Mindfulness Training Reduces Posttraumatic Stress Among Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“People with PTSD may sometimes feel as though they have a hard time getting any distance from unpleasant thoughts and memories. . . Mindfulness may help people get back in touch with the present moment, as well as reduce the extent with which they feel controlled by unpleasant thoughts and memories.” – Matthew Tull
The human tendency to lash out with aggression when threatened was adaptive for the evolution of the species. It helped promote the survival of the individual, the family, and the tribe. In the modern world, however, this trait has become more of a problem than an asset. These violent and aggressive tendencies can lead to violence directed to intimate partners, including sexual and physical violence. In the U.S. there are over 5 million cases of domestic violence reported annually. Indeed, it has been estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced physical violence and 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner.
Intimate partner violence frequently produces Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in the survivors. Hence, there is a need to find ways to reduce the impact of intimate partner violence on the mental health of the survivors. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. Hence, mindfulness training may be effective in treating survivors of intimate partner violence.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of mindfulness training on posttraumatic stress symptoms from a community-based pilot clinical trial among survivors of intimate partner violence.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8052636/ ) In a small pilot study, Gallegos and colleagues recruited, through family court, women who were survivors of intimate partner violence. They were randomly assigned to receive either an 8-week program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) or wellness education. MBSR met once a week for 2 hours and consisted of meditation, body scan, and yoga practices along with discussion and home practice. For wellness education the participants were provided a manual that provided information on various aspects of health, including diet, physical activity, sleep, stress management, and communication. They received a weekly check-in phone calls regarding the use of the manual. The participants were measured before and after training and 4-weeks later for physical and sexual assault experiences, post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotion regulation, and attention. They also had their heart rate variability measured at rest and during exposure to positive, neutral, or negative (trauma related) pictures.
They found that in comparison to baseline, the women who received mindfulness training had significantly lower levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and higher levels of emotion regulation, while the wellness education participants did not. This was true immediately after treatment and also 4 weeks later. There were also non-significant increases in heart rate variability while viewing trauma-related pictures in the mindfulness group and decreases in the wellness education group.
This is a pilot study of a small sample (29 women) and was not powered to detect significant differences between groups. The results, however were encouraging, suggesting that mindfulness training tends to relieve the symptoms of trauma, improve emotion regulation and produce relaxation of the autonomic nervous system in women who were survivors of intimate partner violence. In previous research it has been shown that mindfulness training reduces post-traumatic stress symptoms, improves emotion regulation, and relaxes the autonomic nervous system. The contribution of the present study is to suggest that mindfulness training might also be effective in the treatment of women who have survived intimate partner violence. The results, then, suggest that a large randomized controlled trial should be conducted,
So, reduce posttraumatic stress among survivors of intimate partner violence with mindfulness.
“PTSD is really a different way of seeing the world, and is also seen at the level of physiology. But by going through a couple of months of making an effort to change thoughts and behaviors, that physiological syndrome can also change back again.” – Tony King
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Gallegos, A. M., Heffner, K. L., Cerulli, C., Luck, P., McGuinness, S., & Pigeon, W. R. (2020). Effects of mindfulness training on posttraumatic stress symptoms from a community-based pilot clinical trial among survivors of intimate partner violence. Psychological trauma : theory, research, practice and policy, 12(8), 859–868. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000975
Exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health issue associated with deleterious mental and medical health comorbidities, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The hallmark symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTS), even when not meeting the threshold for a diagnosis of PTSD, appear to be underpinned by poor self-regulation in multiple domains, including emotion, cognitive control, and physiological stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) holds promise for treating PTS symptoms because evidence suggests it targets these domains. The current study was a pilot randomized clinical trial designed to examine changes in emotion regulation, attentional function, and physiological stress dysregulation among women IPV survivors with elevated PTS symptoms after participation in a group-based, 8-week MBSR program.
In total, 29 participants were randomized to receive MBSR (n = 19) or an active control (n = 10). Assessments were conducted at study entry, as well as 8 and 12 weeks later.
Between-group differences on primary outcomes were nonsignificant; however, when exploring within groups, statistically significant decreases in PTS symptoms, F(1.37, 16.53) = 5.19, p < .05, and emotion dysregulation, F(1.31, 14.46) = 9.36, p < .01, were observed after MBSR but not after the control intervention. Further, decreases in PTSD and emotion dysregulation were clinically significant for MBSR participants but not control participants.
These preliminary data signal that MBSR may improve PTS symptoms and emotion regulation and suggest further study of the effectiveness of PTSD interventions guided by integrative models of MBSR mechanisms and psychophysiological models of stress regulation.