On most days I hear at least one person say that they feel alone, that no one truly understands them or their situation, or that they feel "different" from others. How is it that so many people feel the same way, yet so many people feel alone? It's a paradox of being human.
Thankfully, we have the ability to turn our attention to thoughts that help us feel connected if we choose to. If we look for similarities with others, we will find them. We can mindfully note our thoughts, to notice thoughts of comparison, judgment, or criticism towards ourselves and others, and then purposefully shift our focus to curiosity, acceptance, and empathy. We can recognize differences as being just part of the picture, putting them in the perspective of being a reflection of our uniqueness, instead of putting up walls.
Recognizing our mutual human experience of being alone can conversely allow us to tune in to common humanity. We can decrease judgment of others and of ourselves. We can let go of both blame and guilt. We can be forgiving, compassionate, and self-compassionate. There is no reason to bring ourselves or others down, because despite our differences, we are all in this personhood thing, together.
Erasing painful images from the past, replacing them with positive images, finding solutions from within through a process we typically only access during sleep... It sounds unbelievable, but ART is officially an evidence-based practice, recognized by NREPP, the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, to be an effective psychotherapy for PTSD, depression, stress, and personal resilience. ART was also classified as a promising therapy for symptoms of phobia, panic, anxiety, sleep and wake disorders, disruptive and antisocial behaviors, general functioning and well-being.
And it can work in 1 - 5 sessions.
I didn't believe it either. I heard about this in a meeting on Trauma Informed Care last year - some new therapy that erases painful images. I looked it up online and was both amazed and skeptical. Could this be possible? I watched the founder Laney Rosenzweig's TEDx Talk. I watched a news clip about a veteran whose PTSD was cured in one session, and more videos from individuals who reported similar success. After checking out the Accelerated Resolution Therapy website, I found myself registering for the Basic training in March. In 3 days with Laney and a group of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, I had learned about the science behind ART, both experienced and administered it, and remained amazed, yet still in disbelief.
I started using ART immediately with clients who had painful memories with distressing images, emotions, and sensations. As each of these clients reported weeks after the ART sessions, that they could not find the images even if they tried, I had no choice but to accept that this therapy works and it works fast. They had the facts, but lost the pain. After completing the Advanced and Enhanced ART trainings in early September, I am very excited to be offering ART to clients in my practice.
An eye-movement therapy that erases images sounds strange and unbelievable. There are many scholarly articles and studies available about it, but I'd like to answer some typical questions here.
What do eye movements have to do with anything?
Eye-movement therapies have actually been around for decades. One of the current theories is that the eye-movements replicate what occurs naturally in the REM (Rapid Eye-Movement) stage of sleep. In this stage, we have increased brain activity, dreams, eye-movements, and relaxed muscles. When people awake after REM sleep, their thoughts are more loosely associated - this accounts for the surprising metaphors, symbolism, and mixture of many parts of our experiences in dreams. Doing these eye-movements with the guidance of a trained therapist allows the brain to access a process which is typically not available when we are awake. This bilateral stimulation from the eye-movements is powerful, calming, and elicits natural, simple problem-solving.
How can memories be changed?
Most people know that memories are not reliable. This is why witnesses to the same event see things differently, and why memories change over time. When we are recalling, we are actually reconstructing. The process of recalling involves changes in the brain - new proteins synthesizing, neuronal (brain cell) changes in structure. This means that it is actually new and different each time. When we recall, there is a window of reconsolidation, during which our memories themselves are more vulnerable to change.
How can images, emotions, and facts be separated in a memory?
We used to think that a memory was stored in one place and fixed. It is not only changeable, but one memory is actually stored in multiple parts of the brain. Images are stored in the part of the brain that processes what we see. Sounds, smells, tastes, and touch sensations are each stored in specialized areas. So are emotions and internal sensations like that feeling in your gut or your throat, or tingling, or tension. Emotions and sensations are more closely linked to images in the deep, more primitive parts of our brains. Eye-movements that occur with dreaming and that are used with ART, have an effect on these parts in order to process emotions and sensations. Facts are stored in the more advanced parts and are not affected by ART. Over time, our reactions to memories may change; ART allows us to do this very quickly.
What does this have to do with phobias, anxiety, or depression?
In order to survive, we have to remember fear - so that we learn to be afraid of dangerous things. If a person develops a fear of spiders, the memory of the fear is recalled at the sight of a spider. Processing the memory with ART, removes the fear associated with the image of the spider. Other emotions or mood states such as anxiety or depression, are strongly associated with images and memory. Processing memories that may be at the root of this distress with ART, helps to separate the facts from the distress.
If you are curious, I encourage you to look at some of the links above to find out more about it. You can find an ART therapist near you, or if you are near Cornwall, NY, you can contact me for more information.
Many people have trouble stopping their minds from swirling with too many thoughts. From obsessing over past mistakes to worrying about the future, overwhelming thoughts can make it difficult to feel calm or enjoy ourselves. Even when we know that worrying or obsessing is not going to help, sometimes we just can't shut it off. Having a strategy to put our attention on the present moment can help.
Meditation expert Jon Kabat-Zinn's popular book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, is filled with brief mindfulness exercises. The title alone reminds us that we can take our racing thoughts with us - to the beach, on a hike, or on a vacation, and we can make ourselves miserable. Sometimes the setting is not enough; calming ourselves is truly an inside job. If meditation and mindfulness seem like too much to learn about, there are short, easy ways to shift our attention off of our worries, fears, or anger. Grounding exercises are short, easy to remember, simple to do, and help us in several ways.
When we choose to pay attention to something in the present moment, we get a break from dwelling on the past or predicting future problems. This break interrupts the physiological changes that occur with overwhelming negative thoughts, allowing our minds and bodies to shift gears.
Managing attention is a skill that improves with practice, just like everything else we learn in our lives. Improved focus means when we decide to put our mental energy into something, it will be easier to follow through with it.
Using our senses to make simple observations in the here and now is a basic form of mindfulness. Studies have found that mindfulness is helpful for physical and mental health, and improves overall well being. People who practice mindfulness are less judgmental of themselves and others, are more focused on savoring life experiences, more engaged in activities, form deeper connections with others, and have a greater capacity to cope with adverse events.
Tuning into our senses increases our mind/body connection, increasing our ability to be more aware and present in our lives, and less distracted by our thoughts.
3-2-1 Grounding Exercise...easy as 1-2-3!
It may sound too simple, but try it and see what happens. Be still and look around you. Name 3 things that you see. Be quiet and listen. Name 3 things that you hear. Continue to be still and name 3 things that you feel. Now name 2 things that you see, hear, and feel. No repeats. Now name one of each.
There is an old saying that applies here:
"When you take care of each moment, you take care of all time."
Some of my clients use this exercise to bring themselves back from overwhelming anxiety, anger, fear, or worry. Some use it to avoid becoming lost in upsetting memories. I used it on a walk with my dog yesterday after finding myself worrying about something in the future. The exercise brought my attention to seeing the trees, flowers, and pavement, hearing the sounds of birds, a dog barking, and a car, and the feelings of the ground under my feet, the leash in my hand, and shirt sleeves on my arms. No repeats. The exercise brought me to see the blue sky and clouds, to hear the sounds of crickets and faint voices from nearby yards, the feelings of a breeze and my arms swinging. No repeats. I saw a line on the pavement, heard a distant helicopter, and felt my breath. My worrying was gone, those moments were OK, and I was present.