Tibetan meditation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Miami and Ohio State university researchers are using an ancient technique to investigate the impact of Tibetan meditation on victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

With a $98,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health, Deborah Akers, Miami visiting assistant professor of anthropology, is working with co-researchers from Ohio State on a project titled “Treatment of Trauma Survivors: Effects of Meditation Practice on Clients’ Mental Health Outcomes.”

Akers and co-researchers Moyee Lee, professor of social work, and Amy Zaharlick, professor of anthropology, are working with women diagnosed with PTSD who live in Amethyst House, a women’s treatment program for alcohol and drug addiction in Columbus. Tibetan monk Geshe Kalsang Damdhul of the Institute of Higher Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, India, will assist as a meditation instructor.

“Participants are being taught specialized meditation techniques and will be guided through meditation for a period of six weeks,” said Akers. Results could then provide a new option for treating other victims of PTSD, such as combat soldiers returning from war or victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

“This project charts new ground, bringing a holistic perspective to the treatment of PTSD,” said Akers. She added that though meditation has been used in a variety of therapeutic settings in the West, such as reducing stress and coping with pain, its application in the treatment of mental illness, including PTSD, has not been extensively explored.

“Whereas in the West treatment of PTSD may require years of prescription medicine and counseling, the Tibetan approach has been successful within one to two years by focusing on the spiritual connection between the mind and the body that seems to allow the patient to process the trauma more effectively,” said Akers. “Moreover, unlike Western medical therapies, meditation is free and can benefit individuals who cannot afford extensive therapy or medicine over long periods of time. The Tibetan approach is empowering, as it offers PTSD patients an alternative and less invasive form of therapy and enables them to participate in their own treatment.”

The project grew from a Miami U. summer field school program, “Peoples and Cultures of Tibet,” conducted in Dharamsala, the residence of the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, and location of the Tibetan government in exile. During the field school, Akers and Miami students learned about how Tibetan monks minister to political prisoners and victims of torture who suffer from PTSD.

Several Miami pre-med and anthropology students are assisting in the Columbus project, gaining hands-on research experience.

“The PTSD research project and the summer field program in Dharamsala exemplify Miami University’s continuing interest in South Asia,” said Akers.

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