Mindfulness Meditation and PTSD

Did you know – the practices of mindfulness and meditation can not only help prevent, but also assist in the treatment of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)?

mindfulness and trauma

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop as a consequence of a variety of traumatic events, such as a car accident or watching a loved one go through illness. If you are troubled by recurring thoughts, memories or dreams of a distressing time that you would rather forget, chances are you are suffering from PTSD.

Preventing PTSD

The development of PTSD depends on your vulnerability factors and levels of experiential avoidance and mindfulness.

In my doctoral research for example, I studied PTSD development in student populations. Students with higher levels of mindfulness and less experiential avoidance before watching a traumatic film, were less likely to be distressed and have recurring intrusive thoughts of the film over one week. The film was made up of images that can be found on TV and news programs, which goes to show just how easy it is to become distressed by events witnessed, let alone experienced.

The research also significantly linked mindfulness and experiential avoidance – as mindfulness increases, experiential avoidance decreases. As experiential avoidance is highlighted in symptoms of PTSD, mindfulness is therefore important in its prevention and treatment. My research suggested that individuals who have higher levels of natural mindfulness are less likely to develop PTSD, whereas those with higher levels of experiential avoidance are more vulnerable to developing PTSD.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder of avoidance of internal experiences which cause distress such as memories, thoughts, feelings and dreams of the traumatic event. Where an individual naturally avoids the internal more, they have an increased likelihood of developing PTSD following a traumatic event.

Mindfulness and PTSD

My research into PTSD also followed a population of PTSD sufferers through treatment, investigating the effectiveness of outcomes linked with mindfulness.

The results suggested the treatment program was more effective for those with higher levels of mindfulness initially, though all patients in the treatment program improved in mindfulness levels and had a reduction in experiential avoidance.

The results support the notion that PTSD vulnerability is heightened with higher levels of experiential avoidance, and greater resilience and treatment is gained with higher mindfulness levels.

To develop a resistance to PTSD, mindfulness practice is suggested, this can be achieved through vigorous mindfulness practice, or through mindful living. The younger this resilience is established the better for the individual. Earlier practice of mindfulness leads to emotionally healthier adults, therefore, the introduction of mindfulness into schools currently is likely to have significant positive effects for generations to come.

For those already suffering PTSD, mindfulness is an essential tool to assist coping with internal distress, reduce avoidance and assist treatment. As PTSD is considered difficult to treat due to high dropout rates, mindfulness can assist sufferers handle treatment and gain the best outcomes.

The most effective treatment for PTSD is imaginal exposure therapy, this is traditional exposure therapy (facing your fears gradually) focused on the internal experience of memory, as the feared stimulus is internal. Mindfulness can assist in coping with this experience, and emphasise taking a non-judgmental approach to the self.

If you or a loved one are experiencing PTSD, or wish to understand vulnerabilities and how to develop resilience through mindfulness and meditation, please consider booking an appointment with me to discuss it further.

Dr Rose Gillett clinical psychologistAuthor: Dr Rose Gillett, B Psych (Hons), D Psych (Clin), MAPS.

Dr Rose Gillett is a clinical psychologist, working with children, adolescents, adults and couples. She is passionate about helping her clients achieve their goals, and has particular interest areas in attachment concerns in adults and young people, PTSD, and alcohol and drug addiction.

To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist, Rose Gillett, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.

References

  • Follette, V., Palm, K. , & Pearson, A.  N.  (2006).  Mindfulness and trauma: Implications for treatment.  Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 24, 45-61.
  • Forbes, D., Creamer, M., Phelps, A., Bryant, R., McFarlane, A., Devilly, G. , .  .  .  Newton, S.  (2007).  Australian guidelines for the treatment of adults with acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.  Melbourne, Victoria: Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.
  • Hayes, S. , Wilson, K.  G., Gifford, E.  V., Follette, V.  M., & Strosahl, K.  (1996).  Experiential avoidance and behavioral disorders: A functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 1152-1168.
  • Marcks, B. , & Woods, D.  W.  (2005).  A comparison of thought suppression to an acceptance-based technique in the management of personal intrusive thoughts: A controlled evaluation.  Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 433-445.
  • Marx, B. , & Sloan, D.  M.  (2005).  Peritraumatic dissociation and experiential avoidance as predictors of posttraumatic stress symptomatology.  Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 569-583.
  • Orsillo, S. , & Batten, S.  V.  (2005).  Acceptance and commitment therapy in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder.  Behavior Modification, 29, 95-129.
  • Thompson, B. , & Waltz, J.  (2010).  Mindfulness and experiential avoidance as predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder avoidance symptom severity.  Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24, 409-415.
  • Vujanovic, A. , Youngwirth, N.  E., Johnson, K.  A., & Zvolensky, M.  J.  (2009).  Mindfulness-based acceptance and posttraumatic stress symptoms among trauma-exposed adults without axis I psychopathology.  Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 297-303.