The rapid increment of mental disorders among younger ages calls for new therapeutic approaches to mental health. Current methods of treatment are not always useful, and may inflict unpleasant side effects and be ineffective from a long-term perspective.
In this qualitative single-subject study we investigate experiences from a therapy known as floating, which provides sensory isolation and deep relaxation by means of laying in a tank with highly salted and body-tempered water. Floating has shown promising results for fibromyalgia, muscle tension pain, whiplash associated disorders as well as on mental disorders and complaints like stress, burn-out depression, depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
The subject was a 24 year old woman from Sweden. Her background involved sever social and academic problems that had started and persisted throughout elementary school. In high school, she was recommended for special education services due to bad grades. After two years, she dropped out of high school in order to live with a man in another town. He repeatedly abused her and used violence against her. She managed to leave him and return to her hometown. She was depressed and anxious, and suffered from social phobia and easily became anxious in social situations. She had a strong fear of talking and was often afraid of saying something wrong and of being clumsy.
When she initiated floating, she suffered from PTSD (due to earlier episodes of assault), high stress load, fatigue, social phobia, anxiety, recurring episodes of depression, muscle tension pain, and general stiffness.
Her first floating session were not trouble-free since she had problems with being able to relax in the new environment. Her level of stress before entering the tank affected her experiences of floating but she eventually learned that the tensions disappeared when she became relaxed. After three to four times, she began to notice positive effects. She experienced more energy, positive thoughts, deep relaxation, and became less tense "I became more positive, had more energy and was no longer as tense." All this became a big turning point in her life as she experienced deeper levels of relaxation.
A total and profound relaxation was induced in the tank and bodily tensions disappeared. This state of relaxation was appreciated, extended into her everyday life and often accompanied with joy. It felt as if something "bad" was lifted away from her body during the profound relaxation and sometimes she became so relaxed that she fell asleep. She felt completely safe in the tank like never before, the feeling of safeness helped her to relax, "I felt so safe, so I could relax". Relaxation in the tank induced a "here-and-now" state and the normal thoughts were stopped or changed. Instead she needed not bother about being evaluated or criticized and she was able to analyze her social phobia and to be herself. She had a feeling of "being" and described altered time perception, "[...]but wow, it has already passed 45 minutes, I want to be here a little longer because it feels so good".
Her life became better from floating and it made her feel healthy "I feel good and it does not get worse and it just gets better and better... it's hard to explain... but it has helped me so much". The relaxation extends into her everyday life and includes psychological relaxation as well as relief from earlier painful muscle tensions. Her quality of sleep is good; she has energy and no longer problems with fatigue. She described being alive, alert and positive and she no longer feels depressive or bothered with negative feelings "I can do more and I am more positive". The problems with lethargy and dullness are gone and she has the capacity to carry out many things and to be active. Floating has provided feelings of security, self-confidence, and the ability to handle setbacks "I have a little more confidence and floating is like an energy boost." Her social abilities have increased, and she is not silent or shy anymore. She is no longer afraid of making mistakes and about how her behavior might be evaluated. The respondent no longer needs medications and she is happy to avoid the side effects that she previously experienced.
She was surprised by the effect since she did not believe floating would affect her in any significant way. Her friends and co-workers were also surprised about the positive effects that they saw and they asked her what she had done. She describes floating as a non-demanding process, nothing special is needed in order to float, and it is just a matter of relaxing and letting things happen. The effects were gradually reduced and she needed to float regularly for about two times a month, otherwise the lethargy, negative thoughts and social shyness would return. Floating made her feel like "a new person" and she came back to life and felt good. She says there are no side effects and prefer floating in front of the drugs she used to take. She believes floating has positive effects for different problems like pain and depression and therefore hopes it gets more attention as a treatment method.
Two years later at the follow-up interview, she is still free from all medications. She still uses the float tank about once a month as a stress-reducing technique. As an additional bonus she also stopped smoking; she had smoked about 15 cigarettes a day for the previous 9 years, and she attributed the stress reducing effects of the float tank as helpful for smoking cessation. Her last sentence during the follow-up interview was: "floating is the best thing I have ever tried, no side effects, and it works!"