Complementary medicine techniques known as healing touch and guided imagery can help reduce symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in military personnel who have been in combat, a recent study says.

Healing touch is described as an energy-based treatment meant to restore and balance the human biofield in order to decrease pain and promote healing. It is sometimes used in surgery or other medical procedures to help patients relax and reduce pain and anxiety. Guided imagery uses imagination and visualization to help reduce stress and anxiety and enhance overall well-being.

Study Details

The study included 123 active-duty US Marines who had at least one of the following post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms-flashbacks of their traumatic experience, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, emotional numbness, insomnia, irritability, exaggerated startle response, avoidance of people or places that remind them of the traumatic experience, or exaggerated emotional responses to trauma.

The participants were assigned to receive either standard treatment for PTSD or standard treatment plus healing touch and guided imagery. There were six complementary therapy sessions over three weeks.

The study found that patients who received standard treatment plus these complementary therapies had greater improvement in quality of life and lower levels of depression and cynicism than those who received standard treatment alone.

The study, published in the journal Military Medicine, was led by the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego. It also involved the Samueli Institute in Alexandria, Virginia.

"Service members are seeking out non-drug complementary and integrative medicine as part of their overall care and approach to wellness," said Wayne Jonas, MD, president and chief executive officer of Samueli Institute.

“This treatment pairs deep relaxation with a self-care approach that can be used at home," he said. "The results of this study underscore the need to make effective, non-stigmatizing treatments for PTSD available to all our service members."

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