Float therapy: A new method in PTSD treatment

A veteran explains his passion for float therapy, a sensory deprivation technique that helps alleviate PTSD symptoms

Float therapy: A new method in PTSD treatment

Photo courtesy of Urban Float

By Rachel Engel
Military1 Staff

Air Force veteran Trey Hearn believes in the power of float therapy.

More commonly known as sensory deprivation, float therapy consists of clients entering a pod filled with 150 gallons of water, and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, allowing the body to float on top of the water without any effort. Floaters then have the ability to turn off lights, and sounds, providing them a nearly 100 percent stimuli-free environment.

After experiencing his first float, Hearn knew he wanted to bring the experience to others. He and his brother, Chris, opened up Float Brothers Float Spa in Destin, Fla. in January, and began touting the benefits of the technique.

“It’s like a reset button for your brain,” Hearn said. “It really is. If you think of your brain as a computer, you have all these apps that are going to the hard drive, and you’re letting it all reboot.”

In addition to the mental break the technique gives floaters, the ability to feel weightless and relieve the stress from pressure points and joints is a huge benefit, he said.

The biggest draw of floating for Hearn, though, other than his own positive experience, are the benefits to military veterans and sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The lack of stimuli allows the brain to confront images or memories they have previously suppressed, he said.

“What’s actually helping people on our PTSD program is, when they get into the tank and get to that point, now they can address it in a calm environment where there’s nothing else there that could hurt them,” Hearn said. “They feel calm in the tank. They feel like it’s secure, and they’re safe, and they can approach the traumatic events in more of an internal counseling session with themselves.”

Photo courtesy of Trey Hearn

That’s exactly how retired Chief Master Sgt. Michael A. Roberts described his float experience.

Roberts, who suffers from PTSD as a result of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), said the practice of seeing multiple different medical specialists over and over exacerbated his stress stemming from the incident that caused his injuries.

“Float therapy is far superior to other traditional routes, [such as] varying types of drug regiments—one way or another they just temporarily overpower your brain and cause some form of blurred reality—and explaining your situation over and over again to multiple specialists as each one gets to know you and your situation, which caused me recurring internal anxiety and agitation,” he said. “I’ve tried them all.  When I’m in the float pod the absolute serenity and calmness is entirely therapeutic.”

Roberts said the peace he achieves is entirely internal and self-perpetuated.

“My pains and stresses are automatically lifted away without me having to say a word to anyone… or take any new pill,” he said.

At the brothers’ float spa, they offer free sessions to veterans and active duty members who have an official PTSD diagnosis. Hearn said that many veterans have told him they have weaned completely off, or decreased the amount of anxiety and depression medications because of the benefits from float therapy.

“Seeing those guys and gals come out of the tank, and say, ‘This was my third float and I can sleep at night,’ or ‘I’m trying to wean off this anti-anxiety medicine and I’m doing that because of the float tank,’” he said, “those are the things that drive us.”

For Hearn, the floating technique redefines the way military veterans and active duty take care of themselves coming off the battlefield and out of the service.

“It’s a wellness plan,” he said. “When we focus on veterans, we see them come in and they have PT all the time, their bodies are worn out. They’re carrying rucksacks or they’re training missions. They come in beat up and sore, and they can get away from everything for an hour or 90 minutes and recover their body and their brain as well.”

Photo via Float Brothers Float Spa Facebook page

So far, the brothers have 29 military veterans signed up for their wellness plan, and, if their user-generated, chalkboard paint Inspiration Wall at the spa is any indication, business won’t be slowing down any time soon.

“In the middle of the wall, we have our logo and the Ghandi quote, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’” Hearn said. “We’ve been open since January, and that whole wall is completely full. Every day you go in there, you see new quotes that say, ‘You’re saving my life,’ or ‘I’m pain-free today for once.’”

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It really is amazing.