Doctors, social workers report positive results of meditation

Sunday, June 16, 2013
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Cat Lynch, center, and Kathryn Crago, right, lead a group of veterans through a meditation process at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)
Cat Lynch, center, and Kathryn Crago, right, lead a group of veterans through a meditation process at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)

Officially, the jury may still be out on whether Transcendental Meditation is the best treatment available for sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder. Sarina J. Grosswald, however, has her mind made up.

“In 2004, there was a study that showed meditation produced a dramatic reduction in stress, and that’s what got me focused on the effectiveness of TM in regards to PTSD,” said Grosswald, director of programs for the David Lynch Foundation’s Operation Warrior Wellness. “There was plenty of anecdotal evidence that there were benefits, and now it has been studied extensively, and the research clearly shows that TM can be very effective in the treatment of PTSD.”

Grosswald got her doctorate in education from George Washington University, and has held various posts in the American Medical Women’s Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Association of American Medical Colleges. She was named director of the Warrior Wellness Program when the Lynch Foundation launched its initiative in April of 2011, but she’s been following the results of TM on PTSD patients for much longer.

Stimulating interest

“I started presenting research to the military in 2007 because at that time nobody was talking about it,” said Grosswald, who is based in the Washington, D.C. area. “I met with them and told them that vets with PTSD was really going to become an issue. At this point, the military has not officially adopted TM, but they are interested. They’re not seeing how they can find the funds to pay for it right now, especially with sequestration, but they’re interested.”

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One Denver study put forth by Grosswald showed that patients suffering from post-traumatic stress problems who learned the TM program showed significant reduction in depression after four months, in contrast to others who were randomly assigned to receive psychotherapy.

People seem to be listening. At the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, TM is not one of the alternatives offered to vets, but mindfulness meditation is.

“We started just a few months ago with a small population so all we have is anecdotal evidence,” said Cat Lynch, a clinical social worker who works at the hospital. “But even after a few classes our vets were responding positively, and some told us they were sleeping better.”

While both practices are rooted in much older forms of meditation, TM was created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India in the 1950s, and MM was developed in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a graduate student in molecular biology at MIT. Mindfulness meditation is generally described as the more secular of the two forms with TM typically having a more spiritual aspect.

studying results

According to Peter Potter, a spokesman for the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, the Veterans Administration is closely studying the effects of TM on PTSD sufferers, and is currently sponsoring three programs across the country to collect more research.

“There are 152 medical centers across the country, and in Tampa Bay, Minnesota and California there seems to be real progress being made,” said Potter. “We’re all hoping that between meditation and treatments like acupuncture, yoga and equine therapy we see even more progress. At the VA we have co-op care, which means we provide what we can and we lets the vets choose their own way. If they feel more comfortable with meditation, then we try to offer that to them.”

Lynch, who began working at the VA in December of 2012, is also a licensed yoga instructor.

“My training has been tailored specifically to help reduce anxiety and depression,” she said, who often works with Kathryn Crago, an RN and a yoga instructor. “We do yoga, we do breath work, and at the end of yoga class we’ll do meditation, either sitting down or standing up. It’s all been pretty positive. I haven’t had any negative feedback at all.”

At Stratton, Lynch typically works with small groups of six or seven men, who have also become strong proponents of meditation and yoga.

“I wish we had yoga and meditation every day,” said one vet. “It’s fun. I have learned a lot and I can think before I act more now.”

“It reduces my anxiety and helps me to slow down my thinking,” said another vet. “It helps me to focus and I sleep better.”

Mindfulness meditation may be bit simpler to implement in a place like a VA hospital than Transcendental Meditation, according to Lynch, and while she prefers MM, she has no particular issue with TM. She sees all types of meditation as beneficial, as long as patients are closely monitored by professionals.

“The length of meditation time can be important, and sometimes doing it with your eyes closed can be harmful to people and trigger more anxiety,” she said. “Yes, meditation in general is a good thing, but there has to be some strict rules you follow. You don’t want to be triggering people’s anxiety.”

Better alternative

Grosswald, too, sees any type of meditation as being beneficial, but she argues that TM is the better alternative.

“There are VA’s that are offering a technique that in some ways is easier to implement, at least from their standpoint,” said Grosswald, referring to the use of MM at some hospitals. “TM is a different model. It’s taught one on one with each person getting some initial instruction and then going through seven steps. It does make it a bit harder to have widespread implementation, but the research, much of it funded by the Lynch Foundation, shows that with TM the difference in results is dramatic.”

David Lynch is an award-winning film director, writer and producer whose works include “The Elephant Man,” “Blue Velvet,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Twin Peaks.” He created his foundation in 2005 to help at-risk populations deal with PTSD and other stress-related issues, such as suicide, homelessness, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Much of the money raised by the organization has gone to help fund university and medical school research on TM.

Gaining adherents

“We have social workers contacting us saying that they not only want to refer more patients to it, but they also want to learn more about it for themselves,” said Grosswald.

“We know that we had vets who couldn’t manage their anger and couldn’t maintain their attention and focus on their jobs, and these people are now being helped. In the past nobody was really willing to talk about this and break the mold, so to speak. Now, more people are willing to give it a try and they’re seeing great results.”

Inquiries about TM were made to Albany Medical Center, Ellis Hospital and the New York State Office of Mental Health, but officials there declined comment.

 

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