Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
As veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars return to their lives away from the battlefield, many are having difficulty coping with the additional strain brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A new study in the journal“¯Depression and Anxiety points to promising results for veterans suffering from PTSD. Researchers found that veterans who engaged in mindfulness exercises, such as meditation, stretching, and acceptance of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, experienced a reduction in PTSD symptoms compared to their colleagues who did not engage in the same activities.
“The results of our trial are encouraging for veterans trying to find help for PTSD,” said lead author Anthony P. King, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan´s Department of Psychiatry. “Mindfulness techniques seemed to lead to a reduction in symptoms and might be a potentially effective novel therapeutic approach to PTSD and trauma-related conditions.”
Along with a team of fellow Michigan scientists, King tracked the progress of a group of veterans with PTSD in the“¯VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System who completed an eight-week mindfulness-based group treatment plan. The therapy program combines cognitive therapy techniques with a type of mindfulness meditation that is designed to increase a person´s self awareness.
Previous studies have revealed the benefits of these techniques for individuals with PTSD, but the new study is the first to focus on a PTSD-specific clinic.
In the treatment group, veterans participated in exercises such as mindful eating, in which they ate very slowly and focused on the sensations cause by that activity. They also performed “body scanning,” an exercise where patients mentally examine individual parts of the body with respect to pain and tension. The veterans in the treatment group were also instructed to perform mindful movement and stretching and “mindfulness meditation,” which included centering the attention on breath and personal emotions.
The participants were taught these techniques and instructed to practice them at home through audio-recorded exercises and during the day while walking, eating or showering.
After the eight-week treatment course, 73 percent of patients in the study group displayed marked improvement compared to 33 percent in the conventional treatment groups.
According to King, the mindfulness techniques allowed patients to significantly reduce their avoidance symptoms, as the entire process is oriented around dealing with uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and memories.
“Part of the psychological process of PTSD often includes avoidance and suppression of painful emotions and memories, which allows symptoms of the disorder to continue,” King explained. “Through the mindfulness intervention, however, we found that many of our patients were able to stop this pattern of avoidance and see an improvement in their symptoms.”
He emphasized that the study only provided the first steps toward dealing with PTSD in veterans and further studies with a larger sample size are necessary for a more detailed examination of mindfulness intervention benefits.
“Further studies will help us understand whether mindfulness training is more aptly considered an adjunct option to gold-standard trauma-focused treatments such as prolonged exposure or EMDR, or whether it can function as an intervention in its own right for treating avoidance and other symptoms,” King said.
“Either way, mindfulness-based therapies provide a strategy that encourages active engagement for participants, are easy to learn and appear to have significant benefits for veterans with PTSD.”