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Sensory Deprivation Therapy – Anxiety and Pain Relief

By Jiri Kaloc

Should doctors start prescribing an hour in a flotation tank a week? The more research on sensory deprivation there is, the more certain we can be that its health benefits are real. Let’s see what doing a ‘float’ might do for your psychological health.

There are several recognized psychological and medical benefits of sensory deprivation on conditions such as anxiety, addictive behaviour, and chronic pain. Let’s look at them one by one.

Anxiety treatment

A recent 2018 study showed that a single flotation REST session (one hour in a sensory deprivation tank) significantly reduced anxiety and improved mood in people suffering from stress and anxiety-related disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, or posttraumatic stress disorder. The authors found that among the 50 study participants (16 male, 34 female) the more anxious the subject, the larger the effect was.

A previous study from 2016 reported similar results when looking at flotation REST in 50 people (15 male, 35 female) divided into a group of 25 healthy controls and a group of 25 who self-reported generalized anxiety disorder. The authors conclude that 37 % in the treatment group reached full remission at post-treatment. Significant beneficial effects were also found for sleep difficulties, difficulties in emotional regulation, and depression, while the treatment had ambiguous or non-existent effects on pathological worry and mindfulness. All improved outcome variables at post-treatment, except for depression, were maintained at 6-months follow. No negative effects were found.


Pain relief

The effect of sensory deprivation tank therapy on chronic pain has been confirmed by several studies from the early 2000s. It is shown to be effective in treating tension headaches, muscle tension, and pain. A small 2008 study of 7 participants also found it effective in treating neck pain and stiffness and reduced range of motion. It has also been shown to reduce stress-related pain.

Smoking cessation

A study from 1987 looked at both flotation and chamber REST as techniques in smoking intervention. Most chamber REST participants had notable results, with 3- and 12-month follow-ups showing means of 51% and 35% reduction, and 34% and 21% abstinence, respectively. Flotation REST led to a significant decrease three months after the treatment, but not at the twelve-month mark.

Sensory deprivation therapy seems to be very effective as an addition to existing therapies dealing with a number of psychological conditions. It also seems to improve the wellbeing of healthy individuals. Considering that just one session has such intense and lasting effects, and there are almost no risk or side-effects, it’s something worth giving a try.

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