What’s in a Word!? Mantram Meditation Reduced PTSD for these Veterans.
Would you believe it if I told you PTSD symptoms could be reduced by repeating a word silently to yourself? Well, a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry supports that assertion under the specific conditions of the Mantram Repetition Protocol (MRP). Dr. Jill Bormann and colleagues demonstrated mantram repetition can help Veterans with PTSD reduce their symptoms without focusing on traumatic experiences. In the MRP, Veterans choose a spiritually related word or phrase from a recommended list. They are then taught the portable skills of “slowing down thoughts and reactivity” and “practicing one-pointed attention while attending to one task at a time.” Specifically, authors stated Veterans were taught ways to silently repeat a mantram to themselves to “interrupt stressful thoughts, feelings, or behaviors and ultimately to manage symptoms such as hyperarousal, anger, irritability, insomnia, flashbacks, and numbing/avoidance.”
After eight weekly one-hour sessions, Veterans had less severe PTSD symptoms compared to an active non-trauma focused treatment of equal duration. These improvements remained after two months! The study authors also looked at other important outcomes: insomnia, depression, anger, spiritual well-being, mindfulness, and quality of life. The only area that showed greater improvement compared to the control condition was insomnia, both after the eight-week treatments and two months later. However, Veterans in both conditions showed improvement in the other outcomes.
What’s more impressive is that Dr. Bormann’s research team conducted a rigorous study with thorough analyses. They addressed many limitations of existing studies on similar interventions, such as adequate sample size, randomized treatment assignment, active comparison conditions, and publishing their treatment protocol. This scientific rigor supports the meaningfulness of their findings.
Veterans Yoga Project (VYP) knows the importance of mantram meditation as our Mindful Resilience (MR) for Trauma Recovery includes these practices. For those of you who have completed VYP’s MR training, this skill falls within the “focus clearly” part of the five MR tools for self-regulation (the others being breathe easy, move freely, rest deeply, and be grateful). This study provides indirect support for VYP’s approach to trauma and resilience. I say “indirect support” because the Mantram Repetition Protocol is a specific intervention and cannot be equated to mantram taught as part of yoga classes that incorporate the remaining four Mindful Resilience tools. However, other studies show that yoga that incorporate other tools such as movement and breath practices can reduce PTSD symptoms (e.g., Gallegos et al., 2017). Veterans and providers unfamiliar with yoga may be more open to potential benefits of these many skills based on Dr. Bormann’s and colleagues’ study. As for VYP teachers who already know, we’ll continue to hold the space and share the practice.
Bormann, J. E., Thorp, S. R., Smith, E., Glickman, M., Beck, D., Plumb, D., … Elwy, A. R. (2018). Individual Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Using Mantram Repetition: A Randomized Clinical Trial. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(10), 979–988. http://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17060611
Gallegos, A. M., Crean, H. F., Pigeon, W. R., & Heffner, K. L. (2017). Meditation and yoga for posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev, 58, 115-124. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2017.10.004
Timothy Avery, PsyD, is a postdoctoral research fellow in complementary and alternative medicine for chronic health conditions and post traumatic stress affecting veterans. He is the director of program evaluation for Veterans Yoga Project.