public awareness of PTSD rises, more resources are becoming available. Reiki is a great method to calm and nurture the spirit of someone who is experiencing PTSD.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please let me know if there were any other topics of interest you would like me to research or see here in the newsletter. Until next times, be safe, and enjoy the holidays.
Dr. John Heintzelman
Lipinski, K. (2012). Reiki and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.reiki.org/articles/reiki-and-post-traumatic-stress-disorder
Image provided by Massage Magazine (2022). Retrieved from https://www.massagemag.com/reiki-massage-therapists-guide/