Ancient ways go around the world
PRESCOTT - To Navajo medicine man Albert Laughter post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a curse.
Standing before a roaring fire, with an eagle feather, a bamboo flute, clay pipes and herbs in hand, Laughter uses lore handed down from generation to generation to remove the curse war leaves in the mind.
"When we leave the land and ways we know to take up a rifle and kill, we are cursed. We use tradition to remove that curse," said Laughter. "The ceremony for veterans with PTSD usually takes three days, sometimes longer; there's so much mental anguish and anger to deal with."
Laughter works with the Bob Stump VA Medical Center's mental health department, where he incorporates traditional American Indian ceremonies into the treatment of mental disorders. He comes from five generations of medicine men, dating back to the time of the Trail of Tears.
After fighting for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Laughter dealt with his own PTSD experiences.
"The curse comes mostly at night, when they're isolated, when it's quiet," said Laughter. "It seems like someone's touching you, like someone's watching you, like you're back in the jungle, and the enemy is all around you."
Laughter said the ceremony translates to "Beautiful Way," a process of cleansing the lingering spirits of war and helping a soul reintegrate into a peaceful life.
"We say to the earth: 'I'm your child, I want to be reborn, to be cleansed,'" said Laughter. "We rid ourselves of those burdens the war placed on our hearts, and are welcomed back to the earth, the fire, the songs, and to family."
Service Line Manager for Mental Health David Fero said that Laughter's contribution to the VA mental health program is invaluable.
"I frequently have seen persons who've undergone ceremonies with Albert who have a significant improvement, by their perceptions," said Fero. "They often come back from war feeling cut off, like they need to be cleansed to be accepted back into society. Albert gives them that cleansing."
Laughter works primarily with American Indian veterans, but said he is willing to work with any veteran interested in a cleansing ceremony.
The incorporation of traditional ceremonies into a mental health program is still unconventional, but VA hospital spokesman Frank Cimorelli said that the Prescott VA is pleased with the results.
"We're really leading the way on this, and other VA hospitals are following," said Cimorelli. "This treatment was effective for generations of returning Native American warriors in the past. Who are we to judge what works?"
Reporter Robert Hodierne and producer Arlene Gregorius of the British Broadcasting Corporation recently interviewed Laughter and VA personnel about his work.
"They were intrigued by our willingness to incorporate centuries-old holistic healing techniques into our modern PTSD treatment," said Cimorelli. "It really is intriguing. People from all across the nation, and now the world, have written about Albert.
"When this place was built as Ft. Whipple, it had walls that served to separate our cultures. Now, within these walls, we have a fusion of cultures. I think that's a beautiful thing. It gives me hope for humanity."