A new study from University of Michican in collaboration with the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System had a group of veterans with PTSD undertake an eight-week “mindfulness-based” treatment plan. The study was published in Depression and Anxiety in April and found that 73% of patients in the mindfulness treatment group exhibited meaningful improvement, compared with only 33% in the regular treatment group.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) combines cognitive therapy and mindfulness exercises, which include activities like mediation, stretching, acceptance of thoughts and emotions. Although there has been some other research on integrating mindfulness techniques in treatment for people who have been exposed to trauma, this is the first to analyze a form of treatment that fully combines cognitive therapy with mindfulness techniques.
According to Anthony P. King, Ph.D. and the study’s lead author from the UM Department of Psychiatry, “The results of our trial are encouraging for veterans trying to find help for PTSD. 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.”
The biggest area of improvement for the veterans in the study was that they exhibited a notable reduction in avoidance symptoms. Mindfulness advocates for a sustained focus on thoughts and memories, even when those thoughts are unpleasant. Thus, through the mindfulness intervention, patients were able to halt their patterns of avoidance. The techniques also involve focusing attention on positive experiences and accepting one’s thoughts and emotions. This lead to a decrease in self-blame in the study’s patients.
They UM and VA Ann Arbor group is already conducting a larger study to see if the MBCT techniques are productive for military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They hope to find more evidence that mindfulness training is an effective treatment for veterans with PTSD. Even if the new study does not yield exactly the results that the team wants, Dr. King states that “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.”