Holistic Approaches to PTSD: Beyond Traditional Therapy

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that affects millions of veterans and active-duty military personnel worldwide. Traditional therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications have long been the cornerstone of PTSD treatment. However, an increasing number of veterans are seeking holistic treatments for PTSD — commonly referred to as complementary and integrative health (CIH) — to complement or replace conventional methods. This article explores the struggles faced by veterans with PTSD and delves into various holistic approaches to PTSD.

The Struggles of Veterans With PTSD

PTSD is a severe mental health condition that can arise after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. For veterans, these events often include combat exposure, injury, and the loss of comrades. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 29% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Enduring Freedom (OEF) have had PTSD at some point in their lives. Similarly, 21% of veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War (Desert Storm) and 10% of veterans who served in the Vietnam War have experienced PTSD.

Veterans with PTSD often struggle with a range of symptoms, including:

  • Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Negative changes in mood and cognition
  • Hyperarousal and hypervigilance

These symptoms can severely impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life. Traditional therapies, while effective for many, do not work for everyone, leading to an interest in holistic PTSD treatment.

Holistic Approaches to Treating PTSD

Holistic treatments for PTSD aim to treat the whole person, addressing physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While new methods are always being researched, here are some of the most effective holistic PTSD care options currently available:

1. Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness practices, including meditation, have been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms by promoting relaxation and emotional regulation. The VA has conducted multiple studies that have found that veterans practicing mindfulness meditation could experience significant reductions in PTSD symptoms.

2. Yoga

Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to enhance physical and mental health. Research suggests that yoga can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms and improve overall well-being.

3. Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. Studies have shown that acupuncture can help alleviate PTSD symptoms by reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation.

4. Equine Therapy

Working with horses can be therapeutic for veterans with PTSD. Equine therapy involves activities like grooming, feeding, and riding horses, which can improve emotional regulation, confidence, and social skills. Studies report significant improvements in PTSD symptoms among veterans participating in equine therapy programs.

5. Art Therapy

Art therapy allows individuals to express themselves creatively, which can be particularly beneficial for those who find it difficult to verbalize their trauma. Research indicates that art therapy can help reduce PTSD symptoms and improve emotional well-being.

6. Music Therapy

Music therapy involves listening to, creating, or performing music. This form of therapy can help veterans process trauma, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. Studies have shown that music therapy can be an effective component of holistic PTSD treatment.

7. Nutrition and Diet

A healthy diet plays a crucial role in mental health. Nutritional therapy focuses on providing the body with the necessary nutrients to support brain function and reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and a balanced diet can contribute to better mental health outcomes for those with PTSD.

8. Physical Exercise

Regular physical activity is known to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are often comorbid with PTSD. Exercise can help regulate mood, improve sleep, and enhance overall physical health, making it an essential part of holistic PTSD care.

9. Service Animals

Service animals, particularly dogs, can provide comfort, companionship, and a sense of security for veterans with PTSD. These animals can be trained to perform specific tasks that help mitigate PTSD symptoms. More information on the benefits of service animals for veterans can be found here.

Exploring holistic treatments for PTSD offers veterans additional pathways to healing beyond traditional therapy. These approaches, which include mindfulness, yoga, acupuncture, equine therapy, art therapy, music therapy, nutrition, exercise, and service animals, address the multifaceted nature of PTSD. By integrating these holistic PTSD treatments, veterans can achieve more comprehensive and sustained relief from their symptoms, ultimately leading to improved quality of life and better long-term outcomes.

National Veterans Homeless Support seeks to eliminate homelessness among veterans in Central Florida and nationwide. NVHS takes a proactive, intervention-based approach to homelessness by meeting homeless veterans where they are and helping them from there. Through programs such as Search and Rescue Outreach, NVHS helps homeless veterans get the supplies they need to survive, connects them with support and resources, and helps them transition off the streets and into temporary or permanent housing. Some of our programs also include art therapy to help veterans heal. If you’re able, consider supporting our mission by donating or signing on as a volunteer.