Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors Experiencing Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment and Psychotherapy Concurrent
The measures included fibromyalgia (FMS), Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and quality of life questionnaire, and, brain function and structural imaging. The results yielded that a significant improvement in all FMS questionnaires, most domains of quality of life (SF-36) and PTSD questionnaires, was apparent following HBOT.
The same significant improvements were demonstrated in the control following crossover to HBOT. Important to note, that despite the fact that the control/crossover group received psychotherapy when serving as controls, their mental and physical well-being did not improve during that phase (some even deteriorated) (Hadanny et al., 2018). Following HBOT, brain SPECT imaging demonstrated a significant increase in brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, orbital frontal cortex, and subgenual area (p < 0.05). Brain microstructure significant improvement was seen by MRI-DTI in the anterior thalamic radiation, left Insula and the right Thalamus.
The First Phase of HBOT Treatment: “The Body Remembers”
In the first phase (between 1 and 20 hyperbaric oxygen treatments), participants reported bodily pain during treatment which was usually limited to the time in the oxygen chamber. Sometimes the physical pain was so severe that participants cried and felt the need to escape. This was followed by painful memories, including retrieval of forgotten or dissociated memories.
The Second Phase of HBOT Treatment: “Relaxation and Serenity”
Participants described the second phase (between 20 and 40 HBOT sessions) as the soothing phase. Participants described the following changes: They began to feel better physically, sleeping difficulties and disturbances were significantly reduced, nightmares were gone, they felt like they had more energy during the day, and they breathed better. During the HBOT sessions, they often fell asleep, or felt as if they had been meditating or as one phrased it “a floating state.”
The Third Phase of HBOT Treatment: “Bouncing Back to Life”
During the third phase (between 40 and 60 sessions), participants reported a dramatic reduction of physical (Fibromyalgia) and emotional (depression, anxiety, distress, dissociation) symptoms, as well as a great increase in energy, in the ability to enjoy life, and in creativity, in the sense of coming up with new ideas of what they would like to achieve and do. They reported a change in their feelings toward the perpetrator/s and about their trauma, as well as a better ability to establish intimate relationships with people. Regarding the perpetrator and the relationship with him/her, feelings of fear and hate, or ambivalent feelings of love and hate, or of fear and longing, were replaced with indifference.
As we found, brain neuroplasticity can be induced and brain function can be restored by hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT), which in turn increase the connectivity between the affected areas of the brain. As a result, a decrease of dissociation level and symptoms on the one hand, and better cognitive and emotional coping abilities as well as awareness, on the other hand, were exhibited.
The findings lead to a new understanding of treatment; if healing and “bouncing back to life” rather than merely reducing symptoms, is the ultimate goal of treatment, than the wounded brain and the damaged hurt self, due to the psychological trauma, should be treated simultaneously. It is an intensive therapeutic intervention which demands 3 months of total dedication to the process by both the survivor and the therapist. However, as presented by the participants of this study and summarized by another: “it was worth big time…If I had not experienced this dual treatment, I would never have believed it will make such a change in my life…I wish all CSA survivors could receive this treatment…”