As a Vietnam combat Vet with Post Traumatic Stress, I have experienced the psychological and emotional challenges of the syndrome for decades. Keep in mind that any horrible life event can trigger Post Traumatic Stress. It can manifest decades later or soon after the event. There is a recurrent component of hopelessness with combat stress that lurks in the background of the mind because parts of the past will not go away. There is a futile search for resolve. Prescription drugs and mainstream counseling do not crack through this unresolved conflict. As a counseling Occupational Therapist, I developed a program for myself based on a best case scenario. The strategy was to combine the best possible medication with the best possible counseling for this condition. Here is the treatment plan; see if this makes sense to you:
Let’s start with the meds…
Which medication has the least side effects, the highest patient satisfaction rating, the most positive evidence based results and the best long term prognosis for use? Clear winner: Cannabis.
Well, that was simple, but it comes with a lot of heartache because in most states you can’t get this medication and if you do, it is an illegal act. The dozen mainstream drugs for PTSD have little or no postive outcomes and are often addictive and do not clear the problem but only mask it or create a new batch of problems and symptoms. The contraindications are dangerous and debillitating. Cannabis clears all of the above off the table: NO addictive features, no contraindications, and many proven benefits: Patients develop a feeling of greater acceptance of their current circumstances and a clearing of painful misunderstanding. Also there is a lessening of destructive dreams and less remembrance of them. Cannabis has proven by patient report to be the best med for the job.
OK, now for the counseling…
Who, as a combat vet, would you most want to know your combat history and comment on it? My emotions just took over for a minute here. I would dam well only want to be counseled by someone who was there or could truly make sense of it because of experience, not conjecture or judgement. Basically, I start to tighten up when anyone starts any kind of commentary about Viet Nam…if they have been in combat I will likely lend an ear. Well, I think we would want a combat veteran who fought in our venue and who is a counselor. You see, I’m a ground pounder. I don’t quite know the feeling in the cockpit when the missile is closing on you or what it is like to throw artillery 12 hours a day and then get incoming at night. I know night patrols…. don’t know house to house combat or the desert…..jungle and rice paddies are inside of me, but we all had stress no matter what we did in any war. We all had a shot at dieing too, no matter how “safe” your area was declared. So, I think we should have a counselor who knows our stuff and can use the skills available to get some resolve and some increase in function and peace of mind.
Cannabis will do its part to delay the response of the part of the brain known as the Amygdala that stores the intensity of these experiences. The amygdala is the structure and the herb calms it. Also, the cannabis will slow the memory of the dreams. And finally, it will allow a selective memory to emerge and a feeling of resolve. “It is what it is and I can be OK with that.” Acceptance comes slowly but it can come adequately to live well in society.
Now, how will we use the best of psychology to combine with the cannabis to uproot these deep emotions, thoughts and visions? In the current system, the counselors, although well meaning, are at a bit of a trust impasse when dealing with vets who are not willing to open up about the horrors of the past. And the drugs that are patent medicines are often bandaids that work with brain chemicals in a dangerous, toxic and addictive way. Let’s refine the four major psychologies and create a meaningful flow to work with the cannabis.
Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis. The core of this approach is to get at the root of current mental illness by examining the past in a truthful manner. There is a viable use of this approach at first because once all the troubling incidents are identified, the client needs to look at the truth and give responsibility to all who are involved. It is important to acknowledge your own wrong doing and the wrongs of others as well. After this truthful sojourn into the past, it is time to use other forms of psychology to give meaning and purpose to the unfolding process out of post traumatic stress. It is very difficult to admit to killing others willingly, but the motivators were the pressure of doing your duty and the drive to protect your brothers in combat. Cannabis has helped at this point because there is a component of acceptance, resolve and understanding built into the effects of cannabis. Vets have reported achieving some closure because of these positive effects. I want to state here that in any moral standard that is worthwhile, if a man kills another in war it is not the same as a street murder. The motive can be traced back to the government he is fighting for. Every combat vet knows the feeling of being part of a brutal machine with an unknown goal. Listen, my brothers and sisters with combat in your past; you are not to blame as much as you think you are. It is time to take a wider perspective when looking at your history.
Looking at other psycholgies we see many inroads to healing in the case of post traumatic stress.
Cognitive restructuring is fancy for thinking in a different way, ideally a permanent change in mental approach. The idea here is to develop, with the clinician, a set of affirmations that will be repeated every time the bad thoughts or visions arise. In time, the brain will start to physically change, using new nerve pathways that route the signals of the new affirmation. This development of new neural pathways is called brain plasticity and is now valid science. It is true that when you think or act differently, you become conditioned to the new way of being and it becomes “you” with enough effort. It is true that the greater the stressor, the more deeply engrained the negative responses may be. But on the good side, a strong and consistent willful change will have a healing effect on anyone.
“As a man thinketh, so he becomes”. Cannabis can help in this cognitive shift because of that same quality of acceptance. Cannabis gives a willingness and openness to try something different and not to fight it with the ego. Cannabis is a “non ego involved” substance. With cannabis and right development of strong, positive mental tools, the next step towards healing is taken.
Behavioral psychology is simply to tie a behavior to a stimulus, so in the case of combat stress there will be many habits or behaviors tied to the stress. The object here is to take the cognitive restructuring into action with a set of habits that are focused, functional and provide a positive framework for healing. Example: The combat vet has had thoughts of suicide. His counselor and some friends encourage him to help coach a little league baseball team. At the end of the season, one of the kids says, “Hey coach, thanks for everything. Hope you can coach us again next year”. Later the boy’s mom tells the coaches that they have been a true lifeline for him because he has no dad. Obviously the vet sees his value in someone else’s life and sees then that his own life has merit. Best outcome for the vet? …many years of coaching and mentoring kids..and vanishing thoughts of suicide based on a life of creating value for others. So, take on roles that develop health, wellness, fitness, service to others and you will, by meaningful action, take the stress out of the brain and body.
Care Ethic Psychology
Woven in all of these tools for healing is the Care-Ethic psychology that simply adds the component of trust, mutual understanding and truth to it all. With the cannabis settling down the dreams (multiple studies on this) and a caring and truthful environment. the application of analysis, cognitive change and new behaviors can take shape to benefit the individual.
In a perfect world we would have a medical system that would base itself in what works instead of what they decide or what makes money. I will hold out hope that programs like the one outlined here will eventually emerge in states or countries with medical use. With 102,000 suicides among Viet Nam vets and more suicides than war deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, we all need to take stock in what is important. The care of Post Traumatic Stress is vitally important and worth communicating with a Congressman about. Thank your nearest veteran and stay in touch with them. Let’s carry on together to end war and get busy in our own countries to improve our own planet.
Interesting links on PTSD