“The benefit of exposing people with PTSD to traumatic memories has been regarded as an important, if not essential, part of the therapeutic process,” wrote Sanford Nidich, Ed.D., of the Maharishi University of Management Research Institute in Iowa and colleagues. “Our findings provide further evidence that PTSD treatments can be effective without an exposure component. Because trauma exposure can be difficult for patients, similarly effective treatments that do not require exposure could be appealing to veterans and other groups with PTSD.”
Nidich and colleagues enrolled 203 veterans who had a current diagnosis of PTSD resulting from an event experienced during active military service. The participants were randomly assigned to receive 12 sessions of transcendental meditation, exposure therapy, or PTSD health education (served as the control group) over 12 weeks. The meditation and health education sessions were provided in group settings, while the exposure therapy was given in one-on-one settings.
The researchers used the clinician-administered PTSD scale (CAPS) and participant self-report to assess PTSD symptoms at the start of the study and again after 12 weeks. The study participants were also asked about depressive symptoms using the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).
In head-to-head comparisons, both transcendental meditation and exposure therapy were superior to health education at reducing clinician- and patient-rated PTSD symptoms, as well as depressive symptoms; 61% of veterans receiving transcendental meditation, 42% of those receiving exposure therapy, and 32% of those receiving health education showed a clinically relevant improvement in symptoms (defined as at least a 10-point drop in their CAPS scores).
“The implementation of TM [transcendental meditation] training at military medical facilities in the USA has shown remarkable acceptance, excellent retention rates, attendance, and compliance,” wrote Vernon Barnes, Ph.D., of Augusta University in an accompanying editorial. “TM training could have a substantial effect on health as an adjunct to the standard of care and might have considerable value to improve the quality of life for military service members.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric Research & Clinical Practice article “A Multisite Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”