Exciting New Research on Guided Meditation for Pandemic Stress, Dementia, and PTSD!!

The databases for mind-body research on guided imagery and meditation just keep on growing, I’m happy to report. There’s a steady growth of well designed, randomized clinical trials that yield promising-to-robust results.

And – be still my heart! - there’s now enough of a cache of respectable research to generate systematic reviews, meta-analyses, scoping reviews, bubble maps, the works. This, people, is a significant step up.

Pandemic Stress

For instance, C. Behan from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin takes a systematized look at the benefits of various guided meditation practices for use during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Behan’s article1 basically surveys the reviews, and reports that such practices have shown significant improvement in measures of anxiety, depression and pain scores.

Studies are cited that demonstrate how people who have a long-term meditation practice show on f-MRI’s some important structural and functional brain changes that we know support emotional resilience, cognitive focus, equanimity, and psychological stability.

Evidence is also cited that guided meditation practices translate well to different populations across ages, cultures and races; across social, educational, and economic status; and across a wide range of capabilities.  

The article concludes that introducing a mindfulness or guided meditation practice during this current pandemic has promising potential to considerably help those who use it, and is a low-cost, accessible method of providing support for anxiety, depression and distress for many segments of the population.


There’s also a first ever (at least that I’ve ever seen) scoping reviewof the impact of guided meditation interventions (this includes guided imagery) by Hoffman, Hutt, et al at Tufts University. The goal was to investigate how these interventions affect health and quality-of-life (QOL) outcomes for adults with dementia.

The literature was scoured from 1997-2018 for studies, yielding 19 articles that met the fairly loose inclusion criteria. The outcome that had the strongest support for people living with dementia was in maintenance of cognitive function

The four main outcomes that emerged from participation in a meditation-based intervention:

  • Improved quality of life (QOL)
  • Improved mental health 
  • Improved cognition
  • Improved functional abilities

Gaps in the research were noted – weak design, inconsistent measurement instruments, small sample sizes. Nonetheless, the authors conclude that incorporating some sort of guided meditation practice into a standard occupational therapy protocol for people with dementia could have wide-ranging beneficial results.

Veterans with PTSD

One review, hot off the Winter, 2021 presses3, reaffirms a conclusion recently established by two V.A. comparative studies that I summarized here several months ago. 

This review restates the proposition that current treatment options for Veterans with PTSD require either focusing on traumatic events - re-exposure and retraumatization -  or else medications that can present other problems.  They look into meditation-based interventions as a promising alternative.

(On a cranky note, many of my psychotherapy colleagues have been saying this for a long time. In fact, it was my retraumatizing one of my own clients by pressing her to address a traumatic rape that led me to see what guided imagery could do for her instead, without the distress. That catalyzed the writing of Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal – and that book, Dear Reader, was written between 2002-2004 – along with many other clinical articles and presentations by experts at the time. But it took decades of needless suffering before the research testing these ideas could land in print and make a case.)

For this review, the authors included studies of published in peer-reviewed journals conducted between 2014 and 2020 that used quantitative or mixed methods. They came up with a total of 15 studies that looked at the efficacy of Transcendental Meditation, Mantra Meditation, Mindful Meditation, Breathing-based Meditation and various combinations of guided meditation.

The most commonplace duration for an intervention was 8 weeks, and ten of the studies were RCT’s or randomized controlled trials.  Twelve used the CAPS or the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale as a primary measuring instrument.  

The review concludes that all these mind-body meditative interventions showed significant improvements in symptoms and were especially valuable to Veterans who had crashed and burned after trauma-focused therapies.

[1] Behan C. The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of crisis such as COVID-19. Ir J Psychol Med. 2020 Dec;37(4):256-258. doi: 10.1017/ipm.2020.38. Epub 2020 May 14. PMID: 32406348; PMCID: PMC7287297.

[2] Hoffman L, Hutt R, Yi Tsui CK, et al. Meditation-Based Interventions for Adults With Dementia: A Scoping Review. Am J Occup Ther. 2020 May/Jun;74(3):7403205010p1-7403205010p14. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2020. 037820. PMID: 32365307.

[3] Haider T, Dai CL, Sharma M. Efficacy of Meditation-Based Interventions on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Among Veterans: A Narrative Review. Adv Mind Body Med. 2021 Winter;35(1):16-24. PMID: 33513582.