The Case for Using Transcendental Meditation to Treat Combat Related PTSD

I have seen the video of David George and his mother Julia now many times (you can view below) – it never fails to move me. And no wonder. A courageous young person travels abroad to serve his country, is shaken and bombarded by the horrors of war, and returns home a changed person. By day, his mind is tormented daily by intolerable memories and flashbacks, which he may self-medicate with alcohol and risk-taking activities. By night, his sleep is disrupted by nightmares from which he may wake, drenched in sweat, as though back on the battlefield.

See 5:01 second video below:

What happens in PTSD is that the fight-or-flight response system is on overdrive, as though a person is still in the war zone, even after he or she is safely home

David George was one of 5 veterans with PTSD whom we treated with Transcendental Meditation. Awful as his story was, it was not exceptional. Each young person told a tale that was, in its own way, as harrowing and heart-wrenching as David’s. And each had a family who stood by helplessly watching.

How common is PTSD among our returning veterans? Estimates vary, according to a National Center for PTSD report, but 10% is a fair average – perhaps as many as 200,000 souls. Imagine the ordeal of David and Julia multiplied 200,000 over and you begin to get a sense of the scope of the medical problem and the human tragedy.

TM-PTSDWhat evidence is there that Transcendental Meditation can help PTSD?

Here are the results of the 5 young men in our pilot study.

Within two months of starting Transcendental Meditation, PTSD symptoms dropped by about 50%. Four out of the five individuals in the study underwent transformations, each in their own way as remarkable as David’s.

An earlier study of PTSD was conducted almost 30 years ago on veterans of the Vietnam War by researchers James Brooks and Thomas Scarano. In this random controlled study, 10 veterans given TM training did substantially better than 12 controls who received the conventional psychotherapy of the day. After three months of TM practice, 7 of the 10 in the TM group requested no further therapy, whereas the controls showed very little improvement.

Flash forward to our present day. An important randomized controlled study of Transcendental Meditation on PTSD in Congolese refugees is currently being conducted by Dr. Fred Travis, Brian Rees and colleagues. Many refugees of the Congolese civil war, now living in Uganda, are reeling after having suffered unspeakable atrocities in their home country. So far, 25 people have received TM training and after 30 days, already show substantial benefits, as compared to controls, who have shown no improvement.

There are, of course, conventional approaches to treating combat-related PTSD, such as psychotherapy and medications. These have been of some help, but fall woefully short of the mark. We clearly need a new approach for treating people with PTSD.

As a psychiatrist and researcher who has carefully evaluated the Transcendental Meditation technique and its impact on people with combat-related PTSD, I am of the opinion that TM may be just such a tool – and perhaps even a game changer, as it was for David George.

Besides the results of the studies I have shown you, we have collectively seen hundreds of other Wounded Warriors who have benefited from Transcendental Meditation. And it makes sense from a medical point of view that TM would settle down the symptoms of PTSD because it soothes the fight-and-flight part of the nervous system, which has been so brutally disrupted in this condition.

As a researcher, I look forward to the results of large-scale studies, some of which are underway. As a clinician, however, I say we just can’t afford to wait that long. We are dealing with a crisis, an epidemic. We need to act without delay on the data we already have and the amazing results that we have seen with our own eyes.

Wishing you Light and Transcendence,

Norman

Additional Information:

PTSD and Meditation Infographic, feel free to embed on your website
Department of Defense embracing alternative medicine

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5 Comments

  1. I am currently a tm practicioner and also an ex-soldier – although I don’t suffer from ptsd. My question is – can tm increase anxiety? I find that often after I meditate I feel anxious and agoraphobic when I leave the house – almost ‘too open’ or vulnerable/not in control if that makes any sense. I looked this up and read about ‘relaxation induced anxiety’. Do you have any thoughts or general recommendations? Have you run into this before? I have been unable to maintain regular tm practice for more than a couple days because of this. The tm teachers have no answer for me.

    - by vin in December, 2011
  2. TM teachers are trained to help you with this issue. A simple rule of thumb is that if you feel anxious just after meditating, then you should keep your eyes closed a while longer. This will give your body time to return to a normal state of functioning after being in a state where memories (perhaps just emotional memories) of old stress might arise.

    - by Saijanai in December, 2011
  3. Thank you Dr. Essential for your interest and dedication to helping veterans with PTSD. You’re correct in that 200,000+ Vets have returned from war in the past 6 years with symptoms of PTSD, nearly 20%!

    Help4VetsPTSD, Inc., a new non-profit led by veterans and helping veterans with PTSD. Unfortunately, the VA does not have the resources to help all of these young men and women, so private therapists and programs must pick up the pieces. Do not get me wrong, the VA is doing a fantastic job with the resources they have, but congress needs to do more to help these young people who have given their lives, bodies, and minds for their country.

    Thank you Dr. Rosenthal!

    - by Chris Sorrentino - CombatCounselor in January, 2012
  4. I’ve been struggling with PTSD from 9-11 for the past 10 years. Thanks for this inspiration. Meditation has been so helpful, but I forget how important it is to keep it up.

    - by Kiai in March, 2012
  5. anyone who thinks TM is too exipnseve just doesn’t understand the time it takes on part of the teacher, the personal guidance, the comprehensive instruction that you get when you learn TM. There are also scholarships and grants to help people learn who can’t afford the full tuition. TM teachers are professionals, rigorously trained, and they deserve to earn a living wage to be able to keep teaching. But most of them don’t make enough money to do it as a full time job. No one has ever made any money on TM, it’s totally non-profit. I’m sure the people on this page complaining about TM costing too much, and arguing that it should cost almost nothing or be free, all make more money than your average TM teacher, but the service provided by TM teachers is the most valuable service in society. I would have no problem if they were all getting rich, but they’re not.

    - by Demmica in October, 2012