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Sweat Lodge Therapy for Veterans

December 21, 2017 Trauma and PTSD
sweat lodge outside

Making progress in therapy when you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be tough. Medications often provide only limited relief and the coping skills you learned in psychotherapy can be hard to use in the midst of a flashback. Sweat lodge therapy may be just the right alternative treatment for returning veterans struggling to overcome PTSD.

What Is Sweat Lodge Therapy?

A sweat lodge is a place where people gather together to experience intense heat (not unlike a sauna). The lodge itself is a dome-shaped hut with a fireplace, with hot rocks on the floor providing the heat. Water may be poured on the rocks at regular intervals to create steam.

The purpose of sweat lodge therapy is “purification”–not only physical purification as the heat increases perspiration, but spiritual purification. The idea behind sweat lodge therapy is that the heat, the ceremony, and the prayers or rituals help you to have a healing experience. These experiences can be hard to explain or describe, although many who have experienced this type of therapy call it profound. Typically the sweat is composed of four distinct parts, each with a theme and each lasting approximately 30 minutes.

Sweat lodge therapy is guided by a leader who is present throughout the experience. You may be asked to focus on specific aspects of your PTSD symptoms while in the lodge, or you may participate in chanting, praying, or sharing your experience. In some ways, it might be a little bit like group therapy taking place in a sweat lodge.

What Are the Benefits of Sweat Lodge Therapy?

Research shows that sweat lodge therapy:

  • Promotes relaxation
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Gets you “out of your own head,” helping you feel and respond in a more authentic way
  • Can lead to positive changes in brain chemistry that enable veterans suffering from PTSD to be more open to other treatments and can make your psychotherapy more effective.
  • Can help you resolve specific aspects of the traumatic event(s)

Sweat lodge therapy might not be as widely available as other healing modalities, but it may be worth seeking out a facility that offers this option. Sweat lodge therapy can be an effective healing intervention for addictions as well.



“Sweat Therapy for Veterans with PTSD” – Sauna Times:

“Ceremonial PTSD Therapies Favored By Native American Veterans” – Washington State University News:

“The Native American Sweatlodge: A Spiritual Tradition” – Barefoot’s World:

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