Therapist uses eye movements to retrain brain as treatment for PTSD

A West Hartford-based therapist is traveling around the country teaching military clinicians about a therapy that uses eye movements to erase traumatic images from the brain.

It's known as Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, and Laney Rosenzweig, a licensed marriage and family therapist, who says she created the therapy 10 years ago, explained how it works.

A patient rapidly moves his or her eyes from left to right, following the movement of a hand or object, while imagining a traumatic experience without verbalizing any of the details.

The brain is able to process the memory, including images and sensations that come with it, and then visualizes a different outcome.

"The facts never change. But we change the images in the limbic system (the sections of the brain that control emotions), so when the brain goes to see the event again, they see good images," Rosenzweig said. "That's why the military is so interested."

She said it's an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder because you get results more rapidly and patients don't have to relive the trauma verbally. Researchers don't know definitively how these eye movements retrain a person's memory.

ART is recognized as an evidence-based treatment for depression and for trauma and stress-related disorders by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But it's not been approved as a treatment for PTSD by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Still, Rosenzweig said she's trained Army clinicians at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, Fort Hood in Texas and Fort Stewart in Georgia, and staff at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. She estimated that she's trained close to 200 military clinicians, and is looking to train more people.

In 2014, retired Army Col. Dr. Charles Hoge, who used to head up PTSD research at Walter Reed, and 15 of his staff were trained in the therapy.

There's an ongoing $1 million study at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute to examine the effectiveness of ART compared to cognitive processing therapy for treating PTSD. The study involves civilians, military veterans and active military personnel.

Between 11 percent and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are estimated to have PTSD, according to the VA, and about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have PTSD.

j.bergman@theday.com

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