Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD Through The R-E-C-O-V-E-R Approach*
DOG MOURNS NAVY SEAL
THROUGH MY EYES: There are millions of people the world over who have been deeply touched by the sight of Hawkeye, the Labrador retriever whose master (Navy Seal Jon Tumlinson) was killed in Afghanistan. The visible grief of the dog is captured in a photo that went viral, simply because it was so touching to see.
There is, however, an even deeper meaning to this photo, which is why I encourage everyone to click on the link below and look at it "through my eyes." I
In our book, "I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall", Dr. Croft and I explain that PTSD and traumatic stress originate, and are controlled, in the "emotional brain", also known as the limbic system. This part of the brain is nicknamed the "mammalian brain," because its structures are found not only in human beings, but in higher mammals, including dogs. Higher mammals can't "think" like we humans can, because they lack the cognitive structures that are present in the human brain. Nevertheless, they can "feel" a wide range of the emotions that humans do.
There is a lovely article that accompanies the now-famous photo, that talks about the way animals grieve. The deeper principal involved, which the article does NOT mention, is the fact that our domestic companion animals aren't merely "mimicking" human behavior. They are, in fact, biologically geared to feel deep emotional pain and loss, because their brains are equipped to do so, in ways that are remarkably similar to our own.
This has important implications for every trauma survivor.
First, due to the way their brains are wired to sense and feel emotion, there are certain breeds of dogs that arevery sensitive to the traumatized person. In fact, "trauma dogs are so sensitive to the hormonal scent emitted by a traumatized human, that they are used in disasters, such as 9-11, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, to seek out, identify, and actually escort critically stressed rescue workers and firefighters OUT of the site, before these human beings "burn out" or develop traumatic disorders that will disable them. It was once my privilege to attend a professional conference of the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists, at which the guests of honor were America's most outstanding trauma dogs. Many of these dogs had work resumes more impressive than my own ! More importantly, they were all overtly affectionate, and very empathic to the emotions of their owners. Nature has built these dogs to FEEL. Because of the sudden hormonal changes which occur in a traumatized person, which we write about in our book, dogs may be able to "smell" a person's oncoming traumatic stress reaction, before the human being himself / herself is even aware of it.
Second, because the emotional part of dogs' brains are wired so similarly to a human's limbic brain, they are able to sense when we are lonely, frightened, or despairing. Although they can't hold a conversation with us, loving dogs can communicate in emotional ways that are even more important than words, to a traumatized person. If it's possible, I would suggest that every person with PTSD consider accessing the companionship of an affectionate canine.
Now that you know something about what dogs and humans have in common, neurologically, I hope you'll link on to this story with an increased sense of appreciation of the beautiful, and sometimes very SUPPORTIVE way in which nature has linked us to the creatures with whom we are privileged to share the planet.
That's it…through my eyes. Thanks for reading.
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