Recreational poker is our way to counter stress disorder

Oct 1, 2013 3:00 AM

As many as 20% of our soldiers are returning from the Middle East wars suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – disturbing thoughts and feelings, severe depression, flashbacks, even thoughts of suicide or doing harm to others.

They find it difficult to get their lives back under control. Many become alcoholics. PTSD results from experiencing or witnessing disturbing events – a terrorist attack or the constant threat, a kidnapping or torture, a bad accident or injury, abusive treatment. (Note: PTSD is not limited to war situations.)

Medications developed for depression have been found effective in treating PTSD if taken within days after experiencing a traumatic event. For the most part, treatment consists of teaching sufferers how to cope with it; how to manage their anger and anxiety. There are breathing and relaxation techniques. Sufferers can be taught how to address sleep problems often resulting from PTSD. There is also group psychotherapy.

As I read about this terrible affliction that so many of our young men and women are suffering after their stint in our armed services, the thought occurred to me: Would playing poker for recreation be a good way to treat PTSD sufferers?

I have found that playing poker is a wonderfully relaxing experience in many respects. Not only do I much enjoy playing the game, but I forget my own and the world’s troubles and problems – terrorism, wars, killings of innocents in the Mideast and elsewhere, hatred of those who are “different” in some way, poverty and people in need.

There is also the lack of jobs, homeless people sleeping on our sidewalks, wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, corruption, the need for gun control, our growing prison population, the potholes in our roads, growing traffic gridlock (that our elected “leaders” seem to avoid while the rest of us suffer), and so on.

Recreational poker could be answer. As I sit at the poker table, playing the game, it’s as if I am in another world – as if I were in heaven, enjoying soothing background music while playing in that famous “poker game in the sky.”

Admittedly, I am not a psychiatrist or a medical doctor, just another human being who worked hard all her life and learned to enjoy life, family, friends and other people, travelling around the world, socially interacting with others, helping others to find employment, raising my family – while learning to play the marvelous game of poker for recreation.

As my co-columnist, George “The Engineer” Epstein teaches his poker classes: “Never, never, never ever play for the rent money!” We call this recreational poker as distinct from what is usually called “professional poker.”

Personally, I don’t think playing poker for a living is the way to spend one’s life. The variance – the ups and downs of the game – can lead one to periods of self-doubt, depression and anxiety if you are playing for a living. That’s hardly the way to deal with sufferers of PTSD.

On the other hand, recreational poker provides the best that poker can offer: mental challenge (which is healthy for our brains) and social interaction at the table. It is also believed that a healthy mind leads to a healthier body.

Putting it all together, it seems to me playing recreational poker could well be an excellent way for those suffering from PTSD to overcome this terrible psychiatric malady.

So, may I suggest those treating people suffering from PTSD consider teaching them to play recreational poker. I have discussed this idea with George. He fully agrees.

“What a great idea,” he said. He would be pleased to volunteer; and I am sure there are many others in our poker world who would do the same.

And he has offered to provide copies of this column after it’s published in GT to appropriate people at the Veterans Administration in West L.A. (where he volunteers to teach a group of elderly war veterans with special healthcare needs as part of the CalVet program).

What do you think? Do you agree with me? Any suggestions?

We invite your comments. Email to [email protected].

 

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