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TREATMENT Magazine | Jennifer Taylor
Jerry Ehmann, clinical director of the Arizona-based center, says the emerging technique ART could be a “game changer” in treating trauma
For Jerry Ehmann, LPC, LISAC, NCC, the role of trauma was never more apparent in the roots of addiction and mental health disorders than when, years ago, he worked as a clinician at the Youth Development Institute in Phoenix. The 84-bed residential locked campus provides intensive and specialized treatment for youths referred by the Arizona juvenile court system and other state agencies. Ehmann, who is in recovery, saw firsthand how trauma was a big part of the youths’ stories, and it was the reason why, he says, so many had been locked up in the first place.
When Ehmann later shifted to working with addiction, he again recognized how trauma was the primary cause for many of his clients.
“I realized more and more that substance use was just a coping mechanism for a lot of trauma,” he says.
Nowadays, Ehmann, clinical director at the behavioral health and residential treatment center Soberman’s Estate in Cave Creek, Ariz., is an outspoken proponent of an emerging practice—accelerated resolution therapy (ART)—which has delivered promising outcomes in the treatment of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and disorders including addiction, anxiety, depression, phobia, grief and abuse. ART is a form of psychotherapy with roots in existing evidence-based therapies such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), but has been shown to achieve benefits for individuals more rapidly (usually in one to five sessions, according to researchers) and reportedly is efficient and relatively easy for clinicians to administer.
ART moves clients beyond being stuck in negative experiences and toward growth and positive changes. The result, research says, is that traumas and difficult life experiences are reprogrammed and stored in the brain so that they will no longer trigger strong emotions or physical reactions. One notable aspect of the treatment is that clients don’t have to talk about their traumas or difficult life experiences to achieve recovery, says Ehmann.
While researchers point out that more studies need to be done, they also say the client is always in control of what is happening. The treatment does not involve hypnotherapy; no medication is given in association with it; ART can be used for clients taking other medications; clients can choose whether to share distressing memories; the therapy involves no homework assignments; and clients don’t have to try to purposefully recall traumatic scenes between sessions.
Ehmann recently spoke with TreatmentMagazine.com, sharing his experiences using ART and why he believes the therapy is a “game changer” in the field.
Q: How long has Soberman’s Estate offered ART?
A: I came onboard at Soberman’s at the beginning of this year. I’ve been doing ART in treatment facilities for almost five years now. Prior to that, I’d been using EMDR and more traditional methods of treatment. ART does what I used to do as EMDR, in about a fifth of the time. The typical residential client has 28 days. And that’s if we can get 28 days from insurance. Using a protocol like EMDR takes five or six sessions to start seeing improvements, so I was uncomfortable using any kind of treatment that took more than one or two sessions. That’s the biggest difference.
In ART, I move stuff in one session typically on a traumatic event. We can clear physical sensations [and] negative images from a trauma event in one session, [based] on my personal experience.
Trauma can be like layers of an onion. We open up one trauma and we start working on it, and then all this other stuff comes up.”—Jerry Ehmann, clinical director of Soberman’s Estate
Q: What is the typical outcome for individuals treated with ART?
A: In my experience, 90 to 95% of the people respond in one session to clear an event. We may clear an event that happened in early adulthood, and all of a sudden they’re starting to remember they had this childhood trauma that they’ve forgotten about. Trauma can be like layers of an onion. We open up one trauma and we start working on it, and then all this other stuff comes up and we can’t finish the trauma protocols and the personalized treatment. As one person told me just a few weeks ago: “It was like somebody opened Pandora’s box and told me I’m discharged.” I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve worked with people on four or five events, and it’s a 30-day period to clear out multiple childhood traumas or even some violent assaults that have happened in adulthood that might have been the trigger or the precipitating event that caused all of this alcohol and drug use.
Q: Why is ART considered “emerging?”
A: EMDR [has] 30-plus years of research and practice behind it. ART is at seven years or eight years [old and has] evidence-based [research available] for about the last four and a half years, so it’s still relatively new. Even the number of counselors that are trained in it is still a fraction of what we have for EMDR therapists.
Q: How is ART used at Soberman’s Estate?
A: Anybody who comes into our treatment facility goes through the assessment process. If we determine that there is some traumatic stress, or even anxiety, we can start working on that with the ART. As a matter of fact, I just had a client earlier today that came in [with] a lot of childhood trauma.