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Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to Heal Combat Flashbacks

A fact is a fact. Memory is a fact. War is a fact. Unfortunately for many veterans, the latter two facts collide. 

"Every soldier at some point leaves the battlefield, but the battlefield never leaves the soldier." 

After soldiers return stateside and stand down from 24/7 battle readiness, vivid images of missions they experienced begin to flash in their minds. These mental images are normal and are termed “flashbacks”.

Neurological research has proven that the brain processes traumatic memory differently than non-traumatic memory. The human brain’s job in reference to non-traumatic memory is that of order and closure. Simply put, the brain receives all the information from an event; it processes all the images, smells and sounds, achieves closure with the associated emotions and then put the event into long-term storage for future retrieval and replay.

When the brain is faced with an intensely traumatic event, the processing is put on hold as well as the closure of associated emotions. The brain’s normal function of order and storage is not achieved and the imprint of the event remains active. At some point, the brain will bring the imprint back to consciousness in order to process the event, make emotional closure and integrate it into long-term storage.

Soldiers from every service are highly trained professionals and when in battle mode, their brain responds and functions differently. In the heat of battle, a soldier’s brain is so focused on completing the mission that there is no time to process its impact or make a closure.

An example of this can be seen through the experience of a close friend of mine who returned from the Vietnam War. He was well decorated and was involved in many battles during his two tours in the country. Initially, his transition back into civilian life went smoothly. He lived with his wife and went back to work in his chosen profession. He lived in a large city where the police relied heavily on helicopters to patrol and less on squad cars.  One evening it all changed. A police helicopter began to circle low over his neighborhood looking for the robbery suspect. That night the police helicopter triggered him into a combat flashback.  In his mind, he was back in Vietnam. He felt that he along with his brother-in-arms were under attack. He ran to his closet, pulled out his rifle, ran outside into his backyard and began to fire at the police helicopter. After that, he had more combat flashbacks, slept less, became more anxious, and used illegal drugs to attempt to stop the images. On another occasion, his wife woke up with him holding a knife to her throat telling her to be silent or they would be found.  She left him the next day and did not return. Two months later he lost his job. Stories like this one were not uncommon for Vietnam Veterans.

Many stories just like the one above will happen again and again. America has a new generation of veterans (289,328) that have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan wars and each one has brought back combat memories. 106,726 (36.9%) veterans received mental health diagnoses. 62,929 (21.8%) were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Is there something safe that can help eliminate flashbacks?

In these days of specialization, why isn't there a teachable skill that would target one memory at a time and help a veteran to process through combat flashbacks one by one?
Well, there is. A guided protocol called Rapid Reduction Technique®© (RRT) was developed to reduce the effects of traumatic flashbacks and memories for women who have been traumatized and abused. The RRT has been used and studied with this population for the past 9 years. RRT has been successful helping survivors reduce the intensity of the flashbacks, help in the processing all the images, smells and sounds, achieves closure with the associated emotions and facilitate storage into long-term memory. RRT®© is a teachable and safe skill which works on one memory at a time. RRT®© is based on revisiting, not reliving or re-experiencing. Flashbacks are an attempt by the brain to achieve order and processing. The RRT®© protocol teaches a survivor to bring a recurring flashback up to consciousness safely, work with the emotions associated with it and assist the brain in processing it.

Clinical Study

One year ago a pilot study was conducted to see the effectiveness of the Rapid Reduction Technique™©. The study looked at seven areas of intrusive traumatic flashbacks and memories. Those areas were; inability to function, the strength of memory pain, the degree of triggering, level of emotional, physical, spiritual and audio pain. 66 women in an inpatient setting with diagnoses of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) participated. All 66 women were experiencing dysfunction in their lives due to flashbacks and memories from childhood and adulthood trauma and abuse. All areas studied showed a significant decrease in the level of pain related to their chosen flashbacks or memories.

Within the studied population of the 66 women, there were 2 veterans of the Desert Storm War and 1 contractor who served as support for the military during the Iraq War. All three had chosen combat or wartime memories and reported a significant reduction in the intensity and associated pain.

Case Studies

Let’s look at the case of one Navy veteran in the pilot study. Her family had a long line of members who had served in the military.  She served 10 years in the military and saw combat in the Desert Storm War. Her flashback was a result of one of her combat experiences. While part of a large supply convoy traveling into Iraq, the trucks she was responsible for got off route. Separated from the main convoy and making a course correction, they were ambushed. In the firefight, she was wounded; another officer and several ground soldiers were killed. 

