Nearly two decades of sustained war have led to serious consequences for our nation’s mental health, specifically of our veterans. With continued efforts to combat the War on Terror, the number of returning servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is rising. Though a variable range, studies report between 20 and 37 percent of soldiers who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) may struggle with PTSD.
Many events lead to PTSD: observing physical abuse or other violent acts, experiencing physical, psychological or emotional abuse, engaging in combat, witnessing the death of a friend or a “brother in arms,” and incest or sexual trauma. This list is not all-inclusive either! Some situations that may cause memories to hippocampal-ly fracture lingering emotions in one individual, may not evoke the same responses in another. Neuro-genetic research suggests that everyone has varying sensitivity levels internally affecting their emotional responses to real or perceived threats.
Typically, PTSD is not a stand-alone diagnosis and is usually accompanied with other psychopathologies: Anxiety, Depression, Personality Disorders, Sleep Disorders, Domestic Violence, and Suicide. The list goes on… Most PTSD sufferers report childhood abuse or marital/relationship issues as a central cause of intrusive thoughts and negative thinking patterns. Though with more veterans receiving treatment for PTSD, the Military is focusing more research into causal patterns and more cost-effective cognitive therapies for service members. Not surprisingly, combat is a common cause of PTSD among veteran males, however, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is the leading cause of PTSD among our servicewomen.
PTSD Secondary to Military Sexual Trauma
Cognitive behavioral therapies require time to unearth emotional triggers through talking and self-awareness homework assignments between sessions. Some clients fear reliving their traumatic memories when engaging in psychotherapy and others may feel helpless after years of practice, causing some to quit. Barriers to accessing mental health treatment exceed the need for clinic locations and transportation. Women veterans with PTSD secondary to MST seeking help can face other obstacles: stigma, fear of reprisal or repercussion from authority figures, or even a threat to their military career.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is an evolving psychotherapy practice that is helping to calm emotional storms among our veterans and civilians with PTSD. A 2015 study from Military Medicine reported a meaningful reduction of PTSD symptoms in three to five sessions for military and civilian populations alike.
ART is an increasingly effective treatment for female veterans battling PTSD from sexual trauma!
ART Treating PTSD-MST
It was once thought that our emotional memories were static and the concept of retrieval was like turning the pages of an old photo album. We now know this isn’t the case! Memories are fluid, an ever-evolving interpretation of events and one can always choose to cognitively change their perceptions.
ART modulates the memory by consciously altering perceptual neurological processing. When clients voluntarily replace troubling images with positive ones, they’re creating new neural networks to enable perceptual processing. You are helping your client transform non-hippocampal-ly dependent memory to a hippocampal-ly based memory system.
Treatment is procedural-focused and most importantly the client is in control at all times. The therapist facilitates the process and walks the client through the steps necessary for recovery from traumatic memories. Client motivation is essential for treatment success! It’s also helpful if clients have acute hand-eye coordination and ability to stay with their thoughts as well.
- Imaginal Exposure ~ Clients can verbally, or if they prefer, quietly re-imagine the traumatic event. Left to right-hand movements help to decrease physiologic sensations experienced while visualizing abusive memories.
- Image Re-Scripting ~ The therapist will direct the client’s eye movements back and forth during this phase as well. Because of how the memory processes and stores information, a set number of directed eye movements helps to replace, or re-script, negative images with positive ones. Clients are responsible for re-envisioning a new way to experience their painful memories.
- Eye Movements ~ A set number of eye movements help to integrate unprocessed traumatic memories. Performed by the behavioral health practitioner, clients will experience fixed sets of eye movements during imaginal exposure and re-scripting phases.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy is a proven therapy for PTSD that effectively offers an opportunity to help military members and civilians alike, overcome their struggle with trauma. PTSD doesn’t discriminate and affects both genders, any race or religion, and to people of any age. Connect with us to learn more about ART techniques and how through working together, we can keep our nation healthy, happy and strong!