Improve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Compassion Meditation
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“self-compassion provides a promising vision for trauma treatment . . . Self-compassion is strongly linked to emotional well-being, is an important mechanism of change in psychotherapy, and touches the core of trauma related symptomatology.” – Christopher Germer
Experiencing trauma is quite common. It has been estimated that 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a significant traumatic event during their lifetime. But only a fraction will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But this still results in a frightening number of people with 7%-8% of the population developing PTSD at some point in their life.
PTSD involves a number of troubling symptoms including reliving the event with the same fear and horror in nightmares or with a flashback. PTSD sufferers avoid situations that remind them of the event this may include crowds, driving, movies, etc. and may avoid seeking help because it keeps them from having to think or talk about the event. They often experience negative changes in beliefs and feelings including difficulty experiencing positive or loving feelings toward other people, avoiding relationships, memory difficulties, or see the world as dangerous and no one can be trusted. Sufferers may feel hyperarousal, feeling keyed up and jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. They may experience sudden anger or irritability, may have a hard time sleeping or concentrating, may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
Obviously, these are troubling symptoms that need to be addressed. There are a number of therapies that have been developed to treat PTSD. One of which, mindfulness training has been found to be particularly effective. Increasing self-compassion is important for improvement in PTSD symptoms. Mindfulness has been shown to increase self-compassion. So, it makes sense to explore the relationships between mindfulness, self-compassion, and PTSD symptoms.
In today’s Research News article “Compassion Meditation for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): a Nonrandomized Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7223870/) Lang and colleagues recruited veterans who were diagnosed with PTSD. They were provided with 8-10 sessions of 1.5-2 hours of group Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT) with daily meditation homework. CBCT was developed with a standardized manual and includes a set of meditation practices designed to increase attention to the present moment and compassion for self and others. The participants were measured before and after the training for PTSD symptoms, emotional experiences, social connectedness, and self-compassion including self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness, self-judgment, isolation, and over-identification subscales. They were measured after the intervention for satisfaction with the intervention and semi-structured interviews about the understandability, applicability, and efficacy of the intervention.
They found that in comparison to baseline after treatment there was a large significant reduction in PTSD symptoms and depression. Surprisingly, there were no significant changes in positive and negative emotions or self-compassion. 61% of the veterans completed 6 or more sessions and they indicated overall satisfaction with the Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT) intervention.
This was a pilot feasibility study without a control group. So, conclusions have to be reached cautiously. But the intent of the study was to establish feasibility and acceptability of the new intervention and was successful at that. It also provided preliminary evidence that the Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT) intervention was safe and effective for veterans diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These results provide the empirical basis justifying a large randomized controlled trial in the future.
So, improve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with compassion meditation.
“increases in self-compassion, notably self-kindness and mindfulness, were associated with decreases in PTSD symptoms.” – NICABM
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Lang, A. J., Casmar, P., Hurst, S., Harrison, T., Golshan, S., Good, R., Essex, M., & Negi, L. (2020). Compassion Meditation for Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): a Nonrandomized Study. Mindfulness, 11(1), 63–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0866-z
Compassion meditation (CM) is a contemplative practice that is intended to cultivate the ability to extend and sustain compassion toward self and others. Although research documents the benefits of CM in healthy populations, its use in the context of psychopathology is largely unexamined. The purpose of this study was to refine and initially evaluate a CM protocol, Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT®), for use with Veterans with PTSD. To this end, our research team developed and refined a manualized protocol, CBCT-Vet, over 4 sets of groups involving 36 Veterans. This protocol was delivered in 8–10 sessions, each lasting 90–120 min and led by a CBCT®-trained clinical psychologist. Quantitative and qualitative data were used to identify areas to be improved and to assess change that occurred during the treatment period. Based on pooled data from this series of groups, CM appears to be acceptable to Veterans with PTSD. Group participation was associated with reduced symptoms of PTSD (partial eta squared = .27) and depression (partial eta squared = .19), but causality should not be inferred given the nonrandomized design. No change was observed in additional outcomes, including positive emotion and social connectedness. The results of this open trial support additional exploration of CM as part of the recovery process for Veterans with PTSD.