Mindfulfulness for Trauma Recovery

Mindfulness teaches us to re-orientate our lives so that we can enjoy them to the full. Those who practice mindfulness become more aware in securing a healthy balance between doing and being, and becoming fully attentive to the present moment. It is a method by we can use to take care of ourselves with compassion. Mindfulness practice allows us to engage fully in the ‘here and now’ as opposed to what ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be. By giving our fears and anxieties our attention, we can shift our relationship with them rather than compulsively running away. Mindfulness is a means towards an awakening to breaking the cycle of the life patterns of self-destruction. 

Through the practice and development of mindfulness, we can learn to take responsibility for our own thoughts and emotional reactions and begin to stop blaming other situations or people for how we feel or felt.  In his 2012 book “Love letter to the Earth”, Thich Nhat Hanh defined mindfulness as “a non-judgemental awareness of all that is happening inside and around us. It takes us back to the foundation of happiness, which is being present in the here and now. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something”. A key principle of mindfulness includes being with, and tolerating, what is painful and challenging in our lives. Mindfulness guides us towards acknowledging the struggle and pain and start accepting it as opposed to denying it. By not resisting, we can be with our suffering and bring compassion to our pain. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychiatric condition that can manifest itself through a set of signs and symptoms including; vivid flashbacks, intrusive images or thoughts, nightmares, hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, difficulty in concentrating, feelings of anxiety, emotional avoidance and overwhelming feelings of anger, sadness, guilt or shame. 

Scanning techniques can be used to measure changes in the brain brought about by trauma.  Research shows specific changes in parts of the brain associated with learning difficulties and memory, and more reactive and weaker neural connections between the hemispheres (Perry and Szalavitz, 2006 and Badenoch, 2008).

Research has shown that mindfulness has been effective when used in stress reduction practices. Recent research has also suggested that mindfulness can be used for sufferers of PTSD and may help to alleviate the relationship between post-traumatic distress and maladaptive thinking. When mindfulness is applied to address the painful emotions and negative mental states associated with PTSD, sufferers can acquire the necessary tools to work through them. 

Primarily, mindfulness gathers awareness of the negative states of mind. Earlier awareness of painful states gives sufferers a head start in the recovery process, as many sufferers of PTSD only become aware of them when they become too intense. Mindfulness can teach individuals to be able to contain painful emotional states, by teaching them ways to sit with these states with kindness, non-judgement and acceptance. This step in mindfulness attempts to help sufferers not act from negative and painful emotional states in unnecessary ways, by processing these emotions safely. Mindfulness allows sufferers to learn self awareness from one minute to the next, thus gradually gaining space around emotional and thought patterns. 

A 2018 study published in “The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience” reviewed evidence from various studies on mindfulness-based approaches to treating PTSD. Findings revealed that these approaches target several core features of PTSD, including; emotional numbing, hyperarousal, avoidance, negative emotions such as shame and guilt, and dissociation (Banks et al 2015). Researchers also discussed components of mindfulness that may promote recovery from PTSD, including attention, a mindful cognitive style, and non-judgment. Specifically, the authors explain how, through mindful based interventions, PTSD sufferers can intentionally shift their attention to the present moment thus creating a capacity for attentional control which may lead to reductions in attentional bias to trauma-related stimuli (Lang et al 2002). 

In 2012, Lang et al concluded that mindful based approaches can potentially reduce ruminative tendencies, leading to reductions in anxious arousal and anhedonia, and a nonjudgmental outlook may promote a willingness to approach fear-provoking stimuli, leading to reduced avoidance.  Follette et al (2006) describe avoidance behaviour and patterns of emotional numbing and suppression of intrusive thoughts among individuals with PTSD as the opposite of mindful behaviour, suggesting that non-judgmental acceptance of thoughts, experiences and emotions which are taught through mindfulness have the opportunity to reduce these symptoms.

Jon Kabat-Zin who developed the use of mindfulness, and created the mindfulness-based stress reduction programme, accumulated research evidence to support positive outcomes on heart rate and blood pressure.  Mindfulness is already recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had 3 or more bouts of depression in the past (2018 updated guidelines). As research continues mindfulness may well feature in further Government policies in the very near future. With the use of mindfulness for PTSD recovery, more and more sufferers are discovering that something they believed was permanent is changeable, as they experience freedom from emotional suffering. 

If you have a client, or know of someone who would benefit from PTSD treatment, using mindfulness as a healing modality – reach out to Khiron. We believe that we can stop the revolving door of treatment and misdiagnosis by providing effective residential and out-patient therapies for underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to effective, long lasting recovery. For information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).

Sources:

Badenoch, B., (2008). Brain to Brain: Applying the Wisdom of Neuroscience in Your Practice.Psychotherapy Networker Sept- Oct

Banks K, Newman E, Saleem J. An overview of the research on mindfulness-based interventions for treating symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder: a systematic review. J Clin Psychol. 2015;71:935–63.

Follette V, Palm KM, Pearson AN. Mindfulness and trauma: implications for treatment. J Ration-Emot Cogn-Behav Ther. 2006;24:45–61

Lang AJ, Strauss JL, Bomyea J, et al. The theoretical and empirical basis for meditation as an intervention for PTSD. Behav Modif. 2012;36:759–86.

Lucas. C. Alcohol Recovery, The Mindful Way. (20017). Sheldon Press. London. 

Mellody. P. Facing Co-dependence. (2003). Harper Collins. New York. 

Nhat Hanh, T (2013) Love Letter To The Earth. Parallax Press. Berkeley, California. 

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2018). Depression in adults: recognition and management. Clinical guideline [CG90] Published date: October 2009 Last updated: April 2018. 

Perry, Bruce D., (1999) “Memories of Fear: How the Brain Stores and Retrieves Physiologic States, Feelings, Behaviors and Thoughts from Traumatic Events” in The Child Trauma Academy

Williams M, Penman D. Mindfulness, A Practical Guide To Finding Peace in A Frantic World. (2011). Piatkus. London.

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