April 2013

Mindfulness Therapy May Improve Combat PTSD Symptoms

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may help symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans, a study reports.

PTSD can follow an exposure to a traumatic event, such as sexual or physical assault, a death, or a natural disaster. There are three main symptoms associated with PTSD: "reliving" of the event through flashbacks and nightmares, avoiding places related to the trauma, detachment from other people. PTSD may also cause difficulty sleeping, irritability, or poor concentration. Both adults and children may develop PTSD if they have experienced, witnessed, or participated in a traumatic event, especially one that was life threatening.

Mindfulness is a type of meditative approach in which attention is focused on a physical sensation, such as the breath. Attention is placed on the present moment, rather than on the future or past. This technique may involve a "body scan," in which one focuses on the body from head to feet, concentrating on areas of pain or illness. This is usually performed while lying down. Regular practice is suggested to enhance self-awareness.

In the current study, scientists looked at the use of MBCT for relieving symptoms of combat-related PTSD. They enrolled 20 people seeking treatment for chronic PTSD at an outpatient clinic and randomly assigned them to MBCT or to regular treatment for this condition. Doctors performed psychological assessments both before and after the therapy.

The results suggested that MBCT resulted in significant improvement in PTSD symptoms, compared to regular treatment. Subjects assigned to MBCT showed good compliance and meaningful improvement in their condition during the post-treatment assessment. Symptoms such as avoidance, numbing, and self-blame were among those that improved in this group.

The researchers concluded that group MBCT may be an acceptable short-term treatment for combat-related PTSD. Further study is needed before firm conclusions on therapy effectiveness may be made.

There is good scientific evidence supporting the use of psychotherapy for treating PTSD. Psychotherapy is an interactive process between a person and a qualified mental health professional. Its purpose is the exploration of thoughts, feelings, and behavior for the purpose problem solving or achieving higher levels of functioning.

Other integrative therapies that have been studied for PTSD include acupuncture, healing touch, and relaxation therapy. However, there is unclear or conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of these techniques for PTSD. More research is needed.

For more information about mindfulness meditation, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.


  1. King AP, Erickson TM, Giardino ND, et al. A Pilot Study of Group Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for Combat Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Depress Anxiety. 2013 Apr 17. doi: 10.1002/da.22104. [Epub ahead of print] 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

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