Meditation is really good news for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sufferers.
On Wednesday, 4 November 1964, a well-known medical doctor on the Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast vanished without a trace. He left for a walk on the beach that morning and was never seen again alive or dead.
That medical doctor was my father. Twenty years earlier he had been involved in World War II as a pilot in the Western Desert and saw many awful things. Afterward he never spoke about the war. He was often depressed. He abused his access to stimulants and sedatives. He often spoke about suicide.
Now we know that these are some of the classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These symptoms cluster around the reliving of painful memories, avoiding things that remind the sufferer of the trauma, and imbalances in arousal leading to insomnia, problems relating to others, difficulty feeling or showing affection, irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating, and even hearing voices.
As author/psychiatrist Jonathan Shay writes: “PTSD can unfortunately mimic any condition in psychiatry.” Here is a poignant video of a Vietnam veteran discussing his experiences.
CAUSES OF PTSD
The causes of PTSD are well known to be a traumatic event or events, a physical or sexual assault, child abuse, or repeated exposure to life-threatening events.
The prevalence of PTSD is widely reported to be from as much as one third of all combat veterans, down to around ½% of all members of a population. One prominent psychiatrist suggests the incidence could be as high as 25% of the entire South African population! Women have about double the rate of men.
TREATMENT OF PTSD
PTSD is usually treated by a combination of antidepressants, tranquillisers and/or neuroleptics and psychotherapy. Most counsellors seem to be unaware that meditation poses a major treatment alternative — free of side-effects, and producing improvements which can only be called astonishing in their depth and speed of relief.
PTSD RELIEF – TM STUDIES
A brand-new study by Brian Rees, Fred Travis, David Shapiro and Ruth Chant of Congolese war refugees in Kampala, Uganda found that scores on a test of PTSD symptoms fell by more than half to symtom-free levels in just 30 days of practice of Transcendental Meditation. Here is an amazing video of Esperance interviewed before and after a week of TM practice.
102 refugees attended an introductory briefing and eventually 21 learned TM while 21 matched controls waited for instruction. All participants completed the PCL-C measure of PTSD symptoms at baseline, and 30-day and 135-day posttests. The PCL-C scores in the control group trended upward. In contrast, the PCL-C scores in the TM group went from 65 on average at baseline indicating severe PTSD symptoms to below 30 on average after 30 days of TM practice, and trended lower at 135 days. Effect size was high. Compliance with TM practice was good; most reported regular practice throughout the study. There were no adverse events. All refugees who learned TM completed the study and were able to practice TM successfully, with subsequent substantial reduction in PTSD symptoms. (1)
The researchers were astonished by the speed and size of the improvements in PTSD symptoms following instruction in Transcendental Meditation.
Other studies are currently under way in South Africa and in press. Clinically significant reductions in PTSD symptoms are being seen in just 10 days!
Another recent uncontrolled pilot study of Iraq veterans by Rosenthal, Serena Grosswald and Norman Rosenthal (2011) found a 50% drop in PTSD symptoms after just eight weeks of practising Transcendental Meditation. (2)
In Denver in 1985, Jim Brooks and Tom Scarano studied 18 male Vietnam veterans aged around 33 years. They compared Transcendental Meditation instruction with weekly psychotherapy. There were nine in each group. Those practising TM did significantly better on all measures than those on psychotherapy, which led to no significant improvements. They found improvements in PTSD symptoms, anxiety, depression, alcohol habits, sleep patterns, employment status, family problems and habituation to stressful stimuli. (3)
Two Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) studies have also surfaced recently in addition to the studies on Transcendental Meditation mentioned above.
Kearney and co-workers did an uncontrolled pre-post experiment using MBSR on Vietnam and Iraq veterans at an urban VA hospital in 2011. 382 participated in an 8-week MBSR program. 66 completed the 6-month posttest. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, depression, functional status, behavioral activation, experiential avoidance, and mindfulness were assessed at baseline, and 2 and 6 months after enrollment. At 6 months, there were significant improvements in PTSD symptoms; depression; behavioral activation; mental component summary score of the Short Form-8; acceptance; and mindfulness, and 48% of veterans had clinically significant improvements in PTSD symptoms. (4)
Bremner and his colleagues compared Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction with supportive group therapy in the Treatment of Iraq Combat-Related PTSD in 2011. In this randomized controlled trial, out of 26 subjects randomized, 9 subjects finished MBSR, and 8 finished supportive group therapy. MBSR treatment was an 8-week course, and controls received supportive group therapy, with measurement before and after the 8 weeks. Clinical global improvement was noted in the MBSR group.(5)
David Orme-Johnson performed an unpublished meta analysis on four of the studies mentioned here (Two TM and two MBSR).
He notes that the mean effect size for TM was double the size of MBSR. He writes: “The four studies suggest these two meditation practices have medium to strong effects on reducing PTSD symptoms and increasing quality-of-life variables. Both should be further evaluated by large scale randomised trials.”
These results deserve to be better known. If only my father had known this.
Perhaps he would be with us today.
1. Rees B, Travis F, Shapiro D, Chant R. Reduction in Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Congolese Refugees Practicing Transcendental Meditation. Journal of Traumatic Stress April 2013, 26, 295–298.
2. Rosenthal J, Grosswald S, Ross R, Rosenthal N. Effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): a Pilot Study. Military Medicine. 2011;176(6):626.
3. Brooks J, Scarano T. Transcendental Meditation and the treatment of post-Vietnam adjustment. Journal of Counseling and Development. 1985;64:212-5.
4. Kearney DJ, McDermott K, Malte C, Martinez M, Simpson TL. Association of participation in a mindfulness program with measures of PTSD, depression and quality of life in a veteran sample. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2011:n/a-n/a.
5. Bremner JD, Afzal N, DiVitale S, Reed L, Vaccarino V, Carmody J. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction in the Treatment of Iraq Combat-Related PTSD. American Psychosomatic Society Conference; San Antonio, Texas2011.