Monday, January 5, 2009

Transcendental Meditation for ADHD

Today I encountered an interesting article in the journal
Current Issues in Education, Volume 10, No. 2, 2008

It is about teaching a meditation technique ("transcendental meditation") to children with ADHD, and measuring changes in their symptoms over time. The study shows a significant beneficial effect in numerous symptom clusters, including anxiety and mood.

Some of the authors appear to have good backgrounds in research and scholarship.

Looking up a different author, and checking out some of the other stuff on the internet about TM made me concerned about the level of religious dogma in this area, bolstered by numerous claims (many of which I think are overvalued) about "scientific evidence", also with many claims about TM being part of something morally advanced, yet I note various registered trademarks among the jargon used, together with an insistence that one has to learn the technique from a specially-trained instructor, and an insistence that one cannot learn the technique in other ways. One would think that a purely altruistic set of motives would lead to such ideas being shared more freely and humbly.

The study is substantially weakened by the fact that there is no "placebo control group", hence the findings likely exaggerate the specific benefit of TM (it may be possible, for example, that any other quiet technique taught to children for 10 minutes twice a day, might have led to symptom improvements).

But it is my hunch that meditative techniques can be helpful to improve contentment, and to reduce negative symptoms, for many people. Also, I do agree with the authors' point in this article, that there are different types of meditation, and that some types suit people better than others. Some of my patients have tried meditating, and found it unhelpful. It may be worthwhile in these cases to give a different style of meditating a try. TM apparently does not aim for "mental control"--and therefore it may be more suited for people whose minds and thoughts are hard to "control". "Control" as a meditative goal may just lead to frustration.

And I do--with some reservation--agree that having a meditation teacher or class may be necessary to learn the technique optimally, just like learning to swim or play the violin may require a teacher or class. Yet, I think it is fair to make use of other resources, including books and the internet. I am always wary of salesmanship or charlatanism in these areas, where people are charging a substantial fee while using various elements of persuasion to get you to sign up for something.

Another big area in meditation for treating psychiatric or medical problems is so-called "mindfulness-based meditation". There is an accumulating evidence base for this, and I encourage people to learn more about it. Interestingly, one of the pioneers in using these techniques in medicine first used it for successfully treating chronic physical pain.

I will be on the lookout for other pieces of objective evidence on this issue, as I find meditation interesting, probably beneficial, and at least harmless, provided the practice doesn't lead someone to be swept into some kind of cult-like subculture. I would agree with the statement that if everyone quietly meditated daily in some way, we would probably have a fair bit less violence and conflict in the world.

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