Mindfulness: Effective Treatment for Trauma

New Techniques for Treating Trauma

Trauma and PTSD have complex psychological and biological profiles that science continues to elucidate. The good news is that new treatment approaches that integrate mindfulness techniques seem to be offering hope and promise in treatment. A growing body of research supports mindfulness as an effective treatment approach for adults with PTSD - and even more encouraging are the resulting positive neurological changes.

When we encounter trauma, our brains actually change in response to the circumstances in order to help us cope and adapt. The problem is that these brain changes may not benefit us as we move forward in everyday life situations. Essentially, our brains can get caught in an "overactive loop" constantly seeking a new threat. Fortunately, with the right techniques, we can learn to respond in a more calm manner.

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MINDFULNESS IN TREATMENT OF PTSD

Substantial research supports mindfulness as an effective treatment approach for individuals struggling with PTSD. A study published in Depression and Anxiety focused on 23 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, who all received group therapy. A subset of the group also underwent mindfulness training. After four months of weekly sessions, the mindfulness group reported a significant easing in their PTSD symptoms.

Researchers were even more surprised by changes in the brains of those who improved. Data revealed in brain scans showed that they had developed stronger brain connectivity in the areas of the brain that involve reason and threat perception. In other words, mindfulness actually proved effective in helping the soldiers to change their brain structure and function and to get 'unstuck' from a cycle of negative thinking - enabling them to cope more effectively.

In a similar study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of veterans participated in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training compared to control condition of present-centered therapy. In nine weekly sessions, the mindfulness arm of the study learned mindfulness  techniques to grow in the ability to attend to the present moment without judgment and with acceptance. At the conclusion of the study 49% of mindfulness group noted substantial improvement in PTSD symptoms versus 28% of the control group.  

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TAKING ACTION

Mindfulness is in essence a non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, emotions and sensations. This approach can be very helpful in dealing with disturbing memories and negative thoughts. Mindfulness allows us to grow in the ability to be with our feelings, thoughts and sensations and to be less reactive to them.  Research is generally supportive of the use of mindfulness techniques in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Mindfulness can be useful in relieving the symptoms of stress and PTSD. If you have history of trauma, working with a clinician familiar with mindfulness techniques could be a very good adjunct to psychotherapy treatment.