A popular, evidence-based treatment for PTSD is “Prolonged Exposure” (PE). The aim is to help clients emotionally process their traumatic experiences in order to diminish PTSD and other trauma-related symptoms. Here, clients are helped thru exposure to anxiety-evoking situations in a safe manner in order to overcome excessive fear and anxiety. Many people improve naturally over time in daily life. This process is thought to occur through repeated activation of the trauma memory, engagement with thoughts and feelings of the trauma and sharing them with other survivors. Natural exposures, as one might experience at a baseball game, contain information that confirms the post-trauma belief that the world is a dangerous place and the person is inadequate and incompetent. Talking about the trauma with supportive others, whether casually seated in the stands of the park, or elsewhere helps to organize memories in a meaningful way. It is believed that people who go on to develop chronic PTSD fail to fully process emotions due to avoidance and numbing of emotions (along the lines of what the DAPS was trying to measure.) A ballpark outing helps to challenge the withdrawal of a person from outdoor activities by getting them outside where fears can be overcome slowly without losing control or “going crazy.” They learn that the world in not entirely unjust and dangerous. Fresh beliefs that one can feel competent and safe in the face of reminders can instill growth.
Typically avoided situations for Survivors:
- being in the presence of unfamiliar people who may have similarities to original trauma
- someone standing close or approaching suddenly
- being touched or bumped into by a stranger
- riding in a bus or car can be similar to riding in traffic, a convoy, projecting that items around them are potentially life-threatening (animals can have IEDs inside; people talking on cell phones can be remotely
- setting off an IED; people doing roadwork or stadium work can be planting an IED; even children can be wearing a suicide vests)
- walking in the open exposes one to sniper, mortars, direct and indirect fire
- travelling at sundown or night
- being in a crowded parking lot, line to get into the stadium, seeing the vast sellout crowd around you, seated facing the infield rather than behind you where the exit is and where threats may enter
- small, confined spaces similar to kicking down doors and entering dark homes with guns at the ready
- listening to the Star-Spangled Banner downrange and vividly experiencing coffins being loaded on C5 aircraft bound for CONUS, some with your friends inside
The exposure possibilities are endless. So, too, are the benefits of facing all of this at a ballgame and learning that you survived, had a good time, and memories, Situations, smells, movement, what you feel in your body and think in your brain do not re-traumatize.
Heading out to the ballpark can be rejuvenating, and in some cases, life-saving. These are just my own thoughts and do not reflect anyone’s views or the views of the DOD. I hope this highlights how, in a small way, I see Vetbaseball, Inc. offering the best intervention for PTSD Survivors- a new inning in life under the sun and the starts. Writing this makes me plan to stop for hot dogs and beer on the way home after work and settle down to watch a game on TV.
Written by Richard F. LaMacchia, PhD, former Major, USAF, current US Army Civilian Psychologist, Licensed FL Psychologist