Healing touch therapy and guided imagery reduced posttraumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms in returning combat-exposed military personnel, according to study results.
“Similar to civilian populations, complementary and alternative medicine approaches are often sought out by military personnel, for a variety of health conditions,” the researchers wrote.
Healing touch is a noninvasive “biofield” therapy performed by trained practitioners who use a gentle touching technique to influence the patient’s “vital energy system to stimulate a healing response,” according to the researchers. Guided imagery is a technique that utilizes patients’ imagination to induce deep relaxation. In the study, veterans listened to a CD designed for treating PTSD and aid in the relaxation process.
Erminia M. Guarneri, MD, and colleagues from the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego studied treatment responses in 123 active duty military personnel who were randomly assigned to six sessions of healing touch plus guided imagery or treatment as usual. PTSD, depression and mental quality of life were all assessed using validated measures. The researchers also used the validated Cook-Medley Hostility Inventory to measure hostile affect, cynicism and aggressive responding.
Intent-to-treat analyses indicated a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms (P<.0005) and depression (P<.0005) in the intervention group vs. controls. The alternative therapies were also associated with significant improvements in veterans’ mental quality of life (P=.002) and reduced cynicism (P=.001) vs. treatment as usual.
“Scores for PTSD symptoms decreased substantially, about 14 points and below the clinical cutoffs for PTSD,” Guarneri said in a press release. “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.”
Wayne B. Jonas, MD, president and CEO of the Samueli Institute, said the complementary treatment can be used at home, and the results suggest the need for effective, non-stigmatizing treatments for PTSD for all US service members.