Brain changes seen in veterans with PTSD after mindfulness training

  • A small study found mindfulness training had an observable effect on the brains of PTSD sufferers.

A pilot study involving 23 military veterans with PTSD found that those who received mindfulness training showed reduced PTSD symptoms, and brain changes that suggest a greater ability to shift and control attention. Mindfulness training was given to 14 veterans, while the other 9 received ‘control’ group support. Both groups were given brain scans before and after the treatment program.

The initial scan showed that, even during rest, veterans’ brains showed unusual activity in regions involved in responding to threats and other external dangers. After practising mindfulness, the default mode network was not only more active, but also showed stronger connections with the executive network, which is involved in controlling attention. PTSD is associated with reduced executive functioning.

Moreover, veterans responded well to the training, with more of that group sticking with the therapy, compared with the comparison psychotherapy group.

The researchers emphasize, however, that people with PTSD interested in this should seek out providers trained specifically in PTSD care, as mindfulness sessions can sometimes trigger symptoms such as intrusive thoughts to flare up.