Paris: Transcendental meditation – the practice of effortless thinking – can be just as effective in treating PTSD in veterans of conflict as traditional therapy, US researchers said on Friday in findings that could help tens of thousands cope with trauma.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating condition that can lead to psychosis, bipolar disorder or thoughts of suicide and homicide, affects about 14% of American veterans serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The most common treatment for PTSD is a process known as prolonged exposure psychotherapy, which forces patients to relive traumatic events by confronting their memories of the conflict.
Researchers at three American universities have decided to investigate whether day-to-day techniques, which help civilians reduce their stress levels and increase focus and productivity, would work for traumatized veterans.
They tested 203 former military men and women with PTSD, most of whom were receiving medication for their symptoms, and randomly assigned courses in transcendental meditation, extended exposure therapy or a specialized health education class with PTSD.
They found that 60% of veterans who did 20 minutes of silent meditation every day showed significant improvement in their symptoms and more completed the study than those who received exposure therapy.
"Over the past 50 years, PTSD has expanded to become a significant public health problem," Sanford Nidich of the Maharishi University Management Research Institute told AFP.
"Due to the growing need to address the public health problem of PTSD in the U.S., UK and around the world, there is an imperative need to implement government policies to include alternative therapies such as transcendental meditation as an option to treat PTSD veterans" .
Transcendental meditation involves effortlessly thinking of an idea or mantra to produce a calm, settled state of mind – scientists call it a "quiet alertness."
Unlike exposure therapy, meditation can be practiced at home, takes relatively little time, and researchers say it would be significantly cheaper than current techniques of treatment.
It also avoids forcing combat veterans to relive their trauma in an attempt to improve.
"Transcendental meditation is self-empowering and can be practiced virtually anywhere and anytime, without the need for specialized equipment or continuous staff support," said Nidich, who was the lead author of the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
It gave me my life back & # 39;
The main problem with existing PTSD treatment, according to Nidich, is that forcing veterans to relive their traumas means that many never finish their courses.
Exposure therapy, although officially approved as a treatment by the US Veterans Association, is ineffective in up to 50 percent of patients and dropout rates range from 30 to 45 percent.
"New treatments, including options that do not involve exposure to the traumatic experience, are needed for veterans who do not respond to treatment or quit because of discomfort," Nidich said.
One study participant, a 32-year-old Navy veteran, who the authors identified only as Ms. K, said that learning the meditation technique "gave me my life back."
After being diagnosed as having suffered sexual trauma during her military service, her symptoms worsened until she drank excessively each night and sought to avoid human interaction.
After the transcendental meditation course, "I began to come out of my nightmares and face the battle ahead," she said.
She added that she has since applied for a job in a hospital.
The researchers said more studies are needed to see if meditation can be a long-term aid for PTSD sufferers.