Rehabilitation from anxiety disorders caused by real trauma that have damaged mental stability may be a long-term process. An estimated 24.4 million people in the United States, in all age groups from young children to seniors, suffer from the disorder we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Seventy percent of adults in the United States have suffered from some type of traumatic event that could potentially trigger an anxiety disorder. Whether someone who suffers trauma develops a lasting neurotic condition appears to depend on the way they handle the memories. PTSD appears to represent an extreme level of failure in the control of memory.
Damaged memory control
A study of traumatized individuals associated with the Ugandan Civil War found that these victims are characterized by memory disturbances that suggest reduced memory control. A group of traumatized people who eventually developed PTSD was compared with a group who suffered trauma but did not develop PTSD. A procedure to condition “directed forgetting” reduced the intensity of traumatic memories in the non-PTSD victims but was not effective on those who developed full-blown PTSD. The study concludes that PTSD sufferers “are impaired in their ability to selectively control episodic memory encoding [which causes] disorders such as intrusions and flashbacks.”
Studies of brain development even appear to indicate that extreme trauma may affect the way the brain actually develops, especially in areas that affect memory control and emotionality.
A paper published in Biological Psychiatry argues that it may be possible to treat PTSD by actually altering a patient’s memories. Researchers call this proposed technique “memory reconsolidation.” Old information would be called to mind, modified with the aid of drugs or behavioral interventions, and then stored again with the new information incorporated. There are three parts to the remembering process:
- Acquisition or encoding of a memory when the experience is first remembered.
- Consolidation when the memory “solidifies into fully-formed memories to be stored for the long-term.”
- Retrieval of the memory.
Typically, the more often a memory is retrieved, the stronger it becomes. If a memory is recalled repeatedly it is consolidated more strongly. The theory argues that recalled memory can also be “fixed” after long storage. They can be modified and reconsolidated.
The reconsolidation of memory is at the core of Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). ART therapy replaces the anxiety and emotional effects of memory recall.
The patient moves his or her eyes back and forth following the therapist’s hand motions. The traumatic memories are subtly recalled during the eye motions, replaced with waking memories and reconsolidated. The therapy involves using eye movement to simulate the kind of eye-brain activity associated with dreaming in sleep. Early research does confirm that eye movement can evoke memory.
A review of ART as a brief PTSD therapy found evidence that this brief therapy procedure “can significantly reduce symptoms of psychological trauma” and can be considered as a primary treatment option or used for patients whose PTSD does not respond to “first-line therapies.”
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is consistent with notions of PTSD as a disorder of memory control and memory consolidation. ART uses techniques that are consistent with current notions that eye movement stimulates memory recall and notions that memories can be extinguished or reconsolidated in less emotionally painful forms.
The methods incorporated into ART were developed in 2008 by Laney Rosenzweig, LMFT as the integration of elements from different therapies. To learn more, please contact us.