Accelerated Resolution Therapy or ART vs. the power of EMDR

I have heard good things about Accelerated Resolution Therapy. The early research is extremely promising. As a longtime EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist and trainer, I’ve noted the obvious similarities between these treatments. The ART protocol, which is delivered in two to five sessions without homework, provided significant improvements. This statement also can be said about EMDR therapy. In fact, this identical statement was said after the initial EMDR study was published in 1989. There, a variety of PTSD subjects were treated with only three treatment sessions with extraordinary improvement.

ART uses the psychotherapeutic practices of imaginal exposure and imagery re-scripting (IR) facilitated through sets of eye movements. This strategy has been employed by EMDR therapists for decades. In addition to ART’s brevity, a novel component of ART is use of IR to “replace” negative imagery (and other sensations) with positive imagery. EMDR does not impose the positive image; it allows it to emerge after the client has processed the maladaptively stored information.

It is always surprising when 30 years of research and hundreds of books and discoveries by EMDR researchers and practitioners are dismissed. It’s as if this body of work seems to not exist, then something that seems to be simply a reinventing of a well-established wheel, which has been riding along since 1989, presents itself as something new.

What seems to have been lost in the understanding of EMDR is that it is endorsed by most world health organizations for the treatment of trauma. But this is the least of what it does.

The treatment of a single episode of trauma is usually done in short order. One or two sessions are very common using EMDR, depending on the event, of course. Often the problem with all of us, whether we have a diagnosis or not, is that we are driven by one of two core beliefs: “I don’t matter” or “I’m not good enough.” You can disagree, but the first stage of this process is AVOIDANCE—so welcome to the party.

These schemas begin at a young age, often at birth, and are perpetuated and strengthened throughout the lifespan. These schemas affect just about everything we do. Mine was “I’m not good enough” and is probably why I have two master’s degrees and a doctorate. EMDR is the only treatment I have ever found that causes a permanent shift in these negative beliefs. And these shifts happen without talking. The shift has very little to do with what I say.

Once these beliefs change to the adaptive thought, “I am good enough” or “I do matter,” the real work begins, because the client is thrown into chaos because they have lost their identity. He/she has no idea how to behave in this adaptive way. In this stage, they almost always retreat to the old way, but now they have insight. Therefore, nothing quite looks the same—they can’t go back.

This is not trauma work, although traumas may be part of the work. This is transformational work. The client moves through six stages of transformation. It is a very real death/rebirth experience that happens at warp speed, and it happens right before my very eyes. It is the most incredible feeling that I have ever had as a therapist, to watch the rebirth, when the “aha” moment occurs. Immediately a client’s affect changes, a calm enters the room, and sometimes they even begin to laugh. Laughter is a sure-fire sign that we are headed to the promised land. These moments frequently occur with EMDR, which is why I never tire of the work. I just do not know why more therapists are not aware of the power of EMDR to permanently and adaptively change a person’s life.

Thinking EMDR is only for trauma is so 1990s. EMDR is not just a trauma treatment. It is a model of therapy: EMDR Therapy does not just treat symptoms, it transforms lives!