Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique showed significant reductions in symptom severity, according to a new study published in Journal of Traumatic Stress. Fifty percent of the meditating veterans no longer met criteria for PTSD after three months compared to only 10% of controls. The randomized controlled study also showed significant reductions in veterans’ symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as sleep difficulties.
“Transcendental Meditation 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,” says Mayer Bellehsen, PhD, director of the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and their Families, Northwell Health, and study principal investigator, in a release. “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 randomized controlled trial, conducted at Northwell Health in Bay Shore, NY, assigned 40 veterans with documented PTSD to either the Transcendental Meditation (TM) group or treatment as usual control group. The TM treatment provided 16 sessions over 12 weeks, with twice-a-day daily home practice. PTSD symptom severity was assessed with the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5), and patient self-report with the PTSD Checklist for DSM -5 (PCL-5).
The results showed large effect sizes, indicating a strong Transcendental Meditation treatment impact in reducing trauma symptoms for both PTSD measures. Other factors associated with trauma, such as depression and anxiety symptoms and sleep problems, also showed a strong impact of TM treatment.
“This trial corroborates the findings of a large clinical trial published in The Lancet Psychiatry,” says Sanford Nidich, EdD, director of the Center for Social-Emotional Health at Maharishi International University Research Institute, and study co-investigator, in a release. “The current study further supports the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation as a first-line treatment for PTSD in veterans. 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 point out in their research paper that Transcendental Meditation may positively affect trauma symptom severity through the reduction of hyperarousal symptoms. Previous research has shown that TM practice decreases physiological responses to stressful stimuli. In addition, recent research indicates that Transcendental Meditation may improve resilience and positive coping strategies, providing further benefit to both veterans and active military personnel.