A site serving the needs of former military personnel suffering PTSD required an article backgrounding its research and primary healing technique, (acupressure point) Tapping. This piece initially involved research and authoring of the original document. The site owners then added several pieces of information themselves and requested a re-edit of the entire document to reflect the desired keyword set and unified voice that was informed, yet casual.
WHY TAPPING AND WHY WITH WARRIORS?
The psychological aspects experienced by many public service professionals (former military personnel) through chronic exposure to traumatic events are debilitating, and not being adequately addressed by the current veteran’s service outlets. The term “public service professional” below is used in reference to the men and women who serve their country in military, police, first responder, firefighter, medical, or in any other public service profession that exposes them to stress and danger. The term “warrior” is used to refer to military personnel and veterans collectively.
THE MISSION COMES FIRST
Simple psychological defense mechanisms such as denial, repression, suppression, and rationalization allow public service professionals to cope with work-related stress and danger. These behaviors are natural, adaptive, and enable them to maintain single-pointed focus during extreme situations. It’s a job requirement to place the mission first, and the temporary suppression of emotions allows this to be done…but it comes at a price.
Researchers over the past century have demonstrated that chronic stress and traumatic experience can leave a lasting impression that affects behavior, attitude and coping skills. At some point, many public service professionals struggle with emotional distress, substance abuse, or even thoughts of suicide.
ADAPTING TO CHRONIC STRESS BACKFIRES
Certain memories and emotions cannot be effectively forgotten or ignored. Instead, they demand to be worked through and resolved – even decades after they were first experienced. Many people find this challenging however, as some experiences are so uncomfortable that “not going there” just makes sense. But, sooner or later we find ourselves asking: “Why can’t I leave the past behind?”
The answer is at least partially due to biological adaptation. The human brain learned early on to protect itself from harm by not forgetting traumatic memories. Remembering these significant traumas and using those memories to engage a state of hyper-awareness helped us survive and avoid dangers in the future.
Early humans who did not experience stress and vigilance in the presence of danger were removed from the gene pool by predators before they could reproduce. Modern humans are the product of numerous generations of active selection for vigilance and keeping dangerous memories top of mind.
However, when such an organism is exposed to chronic danger, the drawback carries a high risk of becoming hypervigilant and truly unable to forget the past. When this occurs, the brain continues to search for danger even when there is none to be found. Thus, our previously adaptive evolutionary traits unintentionally backfire and leave many public service professionals unable to find the inner peace they once knew.
Terms such as “shell shock”, “combat fatigue”, and “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) have all been used to describe the wide range of symptoms seen in people exposed to life-threatening dangers during war. According to recent research, more veterans died due to complications of psychological conditions gained during war than died during the Vietnam War itself. In 2011, more than 300,000 U.S. veterans of the wars in the Middle East had been diagnosed with PTSD, and almost every waking hour a veteran somewhere in the United States commits suicide – approximately 18 suicides daily.
As a nation, we try to support our warriors the best we can. However, many warriors choose not to seek help due to the stigma associated with receiving mental health services. In accordance with the warrior ethos, they refuse to quit, and unfortunately often suffer on their own for a long time before asking for a helping hand. When warriors finally do seek help, they often feel much better.
No single therapy that has been shown to cure PTSD, but most warriors have at least some improvement in their symptoms no matter the method used. However, many warriors do not heal enough to return to full duty in their units, and many are medically separated from active duty.
SOLUTIONS AND PREVENTION
A comprehensive review of PTSD and depression in military veterans was published by the RAND Corporation (2008). The review was titled “Invisible Wounds of War” and their conclusions were telling:
“More research is also needed to evaluate innovative treatment methods since not all individuals benefit from the currently available treatments.” (p.497)
Preventive psychological measures should be a high priority in preparing public service professionals. However, this has not generally been the case in military personnel:
HOME TAPPING CENTER INTRODUCTION RESOURCES
“Many different therapies have been used to treat veterans diagnosed with PTSD. But few treatments are available before symptoms may arise, and little research has been done on primary prevention—in the case of soldiers before they are deployed.” (p.381)
Evolution and the need to perpetuate the species in safety bred humans who had the capacity to recall and become hyper-vigilant when encountering stressful and dangerous experiences. This adaptation backfired when humans began to experience unusually long and intense periods of danger. Violence within the United States and years of war have left many former warriors and their families in distress. Behavioral health services both at the governmental and public levels have yet to find a working solution, and research for new approaches continues.
BATTLE TAP hopes to offer a solution:
This website is designed as a free online self-help tool for emotional stress. Tapping may potentially prevent the onset of stress-related syndromes if used regularly, and engaged soon after traumatic experiences. The practice of Tapping may also bypass personal barriers to care (i.e. stigma) and reach people who otherwise would not receive help.
Exposure therapies involving acupoint stimulation have not yet been proven to perform these functions in large, randomized, controlled studies, however preliminary studies and many thousands of anecdotal reports suggest that many people have benefitted from acupressure based self-help tools like EFT or “Tapping”.
Meticulous scientific studies are needed to evaluate these preliminary findings, but such research often lags years behind the initial findings. Thus, until this research is completed, the reader is encouraged to try “Tapping” and decide for themselves if it works.
1. Tanielian, T., Jaycox, L. H. (Eds). (2008). Invisible wounds of war: psychological and cognitive injuries, their consequences, and services to assist recovery. Santa Monica: Rand Corp. MG-720-CCF.
* Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay