The 41 veterans and five active-duty soldiers from the wars in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with clinical levels of PTSD, as measured by the PTSD Checklist-Civilian (PCL-5).
After one month, 87 percent had a clinically significant decrease of more than 10 points, according to the study’s findings. The reduction was so great that 37 participants (80 percent) had their symptoms reduced to below the clinical level, meaning that they were no longer considered to have a disorder, researchers reported.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Military Medicine.
“It’s remarkable that after just one month we would see such a pronounced decrease in symptoms, with four out of five veterans no longer considered to have a serious problem with PTSD,” said lead author Robert Herron, Ph.D.
The effect size, which is a measure of the magnitude of a treatment, was 1.91. This is unusually high, with a value of .8 considered to be a strong effect, researchers said. In addition, a very low p-value (p < 0.0001) indicates these results were probably not due to chance.
The study included a 90-day post-test, where researchers found that PTSD symptoms continued to improve.
By way of comparison, the standard treatment, which entails veterans attending counseling and re-experiencing their trauma as part of the therapy, is typically only partially successful, with approximately two-thirds still suffering from PTSD after being treated, the researchers noted.
“Transcendental Meditation is very easy to do and results come quickly,” said James Grant, Ed.D., director of Programs for TM for Veterans. “TM promotes self sufficiency — it’s a tool that the veteran can use for life, on his or her own.”
“Because it works on the neurophysiological level to reduce stress, it has broader impact than cognitively-based therapies,” he said.
According to the researchers, an interesting facet of the study was that the veterans were recruited through media advertising rather than through a veterans hospital.
“The importance of this study is that it shows that veterans are able to help themselves,” said Herron. “After learning about the opportunity to participate in the study, they went to local Transcendental Meditation centers to be instructed in the practice.”
Herron noted that because of its huge caseload, the Veterans Administration hasn’t been able to help all veterans in a timely manner — and veterans are often in desperate need of help.
“The veterans involved were pleased that they were able to do this on their own, and no doubt the VA hospitals appreciate that there are therapeutic approaches that can be undertaken without the costly intensive care of a therapist that treatment typically entails,” he said.
Grant added some veterans are reluctant to go to counseling because of the perceived stigma, noting there’s no stigma associated with meditation, which is widely practiced by healthy people.
The veterans learned the standard Transcendental Meditation technique, which is practiced 20 minutes twice a day. The study found that the veterans who practiced twice a day as recommended had greater benefits than those who practiced once a day.
This approach to meditation, which was introduced in the West by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi beginning in the late 1950s, has been widely researched over the past 50 years, with more than 400 peer-reviewed studies. It is unique in that it doesn’t entail contemplation or concentration and is easy to learn and effortless to practice, the researchers said.
“Researchers have been calling for new approaches to PTSD treatments, and Transcendental Meditation seems to be particularly effective,” Grant said. “Veterans who elect to learn Transcendental Meditation themselves can find significant reductions in PTSD. The results are promising and suggest that this is a treatment modality that deserves more rigorous study as a potential treatment for PTSD.”