There are effective psychotherapies for PTSD, but these interventions may not completely resolve PTSD symptoms in some Veterans, and these therapies may not be comfortable or engaging for others. The major focus of the evidence-based therapies for PTSD—Prolonged Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy—is the reduction of negative emotions associated with PTSD. Very often, though, there is also a lack of positive feelings and sense of social isolation that often accompanies PTSD. Dr Ariel Lang, Acting Director of CESAMH, and her collaborators have developed a compassion meditation practice for Veterans with PTSD. They hope that this type of meditation will promote positive emotions and improve social functioning.
Various types of meditation practices are currently being investigated to address the symptoms of PTSD. The main goal of compassion meditation is to foster compassion for and connectedness to other individuals, wishing both oneself and others freedom from suffering and satisfaction with their life. Early studies have shown that the similar practice of “Loving Kindness Meditation” was linked to more positive emotion, better coping, improved resilience and less fear and anger. While promising, more studies testing the effectiveness of these complimentary practices are needed for the general population and for Veterans.
Funded by a grant from NICCIH, Dr. Lang and her colleagues modified Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT ©), a compassion meditation program developed by Geshe Lobsang Negi of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, to appeal specifically to Veterans. Dr. Ariel Lang’s version of compassion meditation for Veterans consists of ten sessions led by Dr. Pollyanna Casmar, a psychologist and expert in meditation training. Veterans learn a basic meditative practice, focusing on breathing and observation of their own thoughts and feelings. Then they are taught methods that lead to an understanding of compassion for oneself and an appreciation of others, and ultimately to active compassion for others. The technique is designed to produce enduring changes to mental patterns and habits.
Dr. Ariel Lang and her colleagues are actively evaluating how acceptable their protocol is to Veterans, and testing to see if it has a positive effect on mental health. Veterans are viewing it favorably, and early results show that it may help reduce PTSD symptoms. Veterans in the study describe that compassion meditation helped them to feel an increased sense of peace and resilience and to think differently about themselves and others.