New (Ancient) Treatment for PTSD: Sweat Lodge

Soldiers that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after returning from war have a new avenue of treatment: sweat lodges.

Tony Deconinck of AOL News wrote about the use of this ancient Native American tradition to treat a modern ailment:

On a secluded piece of land at the Fort Carson military reservation, soldiers have the opportunity to participate in a traditional Native American sweat lodge to cleanse not only their skin, but their spirit. This sweat lodge is led by Michael Hackwith-Takesthegun, a 45-year-old Marine veteran whose elders still live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He's not a conventional holy man, nor would he think of himself as the type of dour and dry minister whose religious temperance separates him from those he wishes to help. He's a guide with an important responsibility to honor an effective, important ritual.

"We're getting so many veterans coming back from the war," he said. "They're searching and seeking and looking for something, and maybe this is helping.


(Photo: Wendy Chunn)

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Actually, I'd like to share a little known method with you. It's from eastern philosophy so it isn't very popular in the west. Western philosophy has focused on Aristotlean logic on the bases of his law of identity. Which could probably use some explanation as well.

Aristotle's law of identity states; a thing is what it is. This axiomatic statement coul hardly be denied but there are elements contained within it that reveal a paralogic similar to eastern philosophy. The statement has a counter-part known as the law of non-contradiction. The notion that there can be no contradictory phenomena like a square-circle or a wooden-iron. So the law of identity is expanded under the law of non-contradition to; a thing is what it is and not what it isn't.

The negative property of a thing "not what it isn't" will prove important to understanding the vast significance of the law of identity. Leibniz famously formulated the law as "A=A" and some around his time asserted that denial of the law of identity should be punishable under the law. Virtually nobody argues about the law of identity for good reason.

Liebniz's formula could be expanded to include the law of non-contradiction as A=A&&A!=!A. This formula says "A (a thing) is equal to itself, and not equal to what it is not." (I'm using formulas I learned from computer programming). This is important! Because the thing is not just itself, it has a negative aspect, it IS not what it isn't.

This addition basically solves the riddle of the relative structure of the universe, because the very identity of a thing is relative to what it is not. We should expect to find an underlying continuity between the identity of one thing and the identity of all other things.

In eastern philosophy, Nagarjuna, developed a negative dialectic which is now known as "Nagarjuna's negative dialectic" and is formulated as Thesis->Antithesis->Synthesis. The method begins with a proposition or thesis such as "All human behavior is determined by genetics." and derives the anti-thesis, which would be "All human behavior is determined by nurture." and finally attempts to synthesise the two "All human behavior is the combination of nature and nurture." Which, not so surprisingly is the modern view of academic psychology. But it hasn't always been that way, between the behaviorists and the humanist psychologists there has been fierce debate about which one determines human behavior.

But, since Aristotle's law of identity is the basist and most axiomatic law underpinning all experiential reality, it must be true of everything we can possibly experience. We can therefor apply the negative dialectic method to everything and achieve significant results.

The method doesn't end at the synthesis however, the method continues with the synthesis as the new thesis. If the thesis were "All human behavior is determined by environment and genetics." we may derive as an antithesis that "All human behavior is determined by the individual." and derive a synthesis from that. The further into this method we go, the further outside of normal english description we get, to the point of not being able to adequately describe the synthesis. Though it may nevertheless be true, and probably is.

We tend to think in simplified opposites, and the language reflects this. It is no simple task to synthesize opposites like this and come up with ways of describing the results. How would we describe human behavior that is "all determined" by the environment, their genetics and their own activity? And is it sufficient to stop there? Or is there more we are missing?

Anyway, its a very useful tool, which should, based on what we now know, always yield practical results.
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Placebo's rarely work. Yes.

This is what I think, there is a dialectic process here. Now, I don't expect many of you are familiar with dialectical thought, which involves holding two seemingly opposed views in mind simultaneously.

Consider for example the computer keyboard I am typing on. I refer to this object as a "keyboard" but I may also refer to it as a number of individual keys, supplanted on a Printed Circuit Board, with a molded plastic shell. If I want to describe it in greater depth I could talk about the metallurgic components of the PCB or the polyethylene composition of the keys. There are many ontologies, many depths to the "keyboard". A dialectical thought in this regard would be to entertain simultaneously the image of the complete keyboard and all of it's constituent parts. In-fact, to perceive it's actual infinity of depth.

Likewise, the physical world and the phenomenal (mental) world are one and the same world separated only by apparent differences. Whatever occurs mentally also occurs physically in some respect. When you are elated mentally is correlates with activations of your nucleus accumbens physically. Dialectically holding both perspectives in mind simultaneously, we can see that anything, placebo or not, which affects the psychological well-being of an individual, also affects their physical (neurological) well-being.

If you can master dialectical thought in this way, golly gee, the whole world will become a lot clearer.
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I've actually been in a sweatlodge (and enjoyed the food afterward) at Oshwegan in Ontario.

It was brutal. It's entirely black, insanely hot and eventually you begin to hallucinate. They brought in a drum and sang traditional songs at the top of their lungs. One of my co-lodgers was sick. I spent at least some of the time doubled over with my head resting on the first floor.

From my perspective as someone who's been in one, the only benefit I derived was to be able to tell you I was someone who's been in one.

Oh, and the corn soup afterward was rediculously good.
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Back in the day PTSD was probably best known as shell shock. I was in a VA hospital years ago and there were a couple older GI's in the mental ward from WWII who had never recovered. Jessss is correct to mention some similarity with horrible car wrecks. Any really disturbing event, fires, tornadoes, 9/11 will likely cause PTSD in some survivors. Sad.
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