Can technology help victims of trauma rewrite painful memories? A team of researchers from the University of South Florida are studying the effectiveness of accelerated resolution therapy, a tool that may improve anxiety and post-traumatic stress among soldiers returning home from war.
Can technology help victims of trauma rewrite painful memories?
A team of researchers from the University of South Florida are studying the effectiveness of Accelerated Resolution Therapy, a tool that may improve anxiety and post-traumatic stress among soldiers returning home from war.
Let's take a look.
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Veterans returning home often have difficulty adjusting to life after war.
One place in Holiday, Florida, makes the adjustment a little bit easier.
The Veterans Alternative is a place where they can reignite that familiarity with some of those tools that they utilized while they were serving on active duty.
The camaraderie is definitely one major piece.
The physical fitness -- nostalgic, as well.
And then we bring in other pieces to help them overcome some of the hypervigilance that they might face after coming home from war.
So some of those pieces that we tie in is some of the yoga that we do to help calm the breathing and really kind of learn how to meditate and just stay in the moment instead of getting tensed or anxiety.
Then we bring in another therapy called Accelerated Resolution Therapy, which is absolutely amazing, what it does.
It's saved a lot of warriors' lives, including my own.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, was created to help people who have experienced trauma.
University of South Florida epidemiologist and researcher Kevin Kip began studying several therapy modalities in 2010.
And we designed five studies to use this money that was congressionally appropriated to look for some alternative ways to help service members, veterans, and their families with emotional difficulties.
A study with Accelerated Resolution Therapy was one of the five, and, over time, it turned out to be the most promising.
The protocol that is delivered is meant to bring up original traumatic experiences and actually change the way that the information is ultimately stored -- to replace negative images in the brain and, believe it or not, replace that with positive images and sensations.
And our brains are wired in such a way that that be accomplished.
It's something called memory reconsolidation.
Alison Voisin works at the Veterans Alternative Center as a licensed mental-health counselor.
Being a therapist for you know, over 10 years, I've tried a lot of different therapies.
And some things have worked, but nothing has worked for PTS, specifically for anxiety, like Accelerated Resolution Therapy does.
The ART session starts with a patient bringing up a past traumatic experience.
So, you ask the individual to bring it up in their mind -- now, they don't have to it, they have to bring it up -- and to start to walk it through from beginning to end like it's occurring again.
While they're doing this, I'm moving my hand side to side, which is helping them to move their eyes side to side.
That mimics what happens when we're in REM.
A lot of our trauma hangs out in the front of the brain, so to say.
And when we're utilizing these bilateral eye movements, we're able to consolidate the memories, put them in long-term storage.
So they're not up front -- constantly evading them in the here and now.
So, the next piece is to imagine a way you'd remember it.
'The firefight never happened,' or, 'My friend was wounded but taken to safety.'
And they actually walk that through like a movie while following the clinician's hand.
And what happens is they're actually changing the original negative images, almost like pasting over them or rewriting them with positive images.
They're able to, within an hour, an hour and a half, go through an entire memory, the emotions connected to it, and find relief, put it in the right place, so that, on a day-to-day basis, they don't have to be constantly being exposed to these different triggers, these memories.
Jerry Sableski served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
First tour was on a ship.
Second tour, I was what they referred to as a 'river rat' or a 'brown water sailor.'
After returning home, Jerry suppressed his memories of war for 45 years.
And then once I retired, my psychiatrist theorized that I had a little more free time.
And then my mind started thinking about what I went through 45 years ago, and then that's when I started really having the problems.
Jerry decided to try ART.
It makes your brain tired, and you can reprogram it.
I don't know how she does it, but she does.
After just three sessions, Jerry is pleased with the results.
I'm able to cope with everyday stresses a lot better than I was six months ago, before I started coming here.
Army veteran Jeff Baughman served our country during the Bosnian conflict.
I was a light-infantry squad leader, so I was one of those guys who carried a large backpack and a rifle everywhere.
Best job I ever had in my life.
Jeff saw firsthand the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Bosnia.
After returning home, he tried to put those memories behind him.
I excelled when I had something to do, when I was in college and grad school.
Those things kept me busy.
Following that, once my mind had a chance to work on its own, it decided to take over and essentially crumble my life quite a bit.
Jeff is actively involved at the Veterans Alternative Center.
He enjoys the camaraderie and activities, like this eye-rest meditation.
He, too, tried Accelerated Resolution Therapy.
What I noticed probably right off the bat was I was very calm coming out of the very first session.
Where I really began to notice it was about the third session.
So, you walk out of the room, you do feel a lot better, but I woke up the next day, and I was like, 'Wow.'
I really slept the whole night.
And it was honestly a sense of peace that came over, probably for the first time in about 10 years.
The center was founded by Brian Anderson, who also sought relief from the memories of war.
I was desperate, you know?
I was a Green Beret.
I'm a barrel-chested freedom fighter.
I'm supposed to be physically, mentally, spiritually tough.
Inside, I was just going through a ton of turmoil.
When he learned about ART, he immediately decided to try this novel approach.
It saved my life.
And I wanted to make sure that other warriors had that same opportunity.
Dr. Kip shares his findings by speaking at conferences and having his research validated.
We've done three studies, published seven papers, and, as a result of the evidence we've acquired, now we're federally recognized as an effective, evidence-based treatment for both post-traumatic stress and depression.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy may be relatively new, but the results are undeniable.
It's everything from people reuniting with their families again, people being able to socialize, be able to come here and have the camaraderie, you know, with fellow veterans.
Their anxiety is decreasing.
Their depression is decreasing.