According to results of a trial, children enrolled in a twelve-week mind body program experienced significant and long-lasting symptomatic relief from PTSD. The results mark a first-ever trial treating a traumatized population without using drugs. The children enrolled in the study experienced PTSD following the war in Kosovo, and all showed decreased levels of avoidance, flashbacks, nightmares and numbing, all symptoms of stress, immediately and three months following the program.
Investigators at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, in Washington, DC enrolled the children in a twelve-week program, delivered by trained individuals rather than healthcare workers. Principal investigator James Gordon, MD, to Medscape Psychiatry, says, "We've shown this approach produces statistically significant reductions in symptoms of PTSD in a severely traumatized population. Importantly, we've also shown that it can be effectively delivered by trained individuals who don't necessarily have to have a psychiatric or medical background." Training non-medical personnel is expected to allow more widespread delivery of care, Dr. Gordon explains, "It's very important to be able to train teachers, community leaders, religious leaders, and others to do this work, so that we can disseminate this program to large numbers of people who have experienced war, epidemics, or other types of disasters."
Modalities used to treat the children involved a comprehensive approach designed to teach self-care rather than reliance on a therapist. According to Dr. Gordon, "We believe this program really helps people mobilize their capacity to help themselves, a highly valued part of the psychiatric tradition that is often underutilized." The program used meditation; guided imagery; breathing techniques; self-expression through words, drawings, and movement; autogenic training and biofeedback; and genograms. .
Two groups included 82 high school students who lived in Surahreka in 1999. During that time, twenty percent of the children lost one or both parents, and ninety percent of homes were bombed or burned. One year later twenty-five percent of Kosovar Albanians over age 15 reported symptoms of PTSD. The prevalence of PTSD reported in the region was forty-five percent.
One group was assigned immediate intervention, the other to a waiting list. Interestingly, the group awaiting therapy also reported relief of PTSD symptoms, even before starting the program, as determined by the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ). Dr. Gordon says, "The best explanation for this is that these children knew they were going to be in the program, which has a very good reputation, and that this led to a certain degree of hopeful anticipation that, in turn, led to a reduction in these particular symptoms."
The program was developed over a period of thirty-five years, and has been used to help inner-city children, those with cancer, HIV, and chronic pain. Worldwide, 3000 healthcare workers have been taught the program. The US military is interested in using the program to treat veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Dr. Gordon’s book, Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression explains the program in detail.
Many patients are resistant to medication and traditional psychotherapy may not always work. The successful outcomes seen in the current trial, using mind-body techniques in highly traumatized children, provides a valuable alternative for treatment of PTSD.
Source: J Clin Psychiatry. Published online August 12, 2008.
Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Postwar Kosovo High School Students Using Mind–Body Skills Groups: A Pilot Study