Barbera Bashan contacted me to understand more about the neural mechanisms underlying the changes individuals experience after undergoing STAR therapy. I had in-depth discussions with Barbera, reviewed the literature regarding the effect of trauma on the brain and interventions targeting the symptoms, and experienced a STAR session myself.
Below, I briefly summarize what we know about PTSD. I then provide my opinion regarding how STAR therapy may work to change disordered neural connections. Lastly, I discuss how a STAR session changed me.
The last couple of decades have seen an explosion in brain imaging, and technologies have allowed us a bird’s eye view into the inner workings of the mind. Researchers ask varied questions, including, and relevant for STAR, What are the neural mechanisms underlying severe stress or trauma (currently known as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD)?
PTSD is not reserved only for combat veterans1. It can result from natural disasters, transportation accidents, unwanted sexual experiences and violence. In fact, many professions regularly expose workers to highly negative experiences.
Regardless of the source of stress, such events make individuals vulnerable to negative health outcomes. People may be unable to sleep well or concentrate, or have night sweats or have difficulty breathing when reminded of the negative experience. They might be unable to stop reliving the event, experience persistent anxiety, and feel the loss of joy in life. It is not uncommon for suffers to turn to drugs or alcohol for relief.
In PTSD, there are fewer neural connections between areas important for emotions, motivation and memories2. A healthy “fight or flight” response is natural and important tool for survival. However, in individuals exposed to extreme stress or trauma, this natural, protective brain response fails3.
Both pharmaceuticals and device-based treatments are used to target the disordered brain connections. Device-based treatments like deep brain stimulation (DBS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) use hardware to change brain patterns in trauma patients4. In my opinion, STAR therapy may act in a similar fashion. However, instead of using hardware, STAR recruits the individual’s own natural energy field to change disordered brain patterns.
This is conjecture, because the mechanism of action such treatments is unclear. But we know that PTSD is characterized by fewer, disordered connections. And we know that when symptoms are relieved, neural connectivity is also normalized. And we know that therapeutic outcomes of STAR therapy are overwhelmingly positive.
My own experience with STAR was transformative. I do not have PTSD, or anything resembles trauma. However, through the session became aware of issues buried deep in my childhood, before I had conscious memory. During the subsequent days, I felt I was more complete and calm. Issues from my past that were like a thorn sticking through my flip flop subsided. They don’t irritate me; I have let them go.
Due to my personal experience, I feel that STAR therapy could be beneficial for many individuals who simply have high levels of stress due to everyday living. Like getting a massage or acupuncture to relieve pain or stress, STAR should be considered a wellness therapy to maintain the well-being of the workforce.
I would also recommend STAR therapy for individuals with brain-based psychosomatic disorders, including anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and PTSD. I can also imagine benefits for other disorders, including eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia and addiction disorders.
1. Michopoulos, V., Norrholm, S. D. & Jovanovic, T. Diagnostic Biomarkers for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder : Promising Horizons from Translational Neuroscience Research. Biol. Psychiatry 78, 344–353 (2015).
2. Garfinkel, S. N. & Liberzon, I. Neurobiology of PTSD : A Review of Neuroimaging Findings. Psychiatr. Annu. 39, 370–381 (2009).
3. Editorial. Neuroscience Letters Neurobiology of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A path from novel pathophysiology to innovative therapeutics. Neurosci. Lett. 649, 130–132 (2017).
4. Bowers, M. E. & Ressler, K. J. Review An Overview of Translationally Informed Treatments for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder : Animal Models of Pavlovian Fear Conditioning to Human Clinical Trials. Biol. Psychiatry 78, E15–E27 (2015).