Improve Psychological Health of Veterans with a Mantra

Improve Psychological Health of Veterans with a Mantra


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Asking for clarity provides a way to begin to see a path out of the pain of personal issues. With spiritual support the pain begins to be released, the path becomes clearer and the next step to create the rest of life begins to emerge.” – The Merritt Center


Alternative and Complementary techniques have been growing in acceptance and use over the last couple of decades. With good reason. They have been found to be beneficial for physical and mental health. Contemplative practices have been shown to improve health and well-being. These include mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga, mindful movement practices such as tai chi and qigong, and spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer. One ancient practice that is again receiving acceptance and use is mantra practice.


In today’s Research News article “Multi-site evaluation of a complementary, spiritually-based intervention for Veterans: The Mantram Repetition Program”

Butner and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of a form of mantra practice, Mantram Repetition Practice (MRP) on the mindfulness, mental health, and spirituality of veterans. The MRP involves the repetition of a sacred word or phrase over and over again to slow the individual down and produce one-pointed attention. It is effectively a mindfulness meditation practice, except that there are no formal practice periods. The participant is trained to engage in MRP during their daily activities, periodically and as needed, particularly during times of confusion and stress. The individual selects a sacred word or phrase for use in MRP from a list that have particular meaning to them and within their preferred religious practice. Typical Christian words and phrases are “My God and My All”, “Jesus, Jesus”, “Son of God”, “Hail Mary”, “Mother of Jesus”, “Lord Jesus Christ”, “Son of God, have mercy on me.”


Butner and colleagues recruited veterans and measured mindfulness, physical and mental health, and spirituality before and after an 8-week Mantram Repetition Program (MRP) training. The veterans attended weekly training sessions, were encouraged to do homework and to use the MRP during their daily lives. Typical times were while waiting, doing mechanical tasks such as doing dishes, exercising, when encountering annoying situations, while eating, before bed, and to manage unwanted emotions. They found that after 8-weeks of MRP training and practice the veterans demonstrated significantly higher mindfulness and spirituality including greater peace, more meaning in life, and greater faith. After training the veterans also had significant reductions in psychological distress, including reduced somatization, depression and anxiety.


It should be noted that there was not an active control group. Improvement was documented by comparing before to after training scores. Because of the lack of active control, there are many confounding, alternative, explanations for the findings. These include participant expectancy effects, experimenter bias effects, simple improvement over time, occurrences between the beginning and end of the treatment period, etc. The results clearly demonstrate that the veterans improved substantially over the 8-weeks. It will remain for future research to verify that it was the Mantram Repetition Practice (MRP) and not a confounding variable that was responsible for the changes.


These caveats notwithstanding, the finding for MRP are compatible with those produced by other mindfulness programs with the exception of increased spirituality. It is possible that MRP produces its beneficial effects due to its development of mindfulness. Alternatively, spirituality, by itself, has been shown to be related to better physical and psychological health. So, MRP may be effective due to its improvement of spirituality in the veterans. It may also be that the combination of increased mindfulness and increased spirituality improves effectiveness or that the two have additive effects.


So, improve psychological health of veterans with a mantra.


“The veterans experiences with spirituality were real and unique, significantly contributing to growth. They needed the inclusion of Christian spirituality as part of their process in posttraumatic growth, and it was the key element in them moving forward.” – Sharon Flowers


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

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