Why Fly Fishing Heals PTSD

Frontispiece from The Art of Angling, Richard Brookes, 7th Edition, 1790. (In the public domain, PD-US)

Project Healing Waters and Amarillo Fly Guys have teamed up to help returning war veterans deal with the transition to civilian life.  Many have PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).  Amarillo’s CBS Station KFHD did a report (May 2011) on a group of these ex-soldiers in their fly-fishing experience on the Red River, which borders Oklahoma and North Texas.  They describe how they can let go of their concerns while fishing.  One vet described how her “force field” (moving her hands on an imaginary wall around her, at waist level to illustrate) started to melt away. She could begin to trust others as the group bonded together, learning how to fly-fish. In reality, the fly-fisher is using mindfulness in a very calm, but moderately controlled environment. The experience is described in detail in a different context by Norman Mclean in The River Runs Through It. The Red River is beautiful, but nothing like the rivers McLean fished in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho.

What happens to the brain of the soldier who has PTSD and who goes fly-fishing, and how critical are the senses in causing PTSD and healing it? An example like going on patrol is used to show which centers in the brain are active in that situation. This example is similar to other war situations that the soldier may strongly associate with the cause of the PTSD.

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Special Case of Type I PTSD: Sexual Abuse

Updated: Oct 15, 2011

Calee and Casey Anthony

Sexual abuse by someone known to the victim, either in the case of incest or family friend or neighbor can cause symptoms of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) that fall within the category of Type I PTSD (as I defined in Types of PTSD). There is one particular case that has been in the news this year, that of Casey Anthony, who claimed that her father abused her. I discuss as many of the behaviors ascribed to Casey Anthony as evidence of guilt of murdering her daughter in the light of the possibility that she was in fact, abused sexually by her father.

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Help for Homeless Hollywood Street Kids

Homeless Children ("Children sleeping in Mulberry Street - Jacob Riis photo New York, United States of America (1890)" from Wikipedia
Homeless Children (“Children sleeping in Mulberry Street – Jacob Riis photo New York, United States of America 1890)” from Wikipedia

There are many kids in trouble who were probably rejected by their mothers at birth. Are we seeing the tip of the iceberg? I examine one news article which may have provided evidence.

ComNPR logoment on “Help for Hollywood Street Kids’ Broken Dreams” on Morning Edition on 14 May 2011, where I discuss how these street kids may be children rejected by their mothers before the critical ages of three weeks, three months, and three years, how winning their trust may never be fully successful and how to help them survive when their brains never had the chance to fully develop social ties because of that rejection by the mother.

Posted 14 May 2011
Updated 19 June 2011


NPR Reporter Gloria Hillard interviews an outreach worker, Moises Cabrera, of Covenant House of Los Angeles and some street kids who fled poor living conditions elsewhere to come to Hollywood because it was familiar and appeared to be a place where they could live their dreams, only to find homelessness. Continue reading

Types of PTSD

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Posted: 23 April 2011

Updated: 27 June 2012

The types of PTSD as defined by the American Psychiatric Association are classified differently here, because I think that they should be categorized by the physiological responses of the patient. I do this to emphasize the fact that the brain is a physiological and anatomical organ that houses the “mind” and all behavioral responses are programmed in the brain, either dynamically, or before birth. The symptoms shown by a person having PTSD will differ primarily based upon important aspects of brain development, simply because all we ever experience in life is stored in the brain, accessed by centers in the brain, regardless of whether or not we consciously remember the details, or even the fact of the event having occurred. This observation has been demonstrated  in countless experiments and surveys in neurological research. Continue reading

Special Case of Type I PTSD: Rejected Children

Rejected Child from Wikipedia
Rejected Child from Wikipedia

Major Update: June 28, 2014


What is a “rejected” child? It is the child who was unplanned, unwanted by the new mother, who is never accepted by the mother as her own until after the critical window of brain development closes at three years of age. Such a child suffers from what can be called Type I PTSD and will show some typical behaviors. The picture presented here is often the worst case scenario, but there are clearly some cases in the news which are relevant. Rejection at any age can be devastating. However, one can reasonably deduce that the earlier it takes place the worse its effects are on a person. It can be safely assumed that rejection before the age of three will have the strongest and most lasting effects. There are many people who will suffer PTSD from being rejected by one or both parents and/or family who will display similar symptoms.

There are several types of rejection. There are children who reject one of their parents, generally because of the trauma associated with divorce when one parent wins the affection of the child and the other parent loses. See Pilla & Bernet 2011 for more on this aspect. Some children reject a parent because they perceive that this parent committed an unforgivable act. More than likely, no single event leads to that kind of rejection, but the culmination of a series of behaviors that finally breaks the parent-child bond. One of these events may be associated with the failure of a good parent-child bond from having been formed in the first place.

For more discussion on this topic see my blog post  Types of PTSD. Continue reading

Physiological Responses to Terror


The Cowardly Lion by as seen in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900), from Wikipedia
The Cowardly Lion by as seen in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900), from Wikipedia

What are the physiological effects of terror? The word “stress” would come to mind to most people, that a strong emotion like terror comes from one of two things:

  • a single, unpredictable, but extremely life-threatening event which triggers a fear of that event repeating whenever a person experiences a similar stimulus, or
  • the chronic exposure to stress, causing a fear of the stressful events or even of stress itself.

What was an annoyance at first can escalate to anxiety under chronic exposure. Anxiety can then escalate to fear.

Updated: 12 Aug 2014

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Behavioral and Emotional Responses to Terror


Scared Child (posted to Flickr by Pink Sherbet Photography)
Scared Child (posted to Flickr by Pink Sherbet Photography)

Posted:    23 April 2011
Updated: 19 July 2011

What happens after a terrorizing event, emotionally, physiologically, and behaviorally? Most people think that we would remember the most significant aspects of the terror but I also discuss how the nervous system can block some of these for our own survival’s sake. I discuss some important aspects of memory that are pertinent here. I then discuss one of the most frustrating of symptoms to victims of terror, helplessness. Continue reading

Treating Soldiers with Back Pain

Caption: Soldiers with equipment in Vietnam War 1966 (from the National Archives and Records Administration, ARC ID 530611)

Mind-Body Medicine Techniques Enhance Medical Treatment of Pain

It is amazing how some of the techniques of mind-body medicine can be used for treating any disorder. What most people do not understand is why and how it might work in their case. Some techniques like Muscle Response/Reflex Testing, Mindfulness, or Visualization (Guided Imagery) seem like voodoo to the patient, simply because so little is written for them to understand. A news report on back pain in soldiers due to the heavy gear packs they must carry brings to mind how these techniques can help them. This post addresses how the mind is involved in every aspect of physiology, something that tends to be misunderstood in the treatment of most physical disorders. This has other implications for treating soldiers, many of whom suffer from PTSD, which may also be associated with back pain (National Center for PTSD).
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