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New Scientific Study: Transcendental Meditation Reduces PTSD Symptoms in University Students

By Dr. Scott Terry & David Shapiro

A New Hope for Students Suffering Trauma

New Study in Psychological Reports: Transcendental Meditation (TM) Significantly Reduces Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression in Students...

"Before practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM), it was mayhem at our school. A lot of fights were going on, basically every day. People were not friendly, they were mean. When I learned it I noticed it was different, because TM is not just closing your eyes, it is deeper than that. It makes you feel better, makes you more energized and it takes away all your stress. It really, really helps." – 7th grade student

"I used to be really fidgety, I used to move a lot, couldn't stay in my seat for very long. Now after meditating I can sit down for a whole class without standing up. Before practicing TM, it was hard for me to concentrate; after practicing TM, I could concentrate very well." – 7th grade student

These children live in communities and go to schools where violence threatens the children and puts them at risk for accumulating high levels of stress and even suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, a chronic and debilitating condition, arises from life-threatening and deeply traumatic events: war, sexual abuse, violence and natural disasters. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, fear, hyper-vigilance, emotional numbness, anger, and violent behavior, often leading to the abuse of drugs and alcohol. PTSD is a chronic, debilitating condition that may last a lifetime if not treated effectively.

PTSD is pandemic across Africa and a major problem in many areas of the world. Dr. Eugene Allers, past-president of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, estimates that as many as 25% of the population in South Africa suffer from PTSD. Research indicates that a significant number of children and adolescents in South Africa are exposed to high levels of traumatic experience, often witnessing or experiencing violence of a criminal or domestic nature. (Ensink, Robertson, Zissis & Leger, 1997; Pelzer, 1999; Seedat, van Nood, Vythilingum, Stein & Kaminer, 2000; Suliman, Kaminer, Seedat & Stein, 2005).

In the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that around 7% of Americans, around 23 million people, have now or have had PTSD. However, at-risk groups like soldiers, first responders, abused women, have much higher levels of PTSD, as do people living in poor and violent communities.

Therapies utilized for facilitating recovery from PTSD include prolonged exposure, pharmaceuticals, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Also in current use are patient education, counseling, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Transcendental Meditation (TM) effective in treating PTSD

On February 19, Psychological Reports published on-line a research study showing that Transcendental Meditation (TM) is also effective in the treatment of PTSD. TM may be used by itself or in conjunction with psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, and other PTSD reduction therapies.

Maharishi Institute students practicing Transcendental Meditation

Practice of TM twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes enabled a group of university students in South Africa with PTSD to score below the threshold for PTSD in 105 days. This same group showed significant recovery from depression.

A comparison group with PTSD who did not learn TM showed no change in PTSD or depression levels over the 105 days of testing.

This study is the fourteenth peer reviewed scientific paper on TM and PTSD. TM may also be used in conjunction with traditional PTSD reduction strategies to support the recovery process.

Students at the Maharishi Institute (MI) and University of Johannesburg (UJ), to colleges in South Africa, with similar demographic backgrounds were first tested for PTSD by the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist for civilians (PCL-C). Those students with high risk of PTSD were then evaluated by a certified psychologist. Students who were deemed to have PTSD by the psychologists were enrolled in the study. They were re-tested at 15, 60 and 105 days. They also received the Beck Depression Index, a standard test of depression, because depression often accompanies PTSD.

The MI group was taught TM a few days after taking the baseline tests on day one. The UJ students continued with their daily routines without any PTSD reduction interventions.

Within 15 days, the TM group showed a clinically significant drop in PTSD symptoms. And their scores for depression went from mild to below the threshold.

By the completion of the 105 days, the MI students’ PTSD scores on the PCL-C had fallen below the threshold for PTSD. They stayed out of depression from day 15.

The UJ students showed no significant drop in symptoms for either PTSD or depression during the study. They were invited to learn TM after the study.

A binary logistical regression analysis for the effect of TM practice on PTSD PCL-C diagnosis 105 days after instruction was also highly significant, with approximately 80% scoring below PTSD threshold in the TM group, whereas 88% of the UJ comparison group members were still suffering from PTSD.

The study showed a rapid and significant reduction of symptoms in the intervention group, according to lead author Dr. Carole Bandy. Results were stable over time.

A team of international researchers and psychologists from South Africa, Rwanda and United States, designed and implemented the study. Two psychologists from SADAG, (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group), the largest mental health NGO in SA, Lian Taljaard and Judy de Roeck, are also authors in the study. They interviewed and tested the UJ students suffering from PTSD. SADAG assists more than 180,000 people each year... “A high percentage of young people in South Africa, especially those living in the townships, suffer from PTSD,” said co-author Michael Dillbeck. “To become successful students and productive members of society, they absolutely need help dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Our study shows, that after three months of meditation, this group, on average, was out of PTSD. It offers a way for others to effectively deal with this problem.”

Fourteen previous studies utilizing Transcendental Meditation showed reductions in PTSD on Congolese war refugees, US war veterans, and male and female prisoners.

Transcendental Meditation may be used by itself or in conjunction with other treatments to accelerate the recovery process without re-experiencing the trauma. TM is a simple, natural technique practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. It is easily learned, and is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle. It doesn't involve concentration, control of the mind, contemplation, or monitoring of thoughts or breathing. The practice allows the active thinking mind to settle down to a state of inner calm. (See TM.org)

Zane Wilson, Founder and Chairman of SADAG, commented “This is the first study of its kind to show how Transcendental Meditation can reduce PTSD in college students. This study shows that there are new tools available for professionals to add to their tool bag."

New Psychological Reports Study: Ref: Bandy, C, Dillbeck, M., Sezibera, V., Taljaard, L., de Reuck, J., Wilks, M., Shapiro, D., Peycke, R. (Psychological Reports. on-line: February, 2019) Reduction of PTSD in South African University Students Using Transcendental Meditation Practice. DOI: 10.1177/0033294119828036

The lead author, Dr. Carole Bandy is professor of Psychology at Norwich University a private military university in the United States. Second author is Dr. Michael Dillbeck, Ph.D. Psychology, lead researcher at the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy, Maharishi University of Management. Dr. Vincent Sezibera, Ph.D. Psychology, expert in PTSD and head of the psychology department at University of Rwanda. Mirah Wilks, Chair of the Registered Counsellors and Psychometry Division, of the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) member of the PsySSA Standing Committee from 2014-2017.

To learn more about Transcendental Meditation, contact: Richard Peycke at richardpeycke@gmail.com.

To learn more about the research, to consider advanced studies or to implement projects that would incorporate TM into at-risk communities or groups, please contact David Shapiro at DavidShapiro@aptsdr.org
About the authors:
Dr. Scott Terry, Ed.D., M.A., IL.-L.M.F.T., IL.-L.C.P.C., IA.-L.M.F.T., IA.-L.M.H.C., Ch.T., and AAMFT approved supervisor. With 25 years of practice as a doctoral level clinician, supervisor, professor, clinical and executive director of five large mental health organization practices, including the Ardent Center, and a radio show.
David Shapiro, B.A. cum laude chemistry, M.A., is an author of two articles published in Journal of Traumatic Stress (April, 2013; February, 2014) on Transcendental Meditation and PTSD; the founding President of PTSD Relief Now and its African PTSD Relief projects and Alliance for PTSD Recovery (both are 501C3 charities); and an author of numerous popular articles on PTSD published throughout the world. Thousands of refugees, at-risk students, military, abused women have received support from PTSD across Africa from PTSD Relief Now Corporation. To get updates on research and projects, sign up here.

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