In April 2021, our two physician-founders, Sean Mulvaney and Jim Lynch, joined forces in Annapolis, Maryland to create the center of excellence for stellate ganglion block (SGB) and its use in treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Having performed more SGB procedures for PTSD and conducted more original research on this topic than any other team in the world, this partnership seemed like the next logical step to raise awareness and access to this innovative therapy for one of the hardest conditions to treat.
In the past two years, our patients have traveled here to Annapolis from 47 different US states and 9 different countries to receive expert care from us. We had patients fly in from Portugal, Bermuda, Germany, Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand—all to receive SGB from the world experts. This has been extremely humbling, and at the same time, encouraging that word of SGB’s impact is getting out. Yet, there are still trauma experts in our backyard who are not yet familiar with the evidence to support adding SGB to PTSD treatment. We know this will take time, so we will continue to educate, publish evidence, and advocate for trauma survivors in any way we can.
We are continuing to conduct research to expand the evidence and understanding in the medical community, primarily among behavioral health clinicians. The Stellate Institute is currently conducting another randomized controlled trial with The Ohio State University to evaluate SGB combined with Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).* And we are anticipating publishing results from two other recently completed studies soon.
So, does any of this really make a difference?
Absolutely, YES! To many, many of our patients… at this point over 4,000 and counting.
But how do we know?
We receive a continuous flow of feedback from our patients after they receive treatment here. In addition to the follow-up symptom checklists which patients return to us at 1-week and 1-month post-SGB, we receive hundreds of written testimonials of the impact SGB has had on their lives—their marriages, their friendships, their relationships with their children, and within themselves. These are the real stories which cannot be told with symptom checklists or research studies—actual testimonials from real life—where it truly matters. We add a few testimonials to our website each month, primarily to help encourage those who are still considering whether stellate ganglion block is a good fit for them.
Other notes are hand-written, mailed cards, or longer emails.
Here is one we received recently:
“After nearly 3 decades of living with complex trauma, I was “fine”. I was managing. I was surviving. Times were tough and others were tolerable. But it was “my normal”, though I knew I was not thriving. I was not living to my full potential.
When things got too heavy and began compounding. I was desperate. I realized there would not be much if any of me left if I didn’t find help. I had tried every single treatment I could find for PTSD, anxiety, and depression for the last 16 years. In many ways it was my last resort. I studied about PTSD and SGB in grad school and never tried the treatment.
It was my last shot. (pun intended)
And it changed my life.
While it is not a magic fix- The work still has to be done. This is not a substitute for doing the work to heal, grow, and find a fulfilling life after trauma. However it is a catalyst to getting there.
The SGB immediately made a change. Still struggling to find the words to verbalize the effect of something that impacted my body and mind in a way that I didn’t have words for to begin with. The somatic side of lifelong trauma is perhaps the most difficult to put into words and explain the impact of. I describe it as a car that is breaking down and gets a reset. Or the closing of all the background browsers on a computer and restarting it.
As for the actual SGB- it’s truly life changing. After a lifetime of trauma I didn’t realize I was not fully breathing or seeing colors until my first SGB. It literally felt as if a massive weight was taken off my chest and I could fully inhale for the first time in my life. Colors were more vibrant. I found joy in the little things and was not consumed with 24/7 hyper vigilance. I found myself able to connect with people in a way that didn’t feel threatening. I could connect with my family and my children. The constant irritation and anxiety that was always underlying had dissipated. The drastic improvement was noticed by those around me (despite outwardly being a seemingly normal and healthy person). Those around to me described me as calm, happier, patient, not on edge, and able to slow down.
My symptoms gradually began returning within 1 month post treatment. With the consideration that I am still regularly exposed to trauma, I found that they did not return to the severity of pretreatment. I have had repeated SGB treatments and find with each one the symptoms become less severe.
Combining SGB and well qualified EMDR treatments for trauma has allowed me to live a normal life and be in touch with myself and the world. Additionally using yoga to provide a physical release and healthy awareness of my body has helped with the physical and somatic symptoms associated.
[The Stellate Institute] entire team is friendly and welcoming. They use a perfect balance of protecting their team from secondary trauma or over sharing with the genuine approach of caring for patients. It’s a safe place to seek help without the expectation of someone digging too deep in a way that harmful. They assess for the required things and then kindly guide you through the process towards healing through a SGB.
I openly discuss my experience with others who can benefit from the treatment. Many receive them at a VA clinic, however I’ve found the differences in the approach taken at The Stellate Institute has proved my results to be greater than those who has received treatment elsewhere.
Thank you for the support you provide.”
So, here we are looking back at the past two years and looking forward to the next one.
We don’t really ask ourselves whether or not we are making a difference anymore.
We know. But there is much work to do.
*R&R with SGB Study, STRIVE Center at The Ohio State University: https://medicine.osu.edu/departments/psychiatry-and-behavioral-health/strive/contact-us