A new study published in The Permanente Journal presents findings of a four-month long randomized trial, which investigated the effects of a Transcendental Meditation (TM) stress-reduction program on trauma symptoms and associated factors within a male inmate population. This is the first published study evaluating TM in prison inmates, and the researchers found the program significantly reduced trauma symptoms: anxiety, depression, dissociation, and sleep disturbance, as well as perceived stress.
“To our knowledge, this is the largest randomized controlled trial to date of the effects of the TM program on trauma symptoms…” the researchers wrote.
In the United States, approximately 6 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women will experience a traumatic event in their lives. The prevalence and impact of trauma are felt strongest in vulnerable populations. Aside from the more commonly known associated features of trauma, such as depression, anxiety, and sleep issues, chronic PTSD has been associated with a number of physical conditions, including autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Incarcerated populations have an even higher prevalence of trauma, with a prior study finding lifetime prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in incarcerated men (30% to 60%) to be significantly higher than in men in the general population (3% to 6.3%). Childhood abuse and neglect rates are also higher in incarcerated populations. In addition, inmates with PTSD have higher rates of recidivism than those who don’t.
A number of studies have reported on the benefits of meditation in regards to health issues. Transcendental meditation is a widely studied technique and has been effective in decreasing stress and anxiety levels in a number of populations. The researchers write:
“The TM technique is a simple, natural, effortless technique that allows the mind to experience finer levels of the thinking process until the mind transcends and experiences the least excited state of human awareness.”
For this study, the researchers recruited moderate to high-risk level male inmates (n=181) in the Oregon State Correctional system and placed them in two groups: the TM program or a no-treatment control group. The treatment group received five, one-hour long TM sessions with trained, experienced instructors for four months, while the other group continued received solely the standard care. Individuals in both groups were assessed at the beginning of the study and four months later, using the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC) measure and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).
The researchers found that individuals in the TM group had significant reductions in all the TSC subscales: total trauma, anxiety, dissociation, and sleep disturbance, as well as a significant reduction in their perceived stress as measured by the PSS. Compliance with the program was high, with 88% of men in the TM group completing the initial course, and 80% of men practicing at least once a day. Individuals who endorsed the highest levels of trauma symptoms showed an even markedly larger reduction in symptoms in both scales.
The researchers write, “The current findings, therefore build on prior gaps in the literature, extend the range of mental health benefits previously documented on the TM program, and provide further evidence for the clinical value of providing TM in correctional facilities and other institutional settings.” Their findings provide clear support for the use of TM as a therapy for individuals in other high-risk populations – such as veterans, military personnel, and refugees – suffering from PTSD, and possibly other trauma disorders.
Nidich, S., O’Connor, T., Rutledge, T., Duncan, J., Compton, B., Seng, A., & Nidich, R. (2016). Reduced trauma symptoms and perceived stress in male prison inmates through the Transcendental Meditation program: A randomized controlled trial. The Permanente Journal, 20(4): 16-007. DOI: http://dx.doi. org/10.7812/TPP/16-007. (Full Text)
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.