Paris: Transcendental meditation – effortless practice – can be just as effective in the treatment of PTSD in war veterans as traditional therapy, American scientists said on Friday, in discoveries that could help tens of thousands deal with trauma.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating condition that can lead to psychosis, bipolar disorder or suicidal and murderous thoughts, affects about 14 percent of US veterans serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The most common way to treat PTSD is a process called long-term psychotherapy, which forces patients to re-experience traumatic events by confronting their memories of the conflict.
Researchers from three American universities have decided to check whether everyday techniques that help the civilian population reduce stress levels and increase concentration and productivity would work on wounded veterans.
203 ex-soldiers and a woman with post-traumatic stress disorder were examined, most of whom received medication due to their symptoms and were randomly assigned to transcendental meditation courses, long-term exposure therapy or a PTSD specialist health education class.
It turned out that 60% of veterans who performed silent meditation every day for 20 minutes showed a significant improvement in their symptoms and completed the study more than those who received the therapy.
"Over the past 50 years, PTSD has evolved to become a major public health problem," said AFP Sanford Nidich of the Management Institute of Maharishi University.
"Due to the growing need to address the problem of PTSD public health care in the United States, the United Kingdom and around the world, there is an urgent need to implement government policies including alternative therapies, such as transcendental meditation as an option for the treatment of PTSD veterans."
Transcendental meditation consists in effortlessly thinking about an idea or mantra to create a calm, calmer state of mind – scientists call it "calm vigilance".
In contrast to exposure therapy, meditation can be practiced at home, it takes relatively little time, and scientists say it would be much cheaper than current treatment techniques.
It also allows you to avoid forcing war veterans to re-experience trauma for improvement.
"Transcendental meditation is self-sufficient and can be practiced practically anywhere at any time, without the need for specialized equipment or permanent support of staff," said Nidich, who was the lead author of the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
"I gave my life to me"
The main problem with existing PTSD treatment, according to Nidich, is that forcing veterans to re-experience trauma means that many never finish their courses.
Exposure therapy, although officially approved by the US Veterans Association, is ineffective in up to 50% of patients, and the rate of early school leavers is in the range of 30-45%.
"New treatments, including options not related to exposure to traumatic survival, are needed by veterans who do not respond to treatment or give up discomfort," said Nidich.
One of the study participants, a 32-year-old war veteran, whom the authors identified only as Mrs. K, said that learning meditation technique "gave me my life".
After diagnosing sexual trauma during military service, her symptoms deteriorated until she drank excessively each night and tried to avoid interpersonal interaction.
After the transcendental meditation course: "I began to leave my nightmares and face the battle that I had before me," she said.
She added that she had applied for a job in the hospital since then.
The researchers said further research is needed to see if meditation can be a long-term help for people with PTSD.