NEW STUDY: Relieving trauma symptoms in prisoners with Transcendental Meditation
October 10, 2016
A new study has established that Transcendental Meditation is a powerful tool for reducing trauma symptoms in prison inmates. Of the 181 moderate- to high-risk prisoners studied in two Oregon facilities, those who were randomly assigned to learn Transcendental Meditation experienced significant decrease in symptoms such as anxiety, depression, dissociation and sleep disorders compared to those in the non-meditating control group.
The study, published in The Permanente Journal carries special significance in the light of another recent research highlighting that prisoners have one of the highest rates of trauma of any segment of society. 85 percent of inmates – four times more than the general public – have been victims of a crime-related event, such as robbery or home invasion, or physical or sexual abuse.
Trauma symptoms, in turn, are found to be associated with higher rates of returning to the criminal life as well as poor decision making and mental and physical health problems of various kinds. Even while in prison, inmate’s ability to make the most of the rehabilitation opportunities could be hampered by the trauma induced behavioral problems.
Considering this negative loop in which those incarcerated are in danger of staying trapped in, the researchers tried to find a remedy for alleviating the debilitating trauma symptoms that are rampant among prisoners.
Dr. Sanford Nidich, the leading author of the study, explained why Transcendental Meditation was chosen as the means of intervention: “Previous published studies have shown that Transcendental Meditation decreases hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, responsible for such processes as the ‘fight or flight response.’”
“These kinds of changes from an overly aroused style of functioning to a more healthy, stable condition of physiological functioning may help explain how TM practice reduces trauma symptoms. Brain imaging studies and other psychophysiological research have shown that TM meditators have less reactivity to stressful stimuli, further indicating a more stable and balanced style of functioning.”
Indeed, the results from two standardized instruments, The Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale, showed 47 percent decrease in total trauma symptoms in inmates practicing Transcendental Meditation over the course of the 4-month duration of the study.
For prisoners with the most severe trauma symptoms as measured in the beginning of the study, the reduction in anxiety, depression, dissociation and sleep disorders was even more pronounced 56% on average.
Another encouraging finding was the compliance rate of the TM group where 88% of the inmates completed the seven-step TM course and more than 80% practiced TM daily regularly.
“I have watched inmates learn transcendental meditation and become more human after a long and isolating period of becoming less human,” Dr. Tom O’Conner, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Western Oregon University and the study’s co-author said.
“TM helps to awaken, deepen, and solidify the kind of transformational process that we so badly need in our overburdened and costly correctional system.”
Dr. Nidich added, “To date this is the largest randomized controlled trial with the Transcendental Meditation program on trauma symptoms. These findings, along with previous published research on veterans, active military personnel, international refugees, and other at-risk populations provide support for the value of the Transcendental Meditation program as an alternative treatment for posttraumatic stress.”
One of the participants in the study described his experiences with Transcendental Meditation as follows: “As I entered the 24th year behind bars I had come to grips with most of the demons of the past but still felt fragmented.
Recently I was given the chance to learn TM.
As the weeks passed that sense of fragmentation started to flow into something deeper and new. A quiet that feels so natural and restful that I feel like I’ve finally come home. To a place where things make sense and I’m just happy. The pains of my life haven’t gone away, just feels like I’ve grown beyond them.”