Friday, April 24, 2015

Treating PTSD and the Martial Arts

The following program will be broadcast on ABC RN on 26 April 2015: Trauma Treatment. The website contains the transcript now. The following is the introduction on the website:

When people are deeply traumatised by war, disaster or abuse their reality is distinctly different from those around them and it’s like they live on another planet. We hear from a pioneering researcher who says that the most powerful way to treat psychological trauma is not through the mind, but through the body. His approach may be unconventional—but could it heal ? 

 Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, and promoter of the idea that PTSD can be treated using the mind-body connection, has this to say about the use of martial arts in this regard:

Well, the whole issue of self-regulation and calming your brain down and helping your brain to be focussed in the present is central. And the key brain area that is necessary to be on line to get over your trauma is your capacity to observe yourself and to notice yourself. And so any intervention that helps you to really know where you are and that you are and what you're feeling would be helpful. That may range as far as martial arts, where you need to know exactly where your body is in order to do it well, to mindfulness meditation, where also you're focussing yourself.

This mind-body connection is best understood through the use of what I call our evolved survival process or mechanism. I have integrated emotion, stress, and fight-or-flight theory to develop a comprehensive understanding of our survival process. Unfortunately I have not had access to a graphic designer to produce a graphic representation of this process/mechanism as yet.

The process involves a stimuli that is appraised through an unconscious appraisal process. Depending on that appraisal, a feeling and physiological response are elicited which motivates and supports an urge to act whose enactment is intended to effect the initiating stimulus. The feeling response motivates the behaviour and the associated physiological response prepares the body to enact the motivated behaviour that is designed to promote an individual's survival.


Fear: Man with knife > appraised as a threat > fear and fear physiological response > urge to flee > flight > puts distance between appraised threat and individual thus reducing the threat posed by the initiating stimulus.

One important aspect of our evolved survival process/mechanism is that each of the elements are interconnected - change one and you can change another or all of them.

'Stress' is an ambiguous concept. If you think you know what stress is, then pay heed to the father of stress research, Hans Selye, when he said that everybody knows what stress is, but nobody really knows.

When we talk of stress we are really talking about our evolved survival process/mechanism. Most times we are in fact talking about anxiety-fear. This root understanding is lost because of the fractured nature of our sciences and the different interests in the base survival process/mechanism of the different disciplines that study the concept.

PTSD refers to our survival process/mechanism being damaged so that it has become dysfunctional and no longer promotes our survival. Stimuli that are not actually a threat to our survival are appraised by a faulty appraisal process in our survival process/mechanism as a threat and elicit a response accordingly.

Van der Kolk's mind-body approach to treating PTSD relies on the interconnectedness of all of the elements in the process/mechanism in order to fix the faulty appraisal process. Intervene in the behavioural response in order to intervene and fix the faulty appraisal process.

The survival process/mechanism theory that I have developed can be used to understand all of the methods that have been developed by all Survival Activities (martial arts, military, law enforcement, etc) because those methods are all interventions in our evolved survival process/mechanism.

My work in this regard makes a unique contribution to the general body of knowledge.
Please contact me for more information on this subject as it regards Survival Activities if you'd like to know more.