Mindfulness Training Changes Brain Connectivity in PTSD
The brains of those with PTSD who received mindfulness training changed in ways that may have helped them “switch off” looping memories.
Before launching the study, the researchers were unsure if they would find enough veterans interested in trying the mindfulness-based training, given its reputation as an “alternative” approach related to traditionally East and South Asian practices such as meditation and yoga. However, more veterans completed the mindfulness therapy sessions than control group therapy.
“Once we explained the rationale behind mindfulness, which aims to ground and calm a person while also addressing mental phenomena, they were very interested and engaged — more than we expected,” said Dr King. “The approach we took included standard elements of exposure therapy as well as mindfulness, to help lead veterans to be able to process the trauma itself.”
While the mindfulness group had statistically significantly decreased scores on a standard scale of PTSD severity compared with the control group, the between-group effects were not statistically significant; the researchers therefore want to explore this topic further in larger groups and in civilians.
The researchers also emphasize that those with PTSD should seek out providers trained specifically in PTSD to help manage their symptoms and not view mindfulness alone as a potential solution. As mindfulness sessions can sometimes trigger symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts, it is important that those with PTSD have guidance from a trained counselor to incorporate mindfulness into their therapy for PTSD.
“Mindfulness can help people cope with and manage their trauma memories, explore their patterns of avoidance when confronting reminders of their trauma, and better understand their reactions to their symptoms,” said Dr King. “It helps them feel more grounded and to notice that even very painful memories have a beginning, a middle, and an end — that they can become manageable and feel safer. It's hard work, but it can pay off.”
King AP, Block SR, Sripada RK, et al. Altered default mode network (DMN) resting state functional connectivity following a mindfulness-based exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. Depress Anxiety. 2016;33(4):289-299.