Study on US veterans found that not only is meditation just as effective, the drop out rate too is far lower
Transcendental meditation – the effortless thinking of a mantra, without concentration or contemplation, to produce a settled, psychophysiological state of restful alertness – might help decrease the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A randomised controlled trial of 203 US veterans with PTSD published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal came to this conclusion.
Current evidence-based treatments for PTSD include cognitive behavioural therapy, group therapy, medication and trauma-based psychotherapy, or a combination. The findings might offer a new non-trauma focussed treatment for veterans that may be a helpful addition to other available treatments such as medication, although longer-term follow up, and larger, multi-site trials are needed to confirm these findings.
While prolonged exposure psychotherapy is beneficial for many, 30-50% of veterans participating do not show clinically significant improvements, and drop-out rates can be high (ranging from 30-44%)
After three months of treatment, the trial found meditation to be just as effective in reducing symptoms as prolonged exposure therapy (the most commonly used psychotherapy), and better than health education classes. Drop-out rates were not significantly different among the three groups
Most participants included in the trial had very severe PTSD symptoms, predominantly from combat-related trauma, with high rates of comorbid conditions. Importantly, more than two-thirds (68%) of the participants continued taking medication for PTSD during the trial.
“PTSD is a serious and disabling condition, affecting an estimated 14% of US veterans deployed in or returning from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Dr Sanford Nidich, Maharishi University of Management Research Institute, USA. “PTSD harms veterans’ mental, physical, and financial wellbeing, and there is also growing evidence of links between PTSD and cardiovascular health, occupational functioning, metabolic function, and possibly even dementia risk. Our findings indicate the feasibility and efficacy of transcendental meditation as a potential therapy for veterans with PTSD and encourages future research to explore the durability of the benefits and applications to other populations with PTSD.”
The study was conducted by researchers from Maharishi University of Management Research Institute, VA San Diego Healthcare System, University of California, San Diego, and Georgetown University Medical School.
One of the most commonly used treatments for PTSD is prolonged exposure psychotherapy, which focuses on re-experiencing the traumatic event through remembering and engaging with reminders of the trauma, as opposed to avoiding them.
While prolonged exposure psychotherapy is beneficial for many, 30-50% of veterans participating do not show clinically significant improvements, and drop-out rates can be high (ranging from 30-44%). Therefore, new treatments, including options not involving exposure to the traumatic experience, are needed for veterans who do not respond to treatment or drop-out due to discomfort.
Transcendental meditation is thought to lessen hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response, as well as reducing anxiety, blood pressure, and being therapeutic in stressful situations. It has previously shown promising results against anxiety and PTSD symptoms in military veterans and active personnel, but the studies have been uncontrolled or with small numbers.