Post-traumatic stress therapy involving eye movement helps soldiers and civilians

New PTS therapy helps soldiers and civilians

(CNN) – There’s a new type of therapy to help with post-traumatic stress, as the suicide rate among veterans suffering from PTS continues to rise in the U.S.

The technique is called Accelerated Resolution Therapy, or ART, and it involves using eye movements to desensitize a person to a memory.

The treatment is helping not only soldiers, but also civilians.

“It seems like magic, but there’s science behind it,” said Marsha Mandel, an ART trainer.

In ART, a person visualizes their memory and the emotions linked to it, then follows the instructions of a therapist, following their hand movements with their eyes, mimicking rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

“The eye movements access a person’s natural problem-solving ability,” Mandel said. “So, the person remembers, thinks about their memory. The first time they see their scene, it feels real. But then their brain starts to change it. So typically, a person is removed from the memory. It’s further away.”

Some therapists also say the treatment works beyond PTS, helping with phobias, anxiety and grief.

Jill Stephenson, whose son was killed serving in Afghanistan, agrees.

“Prior to finding the ART therapy, I thought that I could just cope with my grief on my own,” she said.

Stephenson’s only son, Army Ranger Ben Kopp, was killed by a sniper halfway through his third tour in Afghanistan.

“He was 17 when he signed up. It was the fall of his senior year of high school,” she said.

Inspired by his great-grandfather’s military service during World War II, Kopp was certain the Army was his path after Sept. 11, 2001.

After his death, Stephenson found herself unable to move forward.

“I was sweeping my grief under the rug and I started to look for other means,” she said.

She connected with the nonprofit Helping Out Our American Heroes, or HOOAH, where she learned about ART.

“It was like being enlightened,” she said. “It's like someone pulled the shade up in your bedroom and it's like, ‘Oh my goodness, it is light out here.’”

Stephenson said the therapy helps her focus on the positive.

“A selfless human, a selfless humanitarian. That's what he was from a very young age. Ben championed the underdog. He was everybody's best friend,” she said.

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