It has been nearly 34 years since the Viet Nam war ended in 1975, but to John W. and thousands of others like him, it might as well have been yesterday. John still jumps violently when he hears fire crackers or a car backfire. He still awakens during the night tense and alert for any hint of danger. When he does manage to sleep, he is often troubled by nightmares that leave him exhausted and shaken. Since his wife divorced him he has never quite gotten himself back together. He drifts from job to job and from relationship to relationship, never really settling, becoming emotionally attached, or feeling that he belongs anywhere. Occasionally he erupts in angry outbursts. His best friend and worst enemy is alcohol, and life is just one empty day after another. He never talks about himself or his experiences, but those around him know that his war wound has never healed. It is simply invisible.

Now a whole new generation of young men and women are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with their own invisible wounds. Just like John, many of them are struggling to readjust and make sense of life in the aftermath of their own encounters with war. They are coping with what used to be called “combat fatigue,” known today as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

What is PTSD?

Although we frequently hear and read about PTSD and the devastating effects it is having on military personnel, we may be far less aware that it is a severe emotional condition that anyone can develop. It occurs as the result of a terrifying event or ordeal during which severe physical harm actually happens or is threatened. Traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include automobile accidents, violent personal assaults (rape, robbery, parental or spousal abuse, kidnapping), natural disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Ike, or unnatural disasters such as the Oklahoma City bombing or the events of 9/11.

PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults. It can occur at any age, including childhood. Some people are more predisposed to it than others. Women are more likely to develop the disorder than men, and there is some evidence that it may run in families. It is estimated that roughly 30% of Vietnam veterans and 8% of Gulf War veterans developed PTSD. The numbers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are anticipated to be far higher. However, there are some troubling signs that soldiers in an all-volunteer professional military are reluctant to seek help. A study conducted in 2004 found that while approximately 80% of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who showed signs of PTSD were willing to admit they had a problem, only 40% were receptive to any kind of therapy. Military personnel today are very concerned about stigma and may be ashamed to expose their “weaknesses” to professionals. They are also concerned that accepting treatment for mental health problems will negatively impact their careers. Unfortunately, PTSD is a serious mental condition that rarely resolves itself. Without intervention and treatment, these young people are likely to live with the after effects of their war experiences for the rest of their lives.

What Causes It?

How certain areas of the brain work is an important key to understanding PTSD. Fear is a natural human response to danger. When a person is actually experiencing a life threatening situation, an area hidden deep inside the brain known as the amygdala triggers an automatic protective reaction we know as fight or flight. When that happens, the body releases chemicals that make us tense, alert, and ready for action. PTSD is an extreme version of that response, and research suggests that one of the causes of PTSD may be an abnormal activation of the amygdala. Once the amygdala is conditioned by a certain stimulus, a pattern is established that is difficult to change.

People with PTSD have also been found to have abnormally elevated levels of stress related hormones. When in danger, the body produces high levels of natural opiates that can temporarily mask pain. Those with PTSD continue to produce elevated levels of these opiates even after the danger has passed. This is thought to be one of the reasons why dulled emotions are so common with this condition.

What are the Symptoms?

While there are various ways PTSD can manifest, certain reactions are typical. People with PTSD generally have difficulty engaging in normal daily activities. They commonly experience paranoia and flashbacks, and are often unable to express or receive love and affection. They can experience sleep disturbances, anxiety, intense guilt, depression, chronic irritability, and both emotional numbness and irrational outbursts. When they encounter a situation or circumstance that triggers the memory of their original trauma (such as John’s reaction to a car back-firing), they start experiencing their ordeal all over again. Substance abuse is rampant as they attempt to self medicate their emotional pain. Any number of physical conditions such as chronic fatigue or pain and gastrointestinal problems often develop as well.

What Can Be Done About It?

Medications offer relief from anxiety but none are cures or a long term solution. Among traditional psychological approaches to treating PTSD, behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy are proving to be among the most effective. Behavioral therapy focuses on various techniques to decrease or stop unwanted behavior. Similarly, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to react differently to situations that trigger panic attacks. While these may be effective, neither directly addresses the subconscious mind, which is where the problem lies and where lasting change has to occur.

While there are various ways to work with the subconscious mind (NLP, EMDR, hypnotherapy, bio-feedback etc.) one of the most effective ways to treat PTSD is with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Several years ago, Gary Craig, the originator of EFT, spent six days at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Los Angeles working with Viet Nam veterans who were still undergoing treatment 25 years after the war. None of these men had made much if any progress. The results of Gary’s work were amazing. In just a few days, men who had suffered debilitating nightmares and flashbacks for years were free of them. Those who were too emotionally traumatized to verbalize their experiences were suddenly able to speak about them freely and calmly. For the first time since the war, these veterans had hope of being able live normal lives.

Since Gary’s pioneering work at the VA hospital, practitioners in the U.S. and around the world are using his technique to help countless numbers of people overcome traumatic experiences of every kind. EFT has proven to be surprisingly effective in treating PTSD. For a significant number of people, intense feelings either vanish completely or are dramatically reduced. Like acupuncture, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) works with the body’s electrical energy system but without the needles. Instead, strategic points on the face and upper body are stimulated simply by tapping on them lightly with the fingers. Tapping on these points while speaking a carefully crafted pattern of words and phrases visibly relaxes the body and reaches the subconscious mind on a deep level. This is why profound changes can be made in a short period of time.

Addressing PTSD with EFT does not require a long drawn out period of treatment. Depending on the severity of symptoms, two or three sessions are sometimes all it takes to ease or eliminate this debilitating condition entirely. Occasionally,it may only take one. Easily learned, EFT is a self-help technique that can be used for a lifetime to control and overcome any emotionally based condition. For anyone stressed over a traumatic life event or is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD, EFT may be the answer they have been searching for.

Author's Bio: 

Judith Albright, MA, EFT-ADV is an Emotional Freedom Technique Practitioner and PSYCH-K® facilitator in Ft. Collins, CO who helps people neutralize stress and release emotional issues that are limiting their lives. Judith is currently a member of the Stress Project (, a nationwide research study under the direction of Dawson Church to prove the effectiveness of EFT for treating war veterans. For more information about EFT and how it can be of benefit, visit or call 970 218-8643.