Megan Kirk Chang is a doctoral candidate in York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Sciences in the Faculty of Health. She is also a 25-year trauma survivor, whose research focuses on investigating the mind-body impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help others, like herself, heal.
Now in her fourth year of doctoral studies under the supervision of professor and clinical psychologist Paul Ritvo, Chang has developed an eight-week online mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and yoga intervention, Heal My Trauma Imprint, to help current survivors struggling with unresolved symptoms of PTSD.
Chang’s own journey, along with her extensive research, has informed the development of the program that she has opened up to young adults, ages 18 to 24, enrolled at York University.
It is a free eight-week online intervention that explores the effectiveness of mindfulness-based approaches such as breath awareness, meditation and yoga-based movements to help with healing symptoms of past trauma. Participants also receive a free yoga mat and eight weekly health coaching calls to assist with symptom management.
“We know that the impact of trauma is far-reaching and imprints on our mind and emotions, our biology and immune system, and our overall quality of life,” said Chang. “We know that research examining the addition of mindfulness and body-based work in the healing process is lacking. More can be done to help those dealing with unresolved childhood or complex trauma.”
Chang’s intervention is part of the first registered clinical trial in Canada to investigate an online mind-body intervention to regulate autonomic function and alleviate symptoms of PTSD. Specifically, she seeks to understand the effects of online yoga and mindfulness-based programs for young adults enrolled at York on current symptoms of PTSD. The trial is also studying the psychophysiological aspects of PTSD using innovative technology, including the TobiiPro glasses and an ECG machine to measure pupillometry and heart rate variability of participants before and after the intervention.
Although it’s the first study of its kind in Canada, Chang’s goal is to one day present this to the World Health Organization.
In 2014, Chang’s husband experienced an unexpected spinal cord injury, which resulted in her dormant PTSD symptoms resurfacing. The event inspired her to re-examine her own personal journey, and sparked her interest in researching the mind-body impact of PTSD to help others heal.
Her research has found that Canada has the highest rates of PTSD worldwide at 9.8 per cent, and that it is a public health concern due to debilitating deficits in cognitive-emotional processing, social functioning and increased risk of chronic disease (e.g. cardiovascular disease).
Additionally, more than 70 per cent of all mental health problems appear before the age of 25 and young adults are the most likely demographic for mental health disorders, substance misuse and suicide, she said.
She also found that young adults exposed to adverse, traumatic childhood events may be at heightened risk for chronic anxiety disorders such as PTSD across the lifespan as a result of the added complexity of navigating transitional changes during young adulthood, including post-secondary education and full-time employment.
“A consistent finding from our clinical trial is that people who have been traumatized report feeling chronically unsafe in their bodies, as if the danger or threat may occur at any moment, even if it is decades later,” said Chang. “Our clinical trial aims to address autonomic dysregulation through evidence-based, mindfulness-based CBT and yoga strategies.”
Internet delivery of mindfulness-based CBT and yoga as separate treatment options for mental health disorders have been supported in the literature, but have never been combined into one intervention method, said Chang.
The Heal My Trauma Imprint program works by offering access to weekly online CBT modules that include mindfulness meditation and yoga-based exercises, and participants engage in weekly contact with a trained health coach.
“We focus on accessible online interventions that change a person’s actions during any 24-hour day,” said Ritvo. “We are respectful of medical and psychiatric treatments, but the bottom line is that few interventions are as effective as those that are accessible at any time, anywhere, that you can do for yourself, with yourself.”
Findings from this research will help inform large-scale global mental health interventions aimed at addressing PTSD, said Chang.
For more information or to participate in this clinical trial, contact Megan Kirk Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.