Kathy had been doing well in her recovery from gambling addiction, having abstained for a dozen years with only occasional fleeting thoughts about gambling. But when a workplace assault created new trauma and awakened old feelings from previous traumatic experiences, she suddenly had unprecedented cravings to gamble, even devising a plan to travel far away to engage in a gambling spree.
For nearly a year after the workplace incident, which left her with psychological damage, and torn ligaments and broken bones in both wrists, Kathy was unable to find relief. “I went through a lot of talk therapy to work through things, but it just wasn’t helping,” says Kathy. “I didn’t feel better and was in a constant state of fear.
There were times when I was afraid to leave my apartment, stayed in bed all the time, felt suicidal and was just not living a life.”
As Kathy’s addiction symptoms worsened and her physical pain persisted, she sought out options that would be more effective than traditional talk therapy and medication. A friend mentioned a therapeutic approached called accelerated resolution therapy (ART) that could potentially provide help for both the psychological anguish and the physical pain.
“I was feeling so bad physically and emotionally that I was ready to try anything,” says Kathy. “I went into accelerated resolution therapy with an open mind.” Kathy had her first ART session in November, 10 months after the workplace incident.
To her surprise, Kathy experienced immediate improvement — both for her mental anguish and physical pain. “My psychological pain, as measured by feelings of anger, hurt, depression, anxiety, etc., went from a 9 or 10 at the beginning of the session to 0 or 1 at the end of the session. And I was able to decrease the amount of pain medication I needed by approximately 60 percent.”
“It may be hard to believe, but it’s common for one session of ART to have these kind of results,” says Wade Lang, LPCC, LADC, NCGC-II, who led Kathy through accelerated resolution therapy. “Kathy’s anxiety and depression were eliminated, the cravings went away and even the pain at the original trauma sites was drastically reduced.” Kathy’s PCL-5 score (the PCL-5 is a 20-item self-report measure that assesses the 20 DSM-5 symptoms of PTSD) dropped from the 60s to a 6.
Kathy had two additional ART sessions to solidify the gains she made, but does not anticipate the need for extended therapy lasting for months or years. “For the first time in my life, I’m feeling content,” says Kathy. “I’m experiencing an awareness I haven’t felt for a long time and even found myself asking, ‘When did all the leaves on the trees fall off the branches?’ There’s light in my life.”
Kathy’s first accelerated resolution therapy session
Accelerated resolution therapy (ART) is an evidence-based eye-movement therapy that has historically been studied and used as an alternative to traditional PTSD treatments that use drugs or lengthy psychotherapy sessions. It is also showing promise in the treatment of people with gambling addiction. Here’s a glimpse into Kathy’s first ART session that brought her significant improvement.
I sat directly across from Wade as he explained how the process would work. He asked me to follow his hand back and forth with my eyes as he gave each set of specific directions. I would estimate that each set of directions lasted perhaps 30 to 60 seconds.
First, Wade asked me to think about the traumatic event that came to mind, and to feel and relive the feelings associated with it. I was told to keep these feelings to myself and thus did not share them aloud. He then told me to take a deep breath and to let the feelings out.
Next, Wade asked me to envision a more positive situation. I pictured myself going back to my place of employment, greeted by a line of welcoming staff that allowed me to say anything I wanted. And I pictured the person who assaulted me apologizing.
Wade introduced another scenario. This time, I’m sitting by a campfire. I’m asked to visualize tossing all my feelings and other negative scenes into the fire, things like betrayal, trust, anxiety, fear and anger.
A final scenario involved my walking across a bridge. There’s a pillar standing in the way that prevents me from crossing the bridge. The pillar represents a collection of all the bad feelings I’ve experienced. I’m asked to do whatever it takes to get the pillar out of the way, whether pushing it down, throwing it out of the way, etc. Once I do that, there is nothing to stop me from walking across the bridge — my anxiety and mistrust and other feelings are gone.
[Note: this part of the process is called Voluntary Image Replacement (VIR) and is a hallmark of ART Therapy. The science behind VIR is attributed to Dr. Karim Nader, who discovered through his research that there is a “reconsolidation window” where one can change the images of past traumatic issues and essentially install an overlay of new images that are positive and do not have negative sensations and emotions attached to them.]
By the end of the first session, I experienced great improvement in my symptoms. If someone told me this would help this much this quickly, I probably wouldn’t have believed them.
Bill Stein for Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance