Mind Training Brings Hope to Veterans With PTSD

A technique used to improve mindfulness is being credited with “changing the brains” and easing the symptoms of veterans with PTSD.

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied a group of veterans from wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

After four months of the therapy, many reported their state of mind had improved. The changes were so obvious, they showed up in brain scans.

“The brain findings suggest that mindfulness training may have helped the veterans develop more capacity to shift their attention and get themselves out of being “stuck” in painful cycles of thoughts,” said study author, Anthony King.

The therapy saw the group working with a mindfulness teacher and a psychotherapist. The researchers were surprised by the number of veterans who were willing to give the treatment a try.

“Once we explained the rationale behind mindfulness, which aims to ground and calm a person while also addressing mental phenomena, they were very interested and engaged – more than we expected,” said King. “The approach we took included standard elements of exposure therapy as well as mindfulness, to help lead veterans to be able to process the trauma itself.”

The colourful areas show the two brain regions where veterans trained in mindfulness saw the biggest increases in connections.

Before the therapy, the brain scans showed extra activity in regions involved in responding to threats or outside problems. They’re the regions that fuel an endless loop of hyper-vigilance in people suffering PTSD.

After learning mindfulness, their brains better connected with regions that help shift attention. In other words, they broke the loop and allowed in other thoughts.

“We’re hopeful that this brain signature shows the potential of mindfulness to be helpful for managing PTSD for people who might initially decline therapy involving trauma processing,” said King.

Although the results are promising, he warns the focus group was relatively small and says more study is required.