PTSD and Cancer
Last updated: November 2022
Considering the many traumatic events, I have faced over the last few years, several folks have suggested writing an article on how I have been dealing with it all. More specifically, to share my experiences with a treatment protocol called accelerated resolution therapy (ART) for short.
Many high stress situations
The stress generators in the last few years have included 3 run-ins with cancer, a dose of COVID pneumonia and the recent death of my wife of 57 years. According to my new best friend (a therapist), any one of those single events was significant enough to cause PTSD. Being male of course, I resisted all but the last - the death of my wife in May of 2022. That put me over the edge, and I decided it was time to seek professional help.
The story of my road to recovery starts in 2011 with the death of my grandson who at age 4 succumbed to childhood leukemia. While all of the family members were grief stricken, it was my son and daughter-in law who had a particularly difficult time resolving the loss. After some research, they signed up for a form of PTSD therapy called EMDR or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.
A therapy technique for PTSD
As the name suggests the process involves focusing your vision on a rapidly moving object such as a spot of light on a computer screen or a dot projected on a wall. Throughout the therapy you are asked to rescript the negative scene with a more acceptable memory replacement. The process of EMDR therapy is quite open ended and gives one a large amount of freedom as to how you seek to replace stressful thoughts and emotions with positive ones. After multiple sessions and weeks, both my son and his wife were pleased with the outcome. That said, based on a simple description of the process, it was very difficult for me to understand how such treatment could work but it apparently did .
Following the death of my wife in May of 2022, my son encouraged my daughter and I to try EMDR. As we searched for local providers in both Virginia where my daughter lives and Connecticut where I am based, we kept finding references to a new form of EDMR therapy called Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), which offered the same outcome as EDMR but in only a few sessions.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy
Created in 2008 by Laney Rosenzweig, a licensed marriage and family therapist, ART is also based on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing but also includes treatment modalities that include Gestalt, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and more. In short ART practitioners use a combination of methods to change the way stressful images are stored in your brain, all the while reducing the negative physical and emotional effects they create.
Prior to my first ART session the therapist, met with me and asked me to describe the event(s) that were causing stress. During that review I could hardly get the words and images out without bursting into tears. Once she had a good idea on the source of the issues, she sat across from me and asked me to simply focus my full focus on her hand and fingertips as she moved her hand left to right for several minutes. At the same time, she suggested that I play back the troubling scene as an observer vs being a participant.
Checking the flow of emotions
When she stopped moving her hand, the flood of tears had stopped. She then asked me to describe the scene again. This time I could do so with no tears or emotions. As we continued for about 90 minutes, she added more support cues I could focus on as I focused on her moving hand. I have no idea how this works, but it does.
ART therapy unlike EMDR uses specific instructions and follows a series of steps and verbal direction that rescripts the traumatic images while keeping all the factual knowledge of the event. ART focuses on rescripting the stressful event while EMDR revisits the same memory with no direction from the therapist as many times as necessary.
Personally, I prefer the ART approach and so far, it appears to be working for me. One of the benefits of this type of therapy is that it achieves results rather quickly with patients only needing a few sessions. I hope this explanation is helpful to anyone facing PTSD. All I can say is -- give it a chance and see if – it works for you.
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