Meditation Shows Promise in Alleviating Combat-Related PTSD Symptoms

by U.S. Medicine

August 1, 2011

WASHINGTON — Could repeating a mantra and meditating help alleviate symptoms of combat-related PTSD and improve quality of life in veterans suffering from the malady? A new pilot study suggests the answer is “Yes.­­”

Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a form of mantra meditation that uses a specific methodology classified as “automatic self-transcending,” according to the study authors. The objective of the study was to obtain pilot data to determine whether the TM technique could help bring relief to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were experiencing PTSD symptoms.

Five veterans from these conflicts completed the small pilot study that involved TM instruction, an eight-week assessment, a data-collection period, and a final check-up at Week 12.

“Overall, over two months there was about a 50% decrease in symptoms,” said Norman Rosenthal, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and director of research at Capital Clinical Research Associates, who was one of the authors of the study. “That is a bit misleading, because four did very well, and one did not do so well. Nobody got worse, and some of them really did great.”

For the study, published in the June issue of Military Medicine, the veterans were asked to meditate at home for 20 minutes twice a day throughout the 12 weeks of treatment. Teachers would meet weekly with each veteran and make contact with the veteran between face-to-face meetings to make sure the participants were adhering to the treatment.

Those who practiced TM showed improvement on the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale at eight weeks. All subjects reported improvements on the Quality of Life and Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire. As for the Beck Depression Inventory, three of the subjects improved significantly, while one was slightly worse at Week 8, relative to the baseline. Four of the subjects were rated as either much or very much improved on the Clinical Global Impression Improvement scales at Week 8, and one was rated as unchanged.

Meditation Shows Promise in Alleviating Combat-Related PTSD Symptoms Cont.

At 12 weeks, while no specific ratings were performed, the study stated that all subjects reported feeling “calmer, less stressed and less anxious.”

Rosenthal, who authored “Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation,” said the results of the study exceeded his expectations, although as a psychiatrist he said he finds that no single treatment will help everybody. When the veterans were contacted more than a year after the study, three of the five reported they were still meditating, and two could not be reached, he said.

He said he believes TM is able to help the symptoms of PTSD by diminishing the “flight or fight” response in veterans.

“In people with PTSD, their system is telling them that they are under an emergency all of the time, even though the emergency happened long ago,” he said.

One benefit of TM is that it is a nonmedical intervention that can be performed in any setting, he and his co-authors wrote, pointing out, “Potential advantages of TM as a treatment for combat-related PTSD are that it is simple to learn and can be practiced almost anywhere any time without the stigma that may be associated with seeing a mental-health provider.”

The authors wrote that their results were similar to those found in an earlier randomized controlled trial of the TM technique as a treatment for PTSD for Vietnam veterans. Those who underwent TM in that study experienced “significant improvements in symptoms for PTSD, anxiety, depression and insomnia, among other things.”

“Together, the results of this and the earlier study support the potential role of TM in improving symptoms of PTSD and quality of life in combat veterans and support the value of conducting larger, controlled studies to further explore the efficacy of this technique in this population,” according to the study authors.

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