SENSORY DEPRIVATION: Therapy or Torture?
29 March 2012
The therapy deprives a person of their senses, which can be extremely relaxing, or very difficult to bear.
Sensory Deprivation: Therapy or Torture?
Sensory deprivation is one of the only alternative health therapies that can be extraordinarily helpful if used properly, but that has also been used for torture. The therapy deprives a person of their senses, which can be extremely relaxing, or very difficult to bear.
Between 1954 and 1970, Dr. John Lilly, a neurophysiologist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, conducted a number of experiments using sensory deprivation. During that time, he developed Floatation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique, or REST.
Using REST, he determined that when a person's senses are stimulated for a sustained period of time it causes damage to the central nervous system, as well as generally negative effects on a person's mental and physical well-being. He created the first sensory deprivation tank, in which a person would float free in Epsom salts, with almost a complete reduction of stimuli.
This led to later studies, and the eventual development of sensory deprivation therapy, allowing people the opportunity to experience complete physical and mental relaxation.
What Is It?Sensory deprivation therapy, also known as Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique (REST), is the deliberate removal or reduction in stimuli for therapeutic purposes. Typically when undergoing sensory deprivation, a person will be placed in a tank just larger than their body, called a float tank. It is filled with water containing Epsom salts, which enable the body to be more bouyant, or easily floatable.
The chamber is a solid structure, that when shut, allows no light or sound to enter. Once the chamber is shut, the air and water temperature within stays at a consistent skin temperature, removing the distraction of feelings of hot or cold discomfort. The goal of the tank and the Epsom is to create a feeling of weightlessness, and to encourage the feeling that one's body has disappeared.
By removing environmental stimuli, central nervous system activity drops dramatically, sending the client into a state of deep relaxation. With success, the body will acheive homeostasis, which is the state of complete physical equilibrium.
Time in a float tank is typically one hour, and after, the client has time to shower and recuperate in a relaxation room. The entire session is usually about two hours. It is typically recommended that a person undergo repeated weekly sessions to gain the full effect and benefits of sensory deprivation therapy.
Who Needs It?
The REST treatments are helpful to anyone because everybody is inundated with external stimuli throughout their day. However, it is especially beneficial to those that struggle with stress-related disorders.
Those that suffer from migraine headaches, hypertension, and insomnia may find that experiencing an hour a week with no physical stimuli may aid them in recovery. Due to the way in which weightlessness removes stress on bones and muscles, pregnant women, and those suffering from musculoskeletal and rheumatic conditions will benefit greatly.
The benefits of sensory deprivation therapy are quite surprising, considering the fact that the technique is hardly mainstream. It encourages deep levels of relaxation, the kind physically unattainable under normal circumstances. When the central nervous system has a reduced workload, which REST can facilitate by up to 90%, energy is drawn inward which promotes relaxation.
This is known as the parasympathetic response. It is the mechanism that the body uses to regenerate itself, which means that sensory deprivation therapy can produce efficient healing of wounds new and old. The treatment also benefits the cardiovascular system by increasing circulation and reducing blood pressure and heart rate. The elimination of gravity during the treatment means that muscles and joints are more able to release their tension and heal.
In addition to the overall benefits of sensory deprivation therapy, the Epsom salt water that keeps clients afloat draws toxins from the body, sedates the nervous system, relaxes muscles, and reduces swelling. It also acts as a natural exfoliant, sloughing away dead skin cells. Furthermore, because it does not draw moisture from the skin as a normal bath would, it does not cause wrinkling or pruning, even after an hour-long session.
The risks of sensory deprivation therapy are minimal. Overtime, forced sensory deprivation has been shown to create anxiety and anti-social behavior, but these are in extreme circumstances. While it has been used as a torture device in the past, when someone chooses to undergo the treatment, they are in complete control, and therefore do not respond in a negative way.
Those with heart disease, high blood pressure, or kidney conditions should speak with their doctor prior to undergoing the treatment. Anyone with claustrophobia or sensitivity to darkness may find the treatment uncomfortable. Prolonged usage of Epsom salt has been shown to cause diarrhea, but should not be a problem in response to a typical treatment.
The use of sensory deprivation therapy may open up a whole new world of relaxation and rejuvenation for someone that tries the treatment. The physical and emotional benefits of the therapy far surpass any anxiety someone may feel over trying something out of the ordinary and unusual.
While it may not be the right treatment for everyone, those that try it may find that their bodies and minds will benefit from a commitment to the therapy.