Compassion Meditation for PTSD in Veterans: A Randomized Proof of Concept Study
Ariel J Lang, PhD, MPH & Anne Malaktaris, PhD
March 27, 2019
Worldwide, complementary and alternative practices are commonly used to support physical and mental health. Meditation, in particular, is growing in popularity (https://nccih.nih.gov/news/press/More-adults-and-children-are-using-yoga-and-meditation), and various types of meditation may be useful for addressing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Lang et al., 2012). This strong consumer demand makes it critically important that we rigorously evaluate the usefulness of such interventions. Compassion meditation (CM) is a contemplative meditative practice that aims to foster compassion for the self and others. By exploring the concept of common humanity through weekly meditative practice, participants may develop a heart-felt wish that all people be free of suffering and find satisfaction in their lives. We previously developed a manualized version of this practice for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The purpose of this study was to determine whether veterans would find our CM protocol to be an acceptable approach for addressing their PTSD and whether the practice holds promise for providing symptom relief. To accomplish this, veterans who were seeking care for PTSD at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility were randomly assigned to one of two treatments, CM or a relaxation-based control. These interventions were delivered in 10 weekly 90-minute group sessions led by a trained therapist, and participants in both conditions completed homework between sessions. Reactions to the groups and mental health symptoms were assessed before, during and after the interventions. Veterans found both types of treatment to be credible approaches for treating PTSD, and there were no group differences in engagement in treatment or satisfaction with the program. As compared to those in the control condition, participants who engaged in CM showed greater reductions in PTSD symptoms and depression; these changes were clinically meaningful. In addition, CM led to greater increases in social connectedness and empathy and decreases in rumination, suggesting some processes that may underlie the observed clinical changes. This pilot study should be replicated and extended before recommending CM as a treatment for PTSD, but the approach appears promising. More broadly, it will be important to understand the optimal role of strategies like meditation in an integrative recovery plan. For some, mind-body treatments may provide an alternative to standard care. More commonly, however, these practices may become an adjunct to standard care and allow for more complete recovery.
Lang, A. J., Strauss, J. L., Bomyea, J., Bormann, J. E., Hickman, S. D., Good, R. C., & Essex, M. (2012). The theoretical and empirical basis for meditation as an intervention for PTSD. Behav Modif, 36(6), 759-786. doi: 10.1177/0145445512441200
Lang, A. J., Malaktaris, A. L., Casmar, P., Baca, S. A., Golshan, S., Harrison, T., & Negi, L. (2019). Compassion Meditation for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans: A Randomized Proof of Concept Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress.
1. What makes compassion an important concept for individuals who have experienced traumatic events?
2. How might meditation be applied to support trauma-focused psychotherapy?
3. Aside from symptom change, what outcomes are most important when examining the effect of mind-body practices?
Ariel Lang is the Acting Director of the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH) at the VA San Diego Healthcare System and a Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry & Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California San Diego. Her long-standing interest is in novel psychotherapeutic approaches for trauma-related disorders.
Anne Malaktaris is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health (CESAMH), VA San Diego Healthcare System. Her specialization is in the phenomenology and treatment of posttraumatic conditions with an emphasis on complementary and integrative health approaches, including meditation.