Justin Fienstein

Data Proves Positive Effects of Floating

Clinical Neuropsychologist, Justin Feinstein, Ph.D., delivers primary conclusions from his recently published research on Floatation Therapy as an intervention for patients with high anxiety sensitivity. See why he chose to study Floatation Therapy, what the data demonstrates, and ideal pathways for future exploration.

Why study anxiety and Floating?

Glenn really captured a very important part of what attracted me to floating, which was: the overcoming of fear. You know, so much of our life is riddled in fear. We live in this very interesting world, where, yes, there are some very horrible things happening. But most of our lives shouldn’t be in fear. We have everything we need at our disposal (at least in modern Western society). Yet we feel like we’re always in danger. What’s going on in our brain? And more specifically, what could floating do to change that brain in a way that could actually help people bring this out to the world?

Fear is pervasive, and a formidable emotion. Justin talks about how fear and anxiety affect everyone, with varying degrees of struggles and influences. But when anxiety develops into a full-blown disorder, it becomes crippling. It hinders daily functions and interferes in relationships. With 40 million people in America having an anxiety disorder, the need for more effective interventions is paramount.

And so, there’s a huge need: millions of people suffering, very few treatments that actually are effective, and most patients suffering silently. And so that’s where I really feel floating has something to add to this equation. We have a treatment that provides a sense of self-efficacy, and I’m going to show you data, it also provides a tremendous relief from the experience of anxiety.

The first study was an open label trial in 50 patients, published in Public Library Science One (PLOS ONE). The patients held a range of anxiety and stress-related disorders including post-traumatic stress, generalized anxiety, panic, social anxiety, and depression. Each participant reported their anxiety before and after an hour-long float session. The second study was a randomized control group of 30 non-anxious participants, published in Biological Psychiatry. Both studies were produced in an open access format, specifically written to provide insight for float center facilitators, and can be found at http://www.laureateinstitute.org/justin-feinstein.html.

Takeaway messages from the study

Justin outlined his major takeaway messages from the study. It is important to note: this study only examined the outcomes after a single float session. Further study into the long-term effects of floating and effects after multiple sessions will be necessary before speaking to clientele about lasting benefits of floating. However, for the short-term, the study clearly shows some effects.

Safety First

The first takeaway I want to look at is really the safety of floating for patients with anxiety. One of the most important take-home messages for me was, other than a few people who reported very mild levels, we didn’t see any adverse events. So, at least in the preliminary data, we have some indication of safety.

Each patient rated their different side effects after their float. The side-effect checklist included several dozen negative side effects that may come up - psychiatric symptoms like panic, flashbacks of prior trauma, increases in anxiety rather than decreases. It also included positive side effects to reduce bias, such as a feeling of total serenity and peacefulness, total relaxation of body, and feeling refreshed. The study showed no serious negative side effects or reasons to be concerned for patients’ safety. In fact, the top 10 side effects reported were positive. Floatation is an intervention that is **mostly safe! (**The base-rate of adverse events can’t really be seen until further research is done.)

In fact, when you look at the top three side effects: a feeling of total serenity and peacefulness, total relaxation of body without any muscle tension, and feeling completely refreshed like the reset button was hit. And at that, people were reporting moderate to extreme levels of side effects. So, if floating had to have a black box warning about what might happen, that’s not a bad thing to have on the label!

The Effect Itself

What happened to these patients’ anxiety levels? What you see from the raw data is, every single patient, all 50, showed a pre to post float drop in anxiety levels. To me, that’s incredible. Because when you look at other anxiety interventions, you do not see that level of success. Almost every medication has a portion of people who get worse rather than better. But to have a treatment that consistently is reducing anxiety, irrespective of your condition, that’s very impressive.

Justin then placed the pre-to-post anxiety levels in the anxious group aside the non-anxious control group.The second group was free of any history of anxiety disorders. At a group level, the post-float levels of the anxious group held similar levels as the healthy.

And I think that’s very important, because it’s not just like we’re saying we’re taking the edge off or reducing the anxiety just a little bit. What this is telling us is we’re taking people who have been chronically and severely anxious down into healthy levels. That’s fascinating because you don’t normally see those levels of success with other interventions for anxiety.

State Anxiety Drops

When you look at the one negative symptom that had a huge effect across every combination. Whether you had the lights on or off, whether you were male or female, whether you were taking medication or not for your illness, whether you had generalized anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, or social phobia your state anxiety dropped. That’s very telling because when you get an effect size that large you can almost guarantee that it’s going to replicate. It’s very rare that you don’t see replication when your effect sizes are that big.

Every single patient showed a drop in state anxiety. This has broad implications for the floating community. Fear of the unknown generates trepidation toward new experiences. Uneasiness surrounding enclosed spaces, lack of control, and making mistakes hinder engagement. This data indicates that floaters receive benefit regardless of how they float. It is important to engage the floater in a comfortable environment. Orienting floaters to the options available will ease those fears. Lights on or off, door/lid open or closed, and for a length that feels comfortable provides benefit.

Replication

Now that we actually have data to support the whole reason why I got into this in the first place, the researcher in me says, “Ok, we have the golden ticket!” This is a treatment that reduces people’s anxiety in the immediate. It doesn’t take much time. Only a single, one-hour float was able to do it. And it didn’t have side effects. It’s too good to be true! Every patient felt better after? There’s going to be a lot of skepticism for a while until there’s replication.

We can only curb skepticism through replication and expansion of floating research. Justin intends to continue delving into flotation research. He wants to explore how long the acute effects persist after a single float, as well as the effects with many floats over a long period of time. But, as with any new therapeutic intervention, this research needs replication. Other research communities will need to publish Institutional Review Board approved studies. Anyone needing guidance for how to contribute to float research can reach out to Justin.

Floatation research is in its early stages. This is just the beginning. But, the initial findings indicate that floating as an intervention is safe. With just one hour in the tank, every patient felt a drop in state anxiety, bringing the most severely anxious participants into healthy ranges of anxiety. Those drops in anxiety were coupled with feelings of total serenity and relaxation. It is our hope that these outcomes generate conversations that help you better support your guests.

Rick Boling