Veterans dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may have an alternative option for their healing process. According to a study published earlier this year in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy—an a academic journal devoted to issues of psychological trauma—researchers reported that VA-sponsored meditation programs “show promise for reducing PTSD severity in Veterans receiving mental health services.”
The authors of the study define PTSD as “a cluster of symptoms of intrusive traumatic memories, avoidance of the reminders of traumatic evens, negative alternations in mood and cognition, and alternations in arousal and reactivity.”
In order to investigate the affects of meditation on PTSD, researchers collected data from 6 VA sites, which included a sample of 391 veterans. The researchers then compared the outcome of the meditation program to, what they called, “treatment-as-usual,” or TAU, using two methods, clinical interviews and self-reports. According to the study, the veterans in the meditation group demonstrated a modest reduction in PTSD symptoms.
In general, meditation has been around for centuries in Eastern cultures, and Western psychological science is only now beginning to apply and test meditation’s effects on such disorders as PTSD and even a range of anxiety disorders.
Thus far, the results appear encouraging.
“A number of small, nonrandomized pilot studies of meditation programs for Veterans with PTSD have been published,” the researchers write,” and show promising results for alleviating PTSD symptoms.”
Although there are many, many types and styles of meditation practices, the researchers in this particular study highlight a few noteworthy forms of meditation.
In “mindfulness meditation,” for example, “the objective is to attend to, or openly monitor, thoughts and emotions as they come into and out of awareness, without judgment.” Moreover, mindfulness meditation, apartment from coming into its own as a treatment for PTSD, may be a useful intervention for reducing stress in general, as the practice emphasizes slow breathing and the awareness of “toxic” thoughts.
“That sounds well and good,” one may think, “but how do researchers measure meditation?” In this case, the researchers used two psychological tests to, in their words, “assess meditation.” The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (or, MAAS) is a 15-item questionnaire, while The Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) is a 39-item measure . . . both designed to measure the patient’s inner experience during meditation practice.
As researchers continue to asses the practical effects of meditation on Veterans with PTSD, perhaps more evidence will emerge that supports the use of meditation as a viable treatment option for those suffering from PTSD. In addition, so far, the results are encouraging, especially compared to the “treatment-as-usual” interventions for PTSD such as psycho-education or integrated mental health treatment, according to the authors.
Heffner, K. L., Crean, H. F, and Kemp J. E. (2016). Meditation Programs for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Aggregate Findings From a Multi-Site Evaluation. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Vol. 8, 365 – 374.