The safety of the Transcendental Meditation Technique (TM)
By Jaan Suurküla M.D.
These studies give an especially good idea of the safety of TM.
1. Clinical observations of pre-psychotic cases learning TM
People in a psychiatrically most fragile state, that is people who are on the verge of psychosis (so called pre-psychosis), especially shizophrenia are very unstable. Very small destabilizing influences are required to precipitate a full psychosis. Therefore they are the most sensitive indicators of the safety of any mental technique.
The psychiatrist Dr. Harold Bloomfield had accidentally found that some prepsychotic patients improved remarkably due to TM. Therefore he decided to make a systematic study in order to asses the usefulness of TM as a preventive measure.
On a voluntary basis, pre-psychotic patients at a psychiatric clinic were referred to a TM-teacher, associated with the clinic, for learning the technique. A trained TM teacher, a mental health expert and a psychiatrist worked closely together in the care of the patient including appropriate adjustments of the technique.
The result was that the 22 patients, who volunteered to learn TM, recovered from the pre-psychosis state. In no case the condition deteriorated. The need for medication seemed, according to Dr. Bloomfield, to be lower than for those who did not learn TM. Also his general impression was that they required shorter in-patient care than those who did not learn TM (Bloomfield 1974).
Although this was not a scientific study, these clinical observations by a distinguished specialist provide valuable information. This is because according to psychiatric experience, very small psychologically disturbing influences may be sufficient to make such a condition deteriorate into full-fledged psychosis. If TM would have had even a minor destabilizing effect, this would have been revealed as a deterioration in most, if not each, of the cases after learning the technique.
2. National survey of the occurrence of serious mental problems in meditators
To be able to estimate the safety it was found out how big each of these subpopulations was. The occurrence of acute need for psychiatric inpatient care in each of the subpopulations was then divided with the total size of the subpopulation. It was compared to the average occurrence of such problems, which was about 5% in the whole grown up population. During the enquiry period altogether 335.000 persons were admitted to psychiatric inpatient care.
The study resulted in two remarkable findings. One was for TM and the other for Sensitivity Training. For other techniques no significant findings appeared.
Among those who had undergone Sensitivity Training there was a remarkably high occurrence of acute psychiatric disorders compared to the occurrence in the general population. The National Board of Health and Welfare decided to recommend that this kind of therapy should not be allowed.
For TM a radically opposite situation was the case. At that time about 35.000 people had learnt TM during a period of a few years. Statistically, the predicted occurrence of mental conditions in meditators requiring inpatient care was 5% of 35.000 = about 1.700 admissions.
However, the inquiry found only eight persons who were subject to 10 admissions during the inquiry period. This means an occurrence of 10/35.000 compared to the expected 1.700/35.000, see the diagram below. Dr. Jan-Otto Ottosson, Professor of psychiatry and medical councillor of the The National Board of Health and Welfare, consequently stated that "the occurrence among (TM) meditators of admissions to in-patient mental care is thus 150-200 times lower than in the general population." (Personal Communication 1977).
The National Board of Health and Welfare consequently concluded that TM was safe.
This exceptionally low occurrence of admissions among TM-meditators is especially remarkable as, at that time, TM was popular among people who had mental problems or were in a psychological crisis. Therefore it could have been expected that the occurrence among meditators of such problems would have been higher than the average of 1.700 even if TM had not had an adverse effect.
However some people without scientific training have maintained that
nonetheless, TM caused psychosis at least in these ten cases (and actually
made headlines about it in
The occurrence of two events in close sequence (temporal connection), does not necessarily mean that one causes the other (causal connection).
Statistical studies of this kind can never prove any causal connection in individual cases. They can only indicate if there is a larger or smaller occurrence than expected. The extremely low occurrence of admissions of TM meditators strongly supports the conclusion that the ten cases were temporally and not causally connected to TM practice. That is, it was inevitable, considering the large numbers of TM-practitioners, that some cases had to happen to fall ill, not because of TM but just because they were strongly predisposed to do so anyway at this time.
To demand that there should not have been a single case of admissions among meditators, would mean to demand that TM should have prevented all of the at least 1.700 expected persons to fall ill. - It is highly remarkable that TM appears to have done so in a considerable number of cases.
Thus, to maintain that the occurrence of ten TM cases needing acute psychiatric care indicates some, though minimal, harmfulness of TM is scientifically completely unjustified.
This result complies well with the observations of Dr. Bloomfield as it is likely that a significant number of mentally unstable and possibly even a number of prepsychotic persons were among those who learned TM even though TM-teachers are instructed to teach such cases only after the consent of the responsible physician or psychologist (pre-psychotic cases are sometimes able to hide their problem even to trained professionals).
A recent study reported that School Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) improved to a great extent within 4 months of practicing TM, including 50% reduction of stress level, improved emotional stability and considerable improvement in the integration of brain function, as indicated by improved EEG coherence in all EEG frequencies (Grosswald S, 2009), see image below and click on it for enlargement and explanation:
One of the key characteristics of ADHD is pronounced mental instability, so like cases of prepsychosis, these cases are especially good “indicators” for assessing the safety of any mental treatment method. If TM would have had even a minor destabilizing effect, they would inevitably have deteriorated. On the contrary, there was a remarkable and rapid improvement in these cases that proves, from yet another angle, the effective mentally stabilizing and positive developmental effect of TM.
4. Improvement of psychiatric in-patients
Two psychiatrists made a study of the effects of TM on institutionalized mental patients including psychotics (Glueck B, Strobel C, 1984). . Here is an excerpt of a summary of it:
using the Transcendental Meditation program with
institutionalized psychiatric patients at a top mental health clinic in
Glueck and Stroebel did not find any adverse effects with practice of the technique in the psychiatric population, which included many psychotics..
Glueck and Stroebel report that patients practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique improved on all measures, including improved mental health status at the time of hospital discharge, compared to a matched group that received only usual hospital care;
The improvement included reduced sleep medication and other medications; improvement on psychological tests (MMPI); improvement on nurses' daily notes of behavior; and, in teen aged patients, increased ability to concentrate and reduced impulsive behavior."
It is truly remarkable that even the most disturbed and mentally unstable patients, those in overt psychosis, improved, none having any adverse effects. If any, this is the most convincing evidence of any not only proving that Transcendental Meditation is far safer than any psychiatric remedy most of which have problematic side-effects, but also has a curative effect.
These observations, along with other studies reporting a beneficial effect of TM on the psychology (Suurküla, J, 2010), prove that TM has not only a preventive effect against psychiatric illness but effectively promotes mental stability and improved mental health, even in severely disturbed cases.
NOTE: Considering that there are important differences between the TM technique and meditation techniques, there is no scientific basis for concluding that these results are valid for meditation techniques in general.
First Published on
Grosswald SJ. Use of the Transcendental Meditation Technique to Reduce Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by Reducing Stress and Anxiety: An Exploratory Study. 2009 (submitted to publication).
Socialstyrelsen 1975. (The National Board of Health and Welfare). "The connection between certain activities and mental disease" (in Swedish). PM # SN 3-9-204 dated 1975-09-09.
Suurküla, J 1989. "The Transcendental Meditation technique and the prevention of psychiatric illness." In Scientific research on Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program: Collected papers, vol. 2, Paper 127.
Suurküla, J 2010. “The remarkable beneficial effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM)” Article to published here soon.
Swedish Physicians for Transcendental Meditation (SPTM)