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Accelerated Resolution Therapy

 In Coastal Life, Family Matters, Health Matters

Steve Taylor has been professionally involved in the field of mental health since 2012. He began his career treating individuals with severe substance abuse disorders in both inpatient and outpatient settings. During this time, Steve began to see how trauma and other mental health disorders were often at the root of a person’s addiction. At times, mainly when working with an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder (P.T.S.D.), standard treatment methods like one-on-one counseling and group therapy were not enough to treat an individual’s most debilitating symptoms sufficiently. 

While working as a counselor at a rehab facility on the Outer Banks, Steve found himself working with a particular client with severe P.T.S.D. As much as he tried to help, Steve admits feeling like he “wasn’t REALLY helping them.” The pair were able to make progress during counseling sessions or group therapy. But the symptoms (flashbacks, panic attacks, severe anxiety) would always seem to come back sooner or later. Around this time, Steve received a link to an article from an old graduate school colleague about a new form of treatment for people with P.T.S.D.

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Accelerated Resolution Therapy (A.R.T.) was the name of this new, evidence-based method. It consistently provided relief for trauma victims in as little as 1-3 brief sessions, with remarkable results. 

Had he not been currently dealing with the frustration of trying in vain to treat a client with P.T.S.D., Steve may not have given this 

article much thought. His first impression was that “it almost sounded too good to be true.” Considering his current dilemma, Steve decided to re-visit the subject. He began researching A.R.T. to see just what it was
all about.

Whether it was mere coincidence or fate, doing that research turned out to be well worth it. Fascinated by what he had learned about this new modality, Steve attended some training to learn how to administer A.R.T. This led him to further, advanced training, and eventually, he became an officially licensed practitioner of Accelerated Resolution Therapy.

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Today, Steve has his own practice in Kitty Hawk, NC, called “Rapid Recovery Counseling.” Steve focuses on but is not limited to helping people with anxiety, trauma/P.T.S.D., and substance abuse issues. He uses traditional methods like counseling, psychotherapy, and general talk therapy.

However, when the situation warrants it: he is enthusiastic about using what he refers to as “[the] favorite tool in my toolbox.” That tool indeed is Accelerated Resolution Therapy. Many of his clients have already found themselves amazed at the relief it has afforded them.

So what exactly is Accelerated Resolution Therapy?

A.R.T. is a type of “mind-body” therapy that uses bi-lateral stimulation to access the subconscious mind.  It also removes the physical stress reactions in the body connected to traumatic memory. It was developed with the purpose of more effectively treating the symptoms and root causes of P.T.S.D. Right from its start, it was shown to produce surprisingly effective results. At Steve’s office in Kitty Hawk, I asked him to walk me through a typical A.R.T. therapy session and explain just how it works.

Steve Taylor’s enthusiasm while describing his work is a clear manifestation of his passion for helping people. 

He began to explain that a calm and relaxing environment is conducive to A.R.T. Most therapists will have comfortable seating, soothing music, and dim lighting to facilitate the session.

The first step is the hardest part for most trauma victims, but luckily, it is not lengthy. First, the client is asked to recall their traumatic memory, or “scene,” and put themselves in that moment. Next, a sensation check is performed where they are asked to describe all of the sensations in their body from head to toe, one at a time. Whether it’s a rapid heart rate, shaky hands, tightness in the chest, the client will carefully explain, in detail, all of the feelings and physical sensations they are feeling.

While this is happening, Steve employs a technique known as bi-lateral stimulation. The client is directed to follow (with their eyes) Steve’s hand as he moves it back and forth in front of their face. Bi-lateral stimulation is a crucial component of A.R.T. It forces the eyes into a state of rapid eye movement (R.E.M.), which is the same thing that happens to us while we are dreaming. Bilateral stimulation/R.E.M has a sedating effect on the client, producing an “alpha” state of brain wave functioning. It is called “bilateral” stimulation because it activates both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously. In this “alpha state,” an individual’s brain is active on a level of arousal akin to deep sleep; however, they are still conscious and in control of their thoughts and actions. Thus, one of the primary purposes of this step is to grant more accessible access to the subconscious mind.

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This whole process of viewing the traumatic scene while undergoing bilateral stimulation is repeated several times. With each successive repetition of the process, the client becomes more and more desensitized to the traumatic scene, experiencing less severe symptoms.

Finally, while recalling their traumatic memory, the client is instructed to “set the scene aside” and replace it with something new and pleasant. They do so by literally picking anything pleasing they can think of to replace the traumatic image or series of events.

As Steve explains, “they become the director of their traumatic scene, and get the chance to re-write it as they please.” As non-technical as this may sound, it works! Many people literally report feeling a sense of weight being lifted from them as soon as this step is performed.

After a person completes an A.R.T. session, they still have all of the facts of their traumatic event in their minds. They still recall what happened to them, and they can still tell the story as it occurred. 

The profound difference is that physical stress reactions and nervous emotions no longer emerge when they tell their story or are reminded of it. This result is truly life-changing for those who have suffered for so long. No longer is there a fear of the crippling symptoms of P.T.S.D. creeping into their lives at any time. It even opens the door for more effective future counseling or psychotherapy; since clients can now feel (physically and emotionally) more comfortable talking about their traumatic experiences.

As far as what is actually occurring in the brain that makes this whole process work…we don’t actually know for sure. However, several theories and ongoing research, along with advancing neurotechnology, are gradually providing more insight.

 For now, Steve Taylor is personally not all that interested in knowing how exactly A.R.T. works. The most important thing is that it WORKS, and that’s good enough for Steve. For his clients, it is MORE than good enough, as they finally are given their lives back thanks to A.R.T.

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A.R.T. is also very effective at healing less severe, more “everyday” issues like anxiety, depression, or phobias. It’s even been used to help clients make difficult life decisions. 

Steve explained how he “can use metaphors and images to take the emotional charge out of a decision,” which tends to lead clients to a clear answer. This answer was likely, in their mind all along.

He has noticed that “many of us are in a state of chronic stress, and frankly carrying trauma- and we don’t even realize it because it’s become so normal.” 

He points to note that trauma doesn’t necessarily have to imply some kind of violent or horrific experience. Instead, it can be much subtler, to the point that we are unaware of its presence. 

“Whether it is due to consuming a lot of media, or the divisiveness and confusion of the last few years,” there are so many things “that can keep our body in a fight or flight state.” 

Ongoing stress and mental anxiety have acute, as well as chronic, adverse effects on our bodies. Less severe forms of trauma can result from fear, grief, or other past experiences that cause feelings like fear, anxiety, or insecurity. Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents are not always prominent. They often have occurred so long ago in our lives that we could never connect them to our current day stress/anxiety/discomfort. 

“I don’t care who you are. We all have trauma that we are carrying”, asserts Steve. 

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be therapy, but a lot of us could benefit from healing [ourselves]. There are a lot of ways to do it. A.R.T. is a powerful way, but even things like mindfulness practices and better diets” are things that can heal our physical and mental health. 

If anyone is struggling, in any way, with their mental health: know that you are not alone and that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. So tell someone, don’t be afraid to ask for help; and if you’re on the Outer Banks, remember that Steve Taylor is always right there in Kitty Hawk, eager to help you heal and grow!

Nick is a freelance writer for Coastal Life. 

Nick Leinweber
Author: Nick Leinweber

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