How Transcendental Meditation Improves Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

This pilot study examined the effects of transcendental meditation on five war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After practicing the meditation technique, they reported a 50 percent reduction in symptoms of depression and an increase in overall quality of life and relationships. The effectiveness of the meditation technique was assessed by the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). As per the Department of Veterans Affairs, CAPS is the gold standard for PTSD assessment and diagnosis for both military veterans and civilian trauma survivors.

PTSD is a very common condition among war veterans. It affects around 14 percent of deployed soldiers. This disorder is also seen in around 44 percent of soldiers who have experienced high combat levels and who have traumatic brain injury. At present, prolonged exposure therapy is the only effective type of treatment available. There is a need to find additional acceptable and cost-effective treatments. This study aimed to determine the efficacy of transcendental meditation in reducing PTSD symptoms in war veterans.  Five war veterans (aged 18 to 65 years) with combat-related PTSD from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom participated in this study.

* The first step was a baseline/screening visit where the subjects underwent a physical examination and urine drug screening. They also completed the self-rated Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction questionnaires, the PTSD checklist-military version, and the Beck Depression Inventory. A psychiatrist assessed the subjects using the CAPS, Clinical Global Impression-Improvement, and Clinical Global Impression-Severity scales.
* In the next step, the transcendental meditation technique was taught to the subjects by certified instructors. The instruction consisted of two lectures, a personal interview, individual directions, and three follow-up sessions.
* The subjects practiced meditation at home for 20 minutes twice a day in the 12-week treatment period. The instructors met the subjects twice a week and were in touch through phone and e-mail in between the meetings.
* The instructors asked the subjects questions about their experiences during and after the meditation session, about compliance and the ease of practicing, and kept individual reports of each subject.
* Assessments were done at week one, two, four, six, eight, and 12, wherein the subjects completed self-rated scales that were then evaluated by the psychiatrist.

Results/Key findings
* Among 11 screened subjects, seven were enrolled and five completed the study.
* Improvement on the CAPS and Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire was seen in all subjects.
* In the Beck Depression Inventory, three subjects showed significant improvement, one showed minimal improvement, and the other one was worse.
* At week eight, four subjects showed significant improvement on the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scales, while one was rated as unchanged.
* At week 12, all the subjects reported feeling “calm, more alive, happier, more focused,” and “having peace in my life.”

Next steps/Shortcomings
This was a very small study with just five subjects. There was no control also in the study. This could have led to a placebo effect on the results. However, the positive results warrant the need for future larger and controlled trials to understand the benefits of the transcendental meditation technique.

Transcendental meditation is a meditation technique that uses the method of automatic self-transcending. This meditation has shown beneficial results, namely, reduction in stress symptoms and improved quality of life scores and health in subjects with PTSD. The meditation techniques were also easy to learn and were well accepted by the participants. A previous similar study on Vietnam War veterans has also shown that meditation techniques were more effective than psychotherapy in reducing PTSD. Regular practice of transcendental meditation produces changes in sympathetic nervous system activity, like decreased blood pressure and low reactivity to stress. This helps to reduce the stress disorder symptoms.

For More Information:
Effects of Transcendental Meditation in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Pilot Study
Publication Journal: Military Medicine, June 2011
By Joshua Z. Rosenthal, MD; Sarina Grosswald; Capital Clinical Research Associates, Rockville, Maryland and Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention, Fairfield, Iowa

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