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Key findings

'Mantram' technique benefits Veterans with PTSD

Mantram maven-Dr. Jill Bormann teaches the Mantram Repetition Program at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. (Photo by Kevin Walsh)
Mantram maven—Dr. Jill Bormann teaches the Mantram Repetition Program at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. (Photo by Kevin Walsh)

A simple "portable" meditative technique boosted spiritual well-being and self-efficacy among Vietnam-era Veterans with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder, reported researchers at the Society of Behavioral Medicine annual meeting in March. The technique has been previously shown to also lessen PTSD symptoms and increase quality-of-life ratings.

Jill Bormann, PhD, RN, reported that her team's six-week Mantram Repetition Program resulted in improvements in "existential spiritual well-being" among the 146 Veterans who completed the program, conducted at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. The program also significantly improved Veterans' scores on a measure of self-efficacy—how confident they felt in their ability to manage their PTSD symptoms.

A mantram, says Bormann, is a word or phrase that is spiritually meaningful to a person. The Veterans in the study were first taught to silently repeat a mantram during non-stressful times throughout the day and before falling asleep. They then learned how to use the mantram when facing stressful situations, such as traffic jams, flashbacks, arguments, or physical pain. The study also taught two related techniques: mentally slowing down, and doing only one thing at a time. Bormann said all three techniques work together to promote a sense of inner calm and wellness.

Bormann points out there are distinctions between "mantram" and the more familiar "mantra," which is often used as an affirmation or motto. The mantram method is based on the work of Indian-born spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, and Bormann has adapted it over the past decade or so for Veterans and other groups.

The Veterans in the study all received usual treatment—medication and case management. VA also offers psychotherapy for PTSD, including prolonged exposure therapy, but the Veterans in the study had not yet engaged in this treatment. One group was randomly assigned to do the mantram technique in addition to usual treatment. Then, the groups were switched, so all the Veterans in the study had the opportunity to take part in the mantram program.

Bormann says mantram repetition differs from many other relaxation or meditation techniques in that it can be used discreetly anywhere, anytime—even in traffic, for example, or in line at the supermarket. "It's personal, portable, and invisible," she says. "It's a non-drug approach that is safe, immediately available, and inexpensive."

Her past studies have found positive effects from the technique among Veterans with chronic illness, family caregivers, and VA employees. Her group recently launched a new study of 324 Veterans with PTSD that will compare the Mantram Repetition Program delivered on a one-to-one basis over eight weeks to a form of psychotherapy called present-centered individual therapy.

The completed trial was funded by the Nursing Research Initiative of VA's Health Services Research and Development Service. Bormann collaborated with researchers from VA's San Diego-based Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health; the University of California, San Diego; and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

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