April 15, 2013
1 min read

Meditation reduced posttraumatic stress symptoms in African refugees

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Refugees from the Congolese civil war who practiced Transcendental Meditation experienced significant reductions in posttraumatic stress symptoms, according to new study results published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. The reduction in symptom severity continued for an extended period of time.

“These findings suggest that clinicians have another option for treating posttraumatic stress, particularly for patients who prefer to avoid medications or are reluctant to discuss or re-live their trauma,” study researcher Col. Brian Rees, MD, MPH, of the US Army Reserve Medical Corps, told Psychiatric Annals.

Col. Brian Rees, MD, MPH 

Col. Brian Rees

Rees and colleagues conducted a randomized, matched study that included 42 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who were living in temporary shelters in Kampala, Uganda. Participants were exposed to combat, sexual violence, torture and murder. The second Congo war resulted in 5.4 million deaths and forced approximately 80,000 refugees to flee the country, according to background information in the study.

Half of the participants learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) immediately, whereas the other half learned TM at the end of the study. Participants were matched for age, gender and severity of posttraumatic stress (PTS) symptoms. The PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version (PCL-C) was used to assess the severity of PTS symptoms at baseline and again at 30 and 135 days.

Results indicated that PCL-C scores in the control group trended upward from baseline. However, scores in the TM group decreased from 65 on average at baseline — indicating severe PTS symptoms at the beginning of the study — to below 30 on average after 30 days of practicing TM. Scores in the TM group remained low at 135 days.

“TM practice is an intervention that clinicians can use to relieve PTS symptoms in their patients without requiring them to re-experience the horrific details that caused the trauma,” study researcher Fred Travis, PhD, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management, told Psychiatric Annals.

Fred Travis, PhD 

Fred Travis

Complementary and alternative medicine such as meditation is now being incorporated into more evidence-based therapies for greater treatment outcomes. For example, the Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support (OASIS) residential PTSD program at the Naval Base Point Loma in California uses meditation to treat active-duty service members.

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Disclosure:The study was funded by the David Lynch Foundation.