The Mindful Officer: Mindfulness-Based Therapy for PTSD

Mindfulness-based approaches reduce stress & have lasting positive benefits for practitioners with PTSD symptoms

By Shawn Perron  |   Jul 11, 2017
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One of the many things law enforcement shares with our military veterans who serve (or have served) is a propensity for chronic stress, fatigue, and depression. Many of these often fall under the umbrella of PTSD. Many current studies and medical journals routinely report how mindfulness-based therapies often outperform some of the more standard interventions and active treatments.

One such study compared patient-centered group therapies with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Over a nine-week period (or course) there were some notable improvements in symptoms and quality of life (clinically more significant than traditional treatments) in many cases.

(Note: Even despite the treatments, all patients who concluded the study were still classified as having PTSD. Anyone who has suffered from PTSD or clinical depression knows that these conditions are usually not like a cold that vanishes in days or weeks or even months.)

But here’s what they found promising about mindfulness.

Veterans with PTSD that participated in the mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy had a greater decrease in “PTSD symptom severity” than observed in those participating in commonly used present-centered group therapy (used by the Veterans Administration).

This study looks at a group of 116 veterans diagnosed with PTSD at Minneapolis Veteran’s Administration Medical Center. The veterans were randomly assigned to one of two groups: to participate in either mindfulness-based stress (1) reduction (MBSR) or present-centered group therapy (2). The MBSR consisted of eight weekly sessions of 2.5 hours and a single day long retreat. The group therapy was nine weekly, 1.5-hour sessions, which served as active control.

A checklist was created to check and monitor PTSD baseline scores. These were given at weeks 3, 6, 9, and then 17 (after treatment follow-up). The MBSR participants had not only greater reduction in symptom severity during treatment, but they also showed the same result at the two-month follow up. The MBSR group showed greater improvement or reduction in symptoms during and after treatment period as well. The after treatment follow-up showed that nearly 50% of the MBSR participants—compared to nearly 30% for the therapy group—maintained or sustained improvements two months later.

The sustained nature of the improvements is both welcomed and unexpected. The Minneapolis VA will be conducting further study based on this finding alone.

Another observation noted was that the MBSR group had a much lower drop-out rate compared to other forms of treatment. The normal dropout rate for other programs is 35 – 50 % whereas the MBSR had only 22%. As LEOs we are around stress constantly and endure chronic stress as a result. We also know firsthand that the treatment or training has to fit the bill. MBSR is another tool to embrace.

Stress is responsible for lots of death in our line of work. We need to start pointing the finger at it, because it’s a bit of a sneak. We never say anyone dies of stress, but heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, digestive issues, and onward—all potential manifestations of stress—lead many of us to our demise.

Another recent study looked at not just health outcomes but also quality of life. This study, out of the Veteran’s Administration of Puget Sound, stated: “A potentially advantageous aspect of mindfulness-based interventions is that they may provide benefit for domains of health beyond PTSD symptomatology.”

Conclusion

PTSD is a problem for our military veterans who often find a second home and family in law enforcement. It’s also a problem for many of us who are veterans of the streets Anytown, USA. If you spend any length of time wearing a shield here or over there you will have to deal with PTSD in some form or fashion—maybe not directly, but someone around you, someone you count on, or the many calls for service involving veterans.

Educate yourself, and your team about the symptoms, and signs and offer an ear or shoulder, or a ride, to get them the help they need. Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy is far from new, but it can be new to most of us in law enforcement. Training is not hard to find, and online instruction is a great place to start depending on the support your agency provides in starting such a program. Don’t underestimate the number of brothers and sisters that fall victim to the detriment of stress. Chronic stress is one ambush that we can get the “drop” on.

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Shawn Perron

Shawn Perron

Sgt. Shawn Perron has worked as a police officer in Texas for 22 years. He regularly attends mindfulness retreats and has studied meditation and eastern philosophy at many Zen Centers throughout the U.S. Sgt. Perron writes in his spare time and voluntarily teaches basic mindfulness techniques.