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Touch Therapy, Guided Imagery Lessen Combat PTSD

Touch Therapy, Guided Imagery Lessen Combat PTSDA new study finds a low-tech, high-touch intervention is an effective treatment strategy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among combat-exposed active duty military.

Researchers at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine found that healing touch combined with guided imagery (HT+GI) provided a significant clinical reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for returning active-duty Marines.

The study is found in the journal Military Medicine.

Researchers discovered patients receiving these complementary medicine interventions showed significant improvement in quality of life, as well as reduced depression and cynicism, compared to soldiers receiving treatment as usual alone.

Investigators conducted a randomized controlled trial of returning active-duty Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., from July 2008 to August 2010.

Participants were separated at random into two groups, one that received treatment as usual (TAU) for PTSD and another that received TAU as well as healing touch (HT).

Healing touch is a practitioner-based treatment aimed at eliciting the participant’s own healing response, with guided imagery (GI), a self-care therapy aimed at eliciting relaxation as well as enhancing trust and self-esteem.

Researchers discovered the healing touch and guided imagery groups (HT+GI) reported significant improvements in PTSD symptoms after only a brief intervention with a Scripps practitioner of six sessions, within a three-week period.

The principal investigators and designers of the study are Dr. Mimi Guarneri and Rauni King, R.N., founders of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.

“Scores for PTSD symptoms decreased substantially, about 14 points and below the clinical cutoffs for PTSD,” said Guarneri. “This indicates that the intervention was not just statistically significant, but actually decreased symptoms below the threshold for PTSD diagnosis. It made a large difference in reducing PTSD symptoms.”

The study format included treatment of 123 participants – 55 who received TAU and 68 who received HT+GI and TAU.

To be eligible for the trial, participants were screened to confirm that they were currently experiencing at least one of the following PTSD symptoms: re-experiencing of trauma via flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, exaggerated emotional responses to trauma, emotional numbness, insomnia, irritability, exaggerated startle response, or avoidance of people or places that remind them of the trauma.

“Service members are seeking out non-drug complementary and integrative medicine as part of their overall care and approach to wellness,” said Wayne B. Jonas, M.D.

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

Healing touch is an energy-based, non-invasive treatment that restores and balances the human biofield to help decrease pain and promote healing. Healing touch is often used as an adjunct to surgery and other medical procedures to assist in pain reduction, decrease anxiety and elicit relaxation.

Guided imagery is a way of using the imagination to help a person, reduce stress, decrease pain and enhance overall well-being through visualization.

For the purposes of this study, guided imagery was administered to the subjects through a recorded CD simultaneously with Healing Touch and then listened to independently by subjects at least once daily.

Source: Scripps Health

Military man photo by shutterstock.

Touch Therapy, Guided Imagery Lessen Combat PTSD

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Touch Therapy, Guided Imagery Lessen Combat PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 25 Sep 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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