Mindfulness Meditation and Psychotherapy: 7 Posts and Helpful Links

1.  11 Misconceptions About Mindfulness Meditation.  Touches upon some of the common misconceptions about mindfulness practices. Also includes a link to a recommended (and free) book about mindfulness.

2.  Mindfulness: How is it Relevant to Psychotherapy.  Why mindfulness can be relevant in psychotherapy — and what sorts of problems is it helpful with?

3.  Am I Meditating Correctly?  A nice quote from Norman Fischer, and a recommended link for beginners and the curious at Mindful.org.

4.  11 Definitions of Mindfulness.  A collection of definitions, many from scholarly and research literature. Also a couple of resources, including a link to a New York Times article: How Meditation May Change the Brain.

5.  Using Mindfulness Meditation for ADHD.  Touches upon some interesting points, including the one that “not all adults with ADHD benefit from medication.”

6.  Mapping the Mindful Brain.  For those that like a science mixed in with their meditation. Judson Brewer has done some fascinating research using fMRI scans that looks into the relationship between preoccupied thinking about oneself and happiness. Very interesting.

7.  Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together.  Video presentation by Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, includes some well laid out and interesting information on the negativity bias of the brain and how it contributes to stress. Well worth the view.

Videogame Treatment for PTSD?

A little fluff I chanced upon over at the Mind Hacks website, regarding the “psychology of Tetris.” It even includes a link to a Psychology Today article about the possibility of using video games such as Tetris to prevent flashbacks in people suffering with PTSD. Here’s the quote from Mind Hacks:

The writer Jeffrey Goldsmith was so obsessed with Tetris that he wrote a famous article asking if the game’s creator Alexey Pajitnov had invented “a pharmatronic?” – a video game with the potency of an addictive drug. Some people say that after playing the game for hours they see falling blocks in their dreams or buildings move together in the street – a phenomenon known as the Tetris Effect. Such is its mental pull, there’s even been the suggestion that the game might be able to prevent flashbacks in people with PTSD.

The theory, as noted in the Psychology Today article, is that an “intensive mental task” might actually be able to “compete successfully” with the development of flashbacks. From that article, which you might find interesting:

In their experiment, volunteers were shown a brief video with traumatic scenes of violence and death, and half of them were then assigned to play Tetris for 10 minutes, the other half (the controls) were told to sit quietly, doing nothing. At followup a week later, the Tetris players had fewer flashbacks and lower scores on measures of trauma impact. Holmes concluded, “strategic, selective interference with the consolidation of recently triggered visual memories occurs via the demand on the player’s limited visuospatial working memory resources.”

Informative New York Times Piece on Trauma

This clip, from yesterday’s New York Times. The piece was sent my way, and I wanted to pass it on: “For Veterans, a Surge of New Treatments for Trauma.” It’s a rich article that covers a lot of ground in a short space. It might serve either as a primer on trauma or an update on recent treatments for the otherwise informed. It roams from the causes of trauma, to the rash of suicides the army is currently experiencing and their campaign to end the stigma of traumatic stress, to a recent wave of mind-body treatments now being successfully employed, and touches upon the prevalence of traumatic brain injury among those with traumatic stress, mentions the Center for Mind-Body Medicine — in other words, it’s a cornucopia of useful and interesting information.

Here’s a quote:

You name it, and it’s being used somewhere in the veterans’ health system: The National Intrepid Center in Washington is one of many places using acupuncture to treat stress-related anxiety and sleep disorders; it has been shown to be effective against PTSD. At the New Orleans V.A., the same clinicians who ran Trin’s group also did a small study using yoga. They found vets liked it and attendance was excellent. The yoga reduced the veterans’ hyperarousal and helped them sleep. There is even a group in the Puget Sound V.A. Hospital in Seattle that treats PTSD — including among Navy Seals — using the Buddhist practice of “loving kindness meditation.” (“We had a little bit of debate about changing the name,” said Dr. David Kearney, who led the group. “But we decided to keep it, and it worked out just fine.”)

Questions and Answers: Trauma

Q. What Causes Psychological Trauma?

A. Trauma is the result of being exposed to extreme, often life-threatening stress that is accompanied by a an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Examples of incidents that might lead to trauma include:

  • rape
  • sexual abuse
  • domestic violence
  • military combat

Q. Are there any other causes of trauma?

A. Yes. Because what causes something to be traumatic is partly related to perception, many events can cause traumatic stress. Some less obvious examples include:

  • sports injury
  • life threatening illness
  • invasive surgery
  • car accident
  • bullying
  • sudden death of a loved one
  • ongoing, relentless stress
  • earthquake or flood
  • neglect

Q. Okay, what are some signs that someone has traumatic stress?

A. There are a number of flags that might indicate trauma, such as:

  • difficulty functioning at work
  • terrifying nightmares or flashbacks
  • avoidant behavior (often related to the circumstances of the trauma)
  • difficulty with relationships
  • severe anxiety or depression
  • abuse of alcohol or drugs

Q. Any specific symptoms?

A. Yes, while many symptoms of traumatic stress overlap with depression and anxiety, there are a few key signs to look for. When such symptoms occur in clusters there is a likelihood of trauma. Such symptoms include:

  • shock
  • numbness
  • social withdrawal
  • confusion
  • fearfulness
  • panic attacks
  • recurrent nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • self-blame

