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How Meditation Can Help ED Physicians Who Have PTSD

While many people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) mostly with military veterans, in fact, other occupational groupings which fall under the general category of first responders, experience in their ranks numerous incidences of PTSD. One of those groupings, EMT’s, includes Emergency Department (ED) physicians who frequently witness the results of the trauma experienced by their patients. Fortunately, studies have shown that the practice of meditation can help reduce their PTSD symptoms.

Unfortunately, a certain percentage of these people do not come forward with their condition due to the stigma associated with mental health issues. They do not want to be viewed as “not up to the job”.


PTSD is defined as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Fear causes instant changes in one’s body to guard against a threatening situation or to evade it. The “fight-or-flight” reaction is an example of this. Most people get over these symptoms. Those who do not may be identified as having PTSD and may experience these signs when they are not in peril.

Those suffering from PTSD may have these experiences repeatedly:

  • Frightening thoughts

  • Unpleasant dreams

  • Flashbacks—reliving the disturbance again and again with accompanying physical reactions like sweating or a racing heart

A PTSD sufferer may modify his habits by:

  • Ignoring feelings or thoughts connected to the upsetting event

  • Circumventing locations, events, or objects that remind one of the traumatic experience

PTSD symptoms that can wear down a person and make it harder for him to him to concentrate, eat or sleep include:

  • Feeling on edge

  • Being easily startled

  • Having angry outburst

Emotional and cognition PTSD symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

  • Magnified feelings of blame or guilt

  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world

  • Difficulty recalling basic features of the traumatic event

Among the risk factors that increase the likelihood of PTSD is one that relates directly to ED physicians----“seeing another person hurt, or seeing a dead body”.


In an article entitled “Is Meditation the Best Cure for PTSD in EMS”, Erin Fletcher, Director of the Wounded Warrior project, states “Meditation can help bring a person’s attention back to the current moment, which reduces or eliminates or reduces anxiety.”

But what is meditation exactly and what does it do? Harvard Medical researchers using MRI technology to monitor the brain activity of those meditating discovered that meditation stimulates the areas of the brain controlling the autonomic nervous system which regulates conditions like blood pressure and digestion.

Rob Nairn in his book, What is Meditation, describes meditation as a “…highly alert and skillful state of mind because it requires one to remain psychologically present and ‘with’ whatever happens in and around one, without adding to or subtracting from it in any way.”

There are different ways to practice meditation, individually at home or even in your car, or in groups. It usually involves sitting silently, concentrating on one’s breath. It has been found to be a stress reducer, and can facilitate a higher level of self-insight and self-acceptance. It has also been found to reverse heart disease, the risk of stroke, and gastrointestinal problems.

Positive Correlations Between PTSD Reduction and Meditation

In an article entitled “Mind-Body Practices for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”, researchers highlighted 16 articles examining using mind-body modalities as interventions for PTSD. Generally, these practices were found to improve PTSD indicators such as increased emotional arousal, avoidance, and intrusive memories.

Table 1 in this article shows that 11 out of the 16 studies demonstrated a significant reduction of PTSD severity of symptoms following participation in the mind-body interventions. See last column, “PTSD Outcomes, Magnitude of Symptom Change”.

Annette Hill, clinical director of Warriors Heart states, “While meditation does not fix the root causes of PTSD, it can help to put distance between the symptoms and the person, giving them a sense of mastery and containment, making it possible to do that deeper trauma work.”

Although there are other methods whereby an ED physician can improve his PTSD condition such as joining support groups and developing a positive coping strategy, the evidence clearly indicates that practicing meditation offers solid, viable benefits as an approach.

About the author: With a childhood grounded in the peaceful, predictable, family-centered, Eisenhower 1950's, Steve was raised in the surfing environment of Hermosa Beach, California. He attended high school and college in the tumultuous 1960's, finishing at UCLA with a B.A. in psychology. Twenty-eight years later, he earned my Masters in Public Administration at California State University at Dominguez Hills. He now has three self-published Amazon eBooks. His children’s story was included in anthology published by Studio N.I. entitled Tense Situations. He has also written book reviews which were published by Hollywood Billboard. He is influenced by a whole range of authors, from skilled crafters of children's stories, historical fiction by the likes of Michener and Vidal, Mailer, Updike, Nelson DeMille, Dickens and Jane Austen, extending out to the more esoteric fantasy writers like Philip K. Dick, Dan Simmons and my famous namesake, and everything in between. Nothing fascinates him more than the human mind and new and different ways of perceiving life and people.