Reinforcements helped them to win the firefight, get the trucks and fallen brothers-in-arms out. After months of physical rehabilitation, an honorable discharge with commendations and return to civilian life, flashbacks of the ambush began to surface. The reoccurring flashbacks caused her to experience agitation, guilt, bouts of deep depression, constant anxiety, and shame for not completing her mission. She was overwhelmed with severe regret for not bringing all her soldiers back alive.  She went through years of psychiatric hospitalizations and medication, yet the flashbacks continued. Her everyday life became dysfunctional, relationships failed; she experienced sleepless nights and was unable to hold a job. Her days were full of anxiety, fear, and pain.

During one of her hospitalizations, she had the opportunity to volunteer for the Rapid Reduction Technique®© pilot study. She picked her ambush flashback to use in the study. On her pre-test, on a scale of 0 to 4, with “0” being no pain or inability to function due to her flashback and “4” being intense pain or inability to function, she rated all study areas at 4.  She stated that the ambush flashback had caused a “loss of dignity, honor, and direction.” Reporting on the post-test at conclusion of experiencing the Rapid Reduction Technique on her ambush flashback, she rated all 7 areas studied at “0”.

What grew out of the pilot study from the success of the two veterans and one contractor participating was that Rapid Reduction Technique had possible military application. A military guided protocol called Rapid Reduction Technique - Combat®©  (RRT-C®©) was developed that would help male and female soldiers. RRT-C®© has already helped two male Vietnam Veterans.

 One of the two was a 62-year-old male Vietnam Veteran who had his voice box shattered when he was shot in the neck during a battle at the age of 19. Years after his return to civilian life, he started to experience severe flashbacks of that battle. He reported that the flashbacks would cause him to have increased physical pain in his neck as well as emotional pain. He went through years of anxiety, fear, worthlessness and a feeling that he let himself and his buddies down by being shot. His life became very dysfunctional. He lost his marriage, and his ability to hold a job. He said he felt “worthless, disgraced and an outcast.” He gave up and isolated himself from society. He resorted to drugs and alcohol to medicate his pain and cope with life. He went through years of being homeless with many admissions to psychiatric hospitalizations and substance abuse programs. Though it was difficult for him to communicate with others through his electronic larynx, he volunteered to experience the Rapid Reduction Technique – Combat®©. He reported at the conclusion of his RRT-C®© experience that the emotional, physical and mental intensity of the flashback was significantly reduced. A week later, his memory of the battle only came up if he recalled it, and he did not experience any pain. He gratefully stated for the “first time in my life since I left Vietnam, I am finally free.”

Of course Rapid Reduction Technique–C®© is not a cure for PTSD, and more study on the RRT-C®© should be done, but there is promise. RRT-C®© has proven so far to be effective for veterans. It can be taught to veterans so they can take command of their combat flashbacks and finally complete their mission, one battlefield memory at a time.
Clinical Research Update on RRT®©

Rapid Reduction Technique®© or RRT®© was clinically studied in a 3-year research project at a major university and shown to be clinically effective with eliminating the emotional charge, intensity, and triggers as described in the pilot study. A surprising discovery as a result of the clinical study is that RRT®© relieved other Post-traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. 

If you would like more specific information from the study, please contact me at or go to my website

          Coach Bill

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Time of Blessing

On this eve of Christmas, I want to take this chance to deeply express to all a Merry, Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays to all the loyal supports who have followed my blog.

   As we near the end of this year, and not the end of the world as some had predicted, it is time to pause, take a moment and reflect on what we have been blessed with throughout 2012.  The events we experience in the past 12 months do not always feel like a blessing, but later as time marches forward, we will see thing through a different pair of eyes. These same events will appear as positive. Positive, in that they pointed us in a different and better direction. Sometimes kicking and screaming because where we were so comfortable. Even painful and hurtful situations can become very comfortable.  As some of us know, even trauma can be comfortable if jerked away and we have melted into a pattern.

   Now is the time, a time for inner journey filled with dreams, fantasy, spiritual nourishment and validation. Open a new door and make a positive change to your life. It is not what we give or get, it is about erecting stronger bonds with our inner and outer environments. Confirming our positive core beliefs and shifting the negative ones which keep us stuck to old ways and habitual patterns. The stronger our core beliefs, the stronger of mind code and the stronger our ties with the ones we love. For as we have experienced this year, it can be a regular day, and boom - suddenly we will never see a love one ever again. Live in the moment and risk to enjoy. We need to give ourselves permission to live.

   Love your family and yourself as though it is the last moment you have. Tonight and tomorrow morning is a magical time and season not only for our children and grandchildren but also for the inner child in all.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. 

Blessings All