Health Editor’s Note: Post-traumatic stress (PTS), also called Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a mental health condition that has been triggered by a traumatic/terrifying event and can be caused by either experiencing or witnessing the event. Most people who have gone through a traumatic event will have a passing difficulty in adjusting or coping after the event. Sometimes the adjustment does not come and day-to-day functioning is affected.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is used to treat PTS. This form of treatment is an evidence-based therapy which seems to be able to give patients a quicker recovery from PTS. The purpose of this type of therapy is to created a situation where the person with PTS will no longer respond emotionally or physically to reminders of the original traumatic event.
Please read about one soldier’s experience with ART….Carol
Accelerated Resolution Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) Saved My Life
By Brian Anderson, BSW, Founder and CEO Veterans Alternative, United States Army Green Beret, Retired
Green Berets plan. We gather intel so we understand the situation. We plan all phases of the mission as a team. We practice execution with sand tables and walkthroughs and set up all our service and support for the operation. We know our chain of command and how to communicate with them before our boots hit the ground. Regardless of the amount of planning, we could never account for what we did not know, and that is what made transition from military life to civilian life so difficult for me.
On September 29, 2010, while on active duty, I watched two helicopters land at our base in Urzgahan Province Afghanistan. It was day two of Operation Sundown, and we just received word from our base, Fire Base Cobra (Tinsley), that the helicopters dropped off mail which was a great way to start the day. That day quickly eroded into a memory of ongoing pain, anguish and sadness when two of my military brothers, Sergeant 1st Class Calvin B. Harrison and Senior Airman Mark Forester, were shot and killed by Haji Abdul Halik, a high-ranking Taliban commander who was also killed that same day. My brothers’ remains made the journey home to their final resting places and our team continued the mission of clearing the village. I could not begin to plan for the impact these losses would have on my transition out of the military two years later.
About two weeks after this fateful day, I made it back to the base and finally got the opportunity to open the mail that I received. My mother, a licensed clinical social worker in Vermont, sent me a textbook about the field of social work, which I read with great interest. I connected the motto of a Green Beret, “De Oppresso Liber,” or free the oppressed, to the techniques described in the text. After reading the book in its entirety, the pathway I was going to take after completing my military assignment became clear to me.
In 2012, I left active duty to return to my family and pursue a degree in social work. I had a plan and found a school in Florida to begin my studies. I bought a house and moved my family. I thought I was prepared just as I had been trained to be in the military.
However, the mental toll of going to war and leaving the service affected every step that I took as I transitioned to civilian life and trouble set in before I left Fort Bragg. I began to have symptoms similar to high blood pressure or diabetes. The hospital ran multiple tests and explained to me that I was experiencing panic attacks, and that I did not have a chronic disease which could be treated by taking medication or exercising more to feel relief and recover. Instead, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress (PTS), a term I prefer to use instead of labeling soldiers with a disorder. I knew at that moment, that I had a lot of work in front of me to manage my distressing symptoms.
After the move, my symptoms increased, and I knew I needed help immediately. I started seeing things like bullets flying through my head, my military brother Calvin driving the car next to me, and rage coming through the door. Each and every day became a struggle and panic for me as I placed standards on my family, which they could not meet. I blamed my wife’s lack of preparation for my anger outbursts, classic PTS symptoms, which more than 24 million people in the United States suffer with daily.
While I had a plan when I exited the military, I was not prepared for the elongated mental battle and stress associated with my condition and transition to civilian life. Additionally, I had to deal with multiple minor to moderate traumatic brain injuries from the hundreds of blasts I experienced during my time in combat and training. Simply put, I was in a severe crisis, and after identifying and accepting this, I soon started the journey seeking help, relief and recovery.
As my marriage vanished, I searched for the services and support I needed as a newly minted Veteran. I tried a variety of programs and therapies through the Veterans Affairs (VA), and I was confident and hopeful the mental health team at the VA could fix the pain I was experiencing. My therapists were diligent, but I remained in pain. Everything was foreign to me, and all the services offered by the VA fell short. I was in a dark place in my life; I felt isolated, alone and lost.
To alleviate my symptoms, I came up with another plan and joined the National Guard. Unfortunately, my PTS was still untreated and, as a result, my first annual drill went very poorly. I was sent home on the advice and activation of a Medical Evaluation Board. I was being dismissed and felt devastated. I did not realize my issues were compounded, and I continued to need help desperately.
Soon after, a friend introduced me to Laney Rosenzweig, the developer of Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), an evidence-based psychotherapy that aims to resolve a traumatic memory through a combination of relaxation and memory visualization. The therapy’s distinct features include use of horizontal eye movements and memory reconsolidation, which is a way that new information is incorporated into existing memories. The technique is used to reprogram traumatic memories and images that are currently triggering strong physical reactions like depression, isolation, crying, insomnia, fear, anger and troubling memories.
When I sat down with Laney in June 2013 for my first session of ART, I was skeptical but hoping for a miracle. She asked me to visualize the story of my military brothers dying in my head while my eyes followed her hand moving from left to right. I did not have to share my story with her. Instead, all I had to do was think about it. When my chest started tightening up or the emotions started to swell, Laney had me focus on those sensations while watching her hand move from left to right until I was calm enough to continue the story. After I made it through the story twice, I thought of a daydream and how I preferred that day to be. That one session of ART allowed me to stop seeing the images that once caused negative reactions and redefined my experiences as I was transitioning to civilian life.
I started using ART for other areas of stress and depression related to both combat and transition and found it extremely helpful. The best way to explain ART to military professionals and veterans is that the therapy is brain fitness on steroids. I believe in ART so much that I founded a nonprofit, Veterans Alternative, with the mission to provide ART to military, veterans and their families in an effort to improve their quality of life through the Accelerated Wellness Program (AWP). We run two to three five-day Accelerated Wellness Programs each month for individuals (spouses or significant others included) who have served in a combat zone. Flights, lodging and meals along with five sessions of ART and complementing therapies are provided free of charge to all participants with phenomenal results.
Our organization continuously interacts with ART International Training and Research, a nonprofit which is committed to expanding the reach of the therapy by increasing the number of clinicians trained in ART nationwide. To do this, they are continuing to host sessions in different cities throughout the country for the remainder of 2018 and 2019 for community therapists who are interested in being trained in Accelerated Resolution Therapy.
Licensed clinicians including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors are eligible to become trained in ART. Upon completion of the training, therapists will earn 21.5 continuing education credits and will immediately be able to use the therapy with clients due to the hands-on approach of the training. Information on ART International’s upcoming training sessions as well as a list of providers who offer the therapy in their practice can be found on the nonprofit’s website at www.artherapyinternational.org.
I firmly believe that ART saved my life and because of this, I have made it a priority to spread positive messages of this therapy to ensure that other veterans, who are having similar experiences to the ones I went through, know that ART is a therapy that may potentially work for them as it did for me.
PTS is a serious issue that prevents thousands of people from completing their normal daily living activities because of the traumatic memories that keep repeating like a loop in their mind. Anyone living with PTS, whether it be veterans, active military or civilians need to know that there are answers. I truly hope that PTS sufferers receive the appropriate help they need and deserve. I did, and it saved my life.