Mantram repetition for stress management in veterans and employees: a critical incident study


  • Jill E. Bormann PhD RN,

  • Doug Oman PhD,

  • Jeanne K. Kemppainen PhD RN,

  • Sheryl Becker MS RN,

  • Madeline Gershwin MA RN,

  • Ann Kelly MS RN

Jill E. Bormann,
Nursing and Patient Care Services,
VA San Diego Healthcare System,
3350 LaJolla Village Dr. 118,
San Diego,
CA 92161,


Aim.  This paper reports a study assessing the usefulness of a mantram repetition programme.

Background.  Complementary/alternative therapies are becoming commonplace, but more research is needed to assess their benefits. A 5-week programme teaching a ‘mind–body–spiritual’ technique of silently repeating a mantram – a word or phrase with spiritual meaning – to manage stress was developed. A mantram was chosen by individuals, who were taught to repeat it silently throughout the day or night to interrupt unwanted thoughts and elicit the relaxation response.

Methods.  Participants who attended a 5-week course were invited to participate in the study. Of those who consented, a randomly selected subset (n = 66) was contacted approximately 3 months after the course for a telephone interview using the critical incident interviewing technique. Participants were asked whether the intervention was helpful or not, and if helpful, to identify situations where it was applied. Interviews were transcribed and incidents were identified and categorized to create a taxonomy of uses. The data were collected in 2001–2002.

Results.  Participants included 30 veterans, mostly males (97%), and 36 hospital employees, mostly females (86%). Mean age was 56 years (sd = 12·94). Fifty-five participants (83·3%) practiced the technique and reported 147 incidents where the programme was helpful. Outcomes were organized into a taxonomy of incidents using four major categories that included managing: (a) emotions other than stress (51%); (b) stress (23·8%); (c) insomnia (12·9%); and (d) unwanted thoughts (12·3%). A group of raters reviewed the categories for inter-rater reliability.

Conclusions.  The majority of participants from two distinct samples reported that the mantram programme was helpful in a variety of situations. The critical incident interviewing method was found to be practical, efficient, and thorough in collecting and analyzing data. Such qualitative methods contribute to understanding the benefits of mind–body complementary therapies.