A group of Japanese public health researchers from Kyoto University investigated the effects of autogenic training on firefighters with and without posttraumatic stress. Twenty-two male firefighters were in this pilot study - ten with PTSD and 12 without. They all were given autogenic training two or three times a week for two months. Heart rate variability was measured, and a Japanese language version of the IES (Impact of Events) Scale - a commonly used PTSD measure - was also used.
Before the training, the PTSD group showed significantly higher cardiac sympathetic nervous activity (as in an activated alarm response) and significantly lower cardiac parasympathetic nervous activity (the calming response) than the controls.
But autogenic training significantly decreased cardiac sympathetic nervous activity and significantly increased cardiac parasympathetic nervous activity, in both the firefighters with PTSD and those without it. In addition, these changes were accompanied by a significant decrease in the total points on the impact of events scale.
The researchers concluded that autogenic training is effective for improving the disturbed cardiac autonomic nervous activity and psychological issues that accompany PTSD. This very promising small study is consistent with findings from other studies, but the addition of the hard measure of HRV is a very welcome addition.
Citation: Mitani S, Fujita M, Sakamoto S, Shirakawa T. Effect of autogenic training on cardiac autonomic nervous activity in high-risk fire service workers for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2006 May; 60 (5): pages 439-44.