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Could Transcendental Meditation treat PTSD?

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A new study investigates whether Transcendental Meditation might help reduce the symptoms of PTSD. Photo editing by Stephen Kelly; Brianna R/500px/Getty Images
  • Although most post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatments are trauma focused, Transcendental Meditation (TM) offers a more relaxing approach to healing.
  • A new research paper finds a dramatic reduction in PTSD symptoms for individuals practicing TM.
  • Previous research has found that TM can help people manage their response to stress.

A common plot device in fiction finds a character overcoming past traumatic experiences by finally confronting their pain. In real life, recovery is not so simple.

While therapies for people with PTSD typically focus on facing one’s trauma, a new study finds that the restful effects of TM may more readily help people with PTSD heal.

Half of the veterans participating in the study no longer met the criteria for having PTSD after engaging in TM for 3 months, compared with just 10% of those receiving standard trauma-based therapy.

The researchers saw a significant reduction in the participants’ sleep issues and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Dr. Mayer Bellehsen, principal investigator and director of the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and their Families at Northwell Health in Bay Shore, NY, says,

“[TM] is a non-trauma-focused, easy-to-learn technique that was found in this study to improve PTSD symptoms, likely through the experience of physical rest.”

The trial was the product of a collaboration among Northwell Health, New York University, and the Maharishi International University (MIU) Research Institute in Fairfield, IA. The results have been published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Dr. Bellehsen explains:

“In contrast to commonly administered therapies for PTSD that are trauma-focused and based on a patient’s recall of past traumatic experiences, this intervention does not require extensive review of traumatic history, which some individuals find difficult to engage in. This intervention may therefore be more tolerable for some individuals struggling with PTSD.”

The authors of the research paper suggest that the value of TM for people with PTSD may lie in its documented efficacy at managing physiological responses to stress in general.

According to the authors, previous research indicates that TM helps reduce symptoms of hyperarousal, reinforces resilience, and supports positive coping strategies.

The new study also corroborates the conclusions of 2018 research published in The Lancet Psychiatry, in which a large randomized controlled trial demonstrated that TM had promise as a PTSD therapy.

Dr. Sanford Nidich, senior author of the current study and director of the Center for Social-Emotional Health at MIU Research Institute, explains, “The current study further supports the effectiveness of [TM] as a first-line treatment for PTSD in veterans.”

For the research paper, Northwell Health conducted a randomized trial involving 40 veterans with documented cases of PTSD. The individuals were divided into two groups of 20 participants each, and the study lasted 12 weeks.

The TM group took part in 16 meditation sessions in addition to an at-home practice twice per day. The other group continued the conventional medication, psychotherapy PTSD treatment they were already receiving, or both.

At the start and end of the test period, the researchers assessed the participants with the help of various questionnaires. They also used the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 and patient self-report with the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 measurement tools. (DSM-5 stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)

The researchers documented significant reductions in self-reported PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety in the TM group.

The only symptom of PTSD that TM did not significantly reduce was anger.

Dr. Nidich explains the importance of identifying TM as an effective tool for people with PTSD,

“The availability of an additional evidence-based therapy will benefit veterans both by offering them a greater range of options and by serving as an alternative treatment strategy for those who don’t want to engage in trauma-focused treatment or who aren’t responding to a previous PTSD intervention.”

The authors of the paper further note that TM may benefit active military personnel as well as veterans.

What do you think?

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