MMA Program aims to help those with PTSD

September 12, 2012

A San Diego, Calif. program is drawing national attention and some double takes for its answer to post-traumatic stress disorder: fighting.

Michael Vitelli Jr. is learning the world of mixed martial arts, an intensely physical activity that has calmed him.

"This is the best thing I've found for my anger," said Vitelli Jr.

Vitelli Jr., a former Navy sailor, was diagnosed with PTSD dating back to a ship explosion that killed several of his friends. More than a year ago, he decided to battle his condition by training to fight.

"I call this warrior meditation," said Todd Vance, an Army veteran.

Founded by Vance, the fight club of sorts is called Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics. The group aimed at combat veterans emphasizes camaraderie and technique.

"When you're in here, you have to focus on what you're doing and shove everything else out of the way," said Vitelli Jr.

He said that has led to greater self-control in real life.

"I feel like I'm happier," he said. "I don't get as frustrated anymore."

Last year, the program earned Vance a 10News leadership award and more recently, headlines from national publications.

"I hear about husbands becoming better fathers, men becoming better boyfriends," said Vance.

The program is two years old. Right now, 60 men and women are on the roster. Still, some experts say the MMA training could backfire for PTSD sufferers sensitive to any form of violence.

"It triggers reliving the original trauma. The trigger stimulates more aggression," said Michael Mantell, clinical psychologist and senior fitness consultant of behavior sciences for the American Council on Fitness.

When asked if the program could set some participants back, Vance answered, "I haven't had one incident of someone getting triggered."

Instead, Vance pointed to a spark of confidence and self-control through physical combat.

Psychologists 10News spoke with said they would recommend patients be cleared by a doctor before participating.

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