Transcendental Meditation has been used in correctional settings, and research has shown a reduction in negative psychological states and recidivism—that is, returning to criminal behavior after being released from prison. According to a 2010 research review, studies involving hundreds of prisoners at San Quentin and Folsom State Prisons in California and Walpole State Prison in Massachusetts, USA found that recidivism rates were reduced by as much as 47%.

Overall, the TM prisoners at Folsom Prison were 43% less likely to return to prison compared to control groups. The study at Folsom also looked at anxiety measures and found a sharp reduction compared to controls. The review said that meditation studies may be subject to researcher bias and self-selection bias, but concluded that policy makers and prison officials may want to implement meditation programs in prisons.

The origins of criminal behavior, while difficult to pinpoint precisely, can often be traced back to the long-term impact of traumatic stress. Unless a rehabilitation program for the men and women behind bars effectively targets this disorder, too often the rehabilitation will prove ineffective, and incarceration and recidivism rates will continue to climb—resulting in considerable pain and suffering for the victims of crime, significant expense to taxpayers, and substantial waste of human potential to those incarcerated.

A 2009 review by Dakwar et al. looked at the effect of TM on addiction and noted that while many studies exist, they were conducted by researchers affiliated with Transcendental Meditation and were not randomized controlled trials. Thus the evidence for treating addictive disorders is speculative and inconsistent.

This review also said that although the quasi-religious aspects and cost may deter people, the simplicity of the technique, the physiological changes it induces, and the apparent effectiveness in nonpsychiatric settings merit further study and that “the theoretical basis for meditation’s role in addressing substance use disorders is compelling” based on the physiological mechanisms that have been found.

The Cambridge Textbook of Effective Treatments in Psychiatry states, “The claims made for TM’s positive effects are passionate and enthusiastic, but they beg for corroboration by independent researchers and more rigorous designs and measures. Since the 1970’s many studies have investigated the impact of TM on drinking problems, although only one study has recruited a sample of individuals with alcohol problems and used a control group with random assignment (Taub et al, 1994).

All of these less rigorous studies describe decreases in consumption of alcohol (see review by Alexander et al 1994). However, all but the Taub study have serious methodological deficiencies in their design and sample…. There are few, if any studies of TM and substance abuse that are recent.” Describing the single 1994 randomized controlled study, trial groups assigned TM and biofeedback showed increased abstinence versus the other groups. The authors also reported that in the TM group pre-post mood improved significantly as reflected by higher scores on 5 of 6 scales in a standardized test, compared to increases in 2 of 6 scales for the biofeedback group.

A randomized controlled trial on college students found that both TM and karate training reduced drug usage compared to a no-treatment control group. And a randomized controlled trial on drug users treated for hepatitis found a reduction in drug use in the TM group, and an increase in usage in the no-treatment control group.

TM was found to be effective:

  • on an inpatient basis
  • on an outpatient basis
  • regardless of the addict’s age: high school student, college student, or adult
  • regardless of the degree of use of the addictive substance — from casual nonaddicted users to skid-row chronic alcoholics
  • both short-term and long-term: the effects start immediately, continue over time, do not trail off, and are cumulative
  • in prison settings
  • regardless of the addict’s socioeconomic background
  • for a broad range of chemicals: soft drugs, hard drugs, tranquilizers, antidepressants, caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription drugs
  • in removing the causes of the addictive behavior
  • in mitigating addiction’s harmful effects on the mind and body
  • alongside other treatment methods, where TM increases
    the effectiveness of the other treatment, makes it work for
    a larger percentage of the treatment population, and speeds up the recovery process
  • in creating a distaste for the addictive substance
  • in assisting in the treatment of mental illness

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a disorder which causes disabling anxiety after a dangerous event, such as being in combat or a traffic accident. Individuals with PTSD cannot stop thinking about the event. They may relive the experience over and over in flashbacks or nightmares. The high level of anxiety of PTSD can lead to associated problems like panic attacks, depression, alcoholism and substance abuse.

How is PTSD diagnosed? Physicians group the symptoms into three categories:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, terrifying thoughts.
  • Avoidance symptoms such as steering clear of anything that reminds the person of the experience, withdrawing emotionally or feeling strong guilt or anxiety
  • Hyperarousal symptoms such as always feeling tense or being easily startled.

Transcendental Meditation reduces the stress experienced in PTSD and thus, provide relief to PTSD sufferers. A study of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD demonstrated that after three months of doing the Transcendental Meditation technique, symptoms such as alcohol usage, high startle response, emotional numbness and anxiety decreased as compared to a control group who received only psychotherapy. Research indicates that meditation has a positive effect on problems that often arise in PTSD sufferers, such as hypertensiondepression, and substance abuse.

A group that often experiences PTSD are those who have been in conflict. A  recently published pilot study indicates the practice of Transcendental Meditation reduces symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Although the research employed a very small number of participants (n = 5), the veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars showed a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms of PTSD after eight weeks of practicing Transcendental Meditation.

The veterans, ages 25- to 40-years-old, had served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both from 10 months to two years, settings in which they experienced moderate or heavy moderate combat.

The study found that Transcendental Meditation produced significant reductions in stress and depression, and marked improvements in relationships and overall quality of life. Furthermore, the authors reported that the technique was easy to perform and was well accepted by the veterans.

The Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) was the primary measure for assessing the effectiveness of TM practice on PTSD symptoms. CAPS is considered by the Department of Veterans Affairs as the “gold standard” for PTSD assessment and diagnosis for both military veteran and civilian trauma survivors.

“Even though the number of veterans in this study was small, the results were very impressive,” said Norman Rosenthal, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School.

“These young men were in extreme distress as a direct result of trauma suffered during combat, and the simple and effortless Transcendental Meditation technique literally transformed their lives.”

The findings were similar to those from a randomized controlled study of Vietnam veterans conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In that study, published in the Journal of Counseling and Developmentin 1985, after three months of twice-daily TM practice, the veterans had fewer symptoms than those receiving conventional psychotherapy of the day. In fact, most of the TM-treated subjects required no further treatment.

“Even though the combat experiences of current soliders and Vietnam veterans are quite different, the fact that our study corroborates the results of the previous study tells us that this technique has the potential to be an effective tool against PTSD and combat stress, regardless of combat situation,” explained Sarina Grosswald, Ed.D., co-researcher on the study.

Rosenthal believes Transcendental Meditation helps people with PTSD because regular practice produces long-term changes in sympathetic nervous system activity, as evidenced by decreased blood pressure, and lower reactivity to stress.

“Transcendental Meditation quiets down the nervous system, and slows down the ‘fight-or-flight’ response,” he said. People with PTSD show overactive fight-or-flight responses, making them excellent candidates for Transcendental Meditation.

Rosenthal pointed out that there is an urgent need to find effective and cost-effective treatments for veterans with combat-related PTSD.

“The condition is common, affecting an estimated one in seven deployed soldiers and Marines, most of whom do not get adequate treatment. So far, only one treatment—simulation exposure to battleground scenes—has been deemed effective, but it requires specialized software and hardware, trained personnel and is labor-intensive.

“Based on our study and previous findings, I believe Transcendental Meditation certainly warrants further study for combat-related PTSD,” Rosenthal said.

The study is found in the June 2011 issue of Military Medicine .