Q. Can trauma really affect my health?

A. Yes, there are two medical outcomes related to trauma:

  • Higher rates of health problems
  • Higher rates of unhealthy behavior

Q. What health problems are associated with psychological trauma?

A. Research has linked trauma to increased rates of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • poor immune function

Q.  What about unhealthy behaviors?

A.  People suffering with the after effects of trauma tend to have:

  • poor dietary habits
  • obesity
  • abuse of tobacco, alcohol, drugs

Q. Any other problems associated with trauma?

A. Yes, because unhealthy behaviors and health problems tend to reinforce one another, trauma patients tend to end up in the doctor’s office more frequently:

  • have higher rates of outpatient visits to ER
  • have higher rates of primary care visits
  • have higher rates of surgery procedures
  • they also have higher rates of depression
  • tend to cope by avoiding things which leads to greater cardiovascular reactivity, and impaired immune function

Q. Is there an effective treatment for trauma?

A. Yes! If trauma is properly diagnosed it can be treated effectively. But trauma is best treated by a mental health professional with a specialty in treating trauma.

John Huston’s Film About Psychiatric Treatment of Veterans

When I went to the Soldier’s Project conference, one of the speakers said, “If you haven’t seen that film, you’ve been living in the dark.” Produced in 1945 at the request of the US Army, the film was subsequently banned until 1981. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation by the national film registry. Here’s a link to the film, as well as the text from part of the main intro.

The guns are quiet now, the papers of peace have been signed. And the oceans of the earth are filled with ships coming home. In faraway places men dreamed of this moment, but for some men the moment is very different from the dream. Here is human salvage, the final result of all that metal and fire can do to violate mortal flesh. Some wear the badges of their pain, the crutches, the bandages, the splints. Others show no outward signs, yet they too are wounded. This hospital is one of the many for the care and treatment of the psychoneurotic soldier. These are the casualties of the spirit, the troubled in mind, men who are damaged emotionally. Born and bred in peace, educated to hate war, they were plunged overnight into sudden and terrible situations. Every man has his breaking point and these in the fulfillment of their duties as soldiers were forced beyond the limit of human endurance.

Causes of Trauma and PTSD: Common and Less Common

Trauma occurs when we are exposed to extremely an stressful situation accompanied by a feeling of helplessness. Common examples of experiences which cause trauma are rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and military combat. But not everyone exposed to trauma develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And trauma does not always arise from the causes mentioned above. Here’s a brief list of events that may also result in traumatic stress:

  • sports injury
  • car accident
  • life-threatening illness
  • surgery
  • the sudden death of someone close
  • a breakup
  • ongoing relentless stress
  • natural disasters such as earthquake or flood
  • neglect
  • bullying

Fortunately, we have some good treatments for trauma and PTSD. Talk therapy can be helpful, especially for chronic, on-going trauma such as may occur during childhood. But sometimes talk is not enough. Various exposure treatments, such as EMDR, can be effective in reducing and even eliminating some of the most bothersome symptoms of trauma such as flashbacks, panic attacks, and nightmares.

Curious about treatment for trauma or PTSD? I am trained in and practice EMDR, a well researched trauma treatment. Please click on the ‘EMDR’ link in the ‘ABOUT’ section in the right-hand column of this website for more information.

If Stress Is Bad For Your Health, Trauma Is Really Bad

Here’s the abstract from an article, “Psychological Trauma and Physical Health: A Psychoneuroimmunology Approach to Etiology of Negative Health Effects and Possible Interventions” (2009) by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, and Policy. Quite a mouthful! What it means is: “Trauma Is Bad For Your Health”. You could also read it as “Stress Is Bad For Your Health” — keeping in mind that trauma is an extreme form of long-term stress. Sometimes an abstract (the short version of a scientific article) says so much. I’ve put some of the key points in bold, since I know you are busy.

People who have experienced traumatic events have higher rates than the general population of a wide range of serious and life-threatening illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer. An important question, for both researchers and clinicians, is why this occurs. Researchers have discovered that traumatic events dysregulate the hypothalamic pituitary-adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system. More recently, research from the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) suggests that traumatic life events can lead to health problems through dysregulation of another key system: the inflammatory response. Prior trauma “primes” the inflammatory response system so that it reacts more rapidly to subsequent life stressors. Elevated inflammation has an etiologic role in many chronic illnesses. Recent PNI studies also suggest some interventions that can serve as adjuncts to traditional trauma treatment. These treatments include long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, and sleep interventions. Each of these interventions downregulates inflammation, which will likely halt the progression to chronic disease for some trauma survivors.

The take-home point, if you will, is not just that stress is bad, but the way that it is bad. We’ve known for some time that stress activates the adrenal system, and that leads to poor health outcomes. But aggravating the inflammatory response is a new wrinkle. As I understand it, the inflammatory response is a key player in the cause of both heart disease and cancer, and a lot of research is going into understanding what makes it tick. That said, if you can head the inflammatory response off at the pass, reduce its activity before it starts — that should reduce your risk of a whole range of health conditions. Exercise and diet can reduce your risk.

And if you have traumatic stress — then potentially you open yourself up to all kinds of health problems. The good news is that traumatic stress can be treated effectively.