According to the United States’ Veterans Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur in individuals who have witnessed combat. Research shows that in excess of 20% of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from PTSD.
Symptoms can include intrusive flashbacks and nightmares, emotional numbness, difficulty sleeping, feeling on edge, anxiety and panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. If symptoms persist after a few weeks, an assessment is needed in order to determine whether a person is suffering from PTSD and if so, what kind of treatment is most appropriate.
For some, Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) may be the answer. ART is a four to five-session, evidence-based psychotherapy program that uses a combination of relaxation and memory visualization to resolve a traumatic memory. According to ART International, 70% of service members and veterans who completed treatment “substantially” reduced their symptoms of PTSD in an average of four treatment sessions and the U.S. Department of Defense is bringing ART to Ft. Hood, Ft. Stewart, Ft. Drum and Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital.
“ART is one of those therapies that was absolutely amazing for me and helped me walk this path that I’m on,” Brian Anderson, a veteran who struggled with PTSD told us.
Anderson joined the military after 9/11. He is a retired Army Green Beret with 14 years of service, 33 months in combat and three Bronze Stars. Anderson struggled with severe PTSD and had thoughts of suicide as he made the transition to civilian life.
“My third deployment was to Uruzgan Province Cobra Base (in Afghanistan),” Anderson told us. “Our very first firefight on Cobra Base was eight hours long and we killed 39 Taliban that day. This 12-man team went on to do a lot of fighting in that area and every single time we left the wire, we were in a heavy firefight. I was already angry and bitter with all the fighting and then September 29, 2010 came around, which was day two of Operation Sundown. My teammate, Calvin, wasn’t supposed to be on that operation but he went. We’re sitting there and watching a couple of helicopters fly into our base. We got a call on our radio that mail just came in. We were all excited and pumped for day two. We’re thinking that once we’re done this operation, we can open our mail.”
Calvin was killed that day along with Mark, Anderson’s combat controller. They were both killed by a high-ranking Taliban commander.
“I was right there when they were killed and took out the machine gun nest that was holding them next to the building,” Anderson told us. “They passed away and we took off the sensitive items from off their bodies, put them in body bags, put them on a plane and sent them out. We kept on with our operation for the next couple of weeks. We went through the rest of that deployment and there was still a lot of fighting. We had a couple more injuries and a couple more casualties. They were all difficult. Then we came home.”
Anderson wanted to leave the military. His team moved to Eglin Air Force Base and he stayed at Fort Bragg. That’s when he says he started feeling panic attacks.
“I started feeling symptoms of PTSD when I left active duty,” Anderson told us. “I was first diagnosed while I was still in service. I first went in because I thought I had blood pressure issues or diabetes. I was getting lightheaded and weak, and didn’t know what was causing this. When I got to the hospital they ran all the tests they needed to do. When I came back to the hospital for my follow-up visit, the doctors told me I was suffering from PTSD which was causing my panic/anxiety attacks.”
Anderson began a long road at trying to figure out what this meant and how he could recover.
“It got a lot worse before it got better,” says Anderson. “I started questioning my existence, whether I was alive, thinking I was in purgatory and thought I actually died in Afghanistan and had to right everything that went wrong. Then I started seeing Calvin and Mark. I started seeing Calvin driving the car next to me. I would see Mark walk past me. I would have images of bullets going through my head. I would imagine rage coming through the door.”
A friend pointed Anderson to ART.
“What was really interesting is after my session some of the scenery I would see on a regular basis - seeing Calvin driving the car next to me, Mark walking past me, images of bullets going through my head or rage coming through the door - all that stuff went away after one session,” Anderson told us. “I’ve really tried to push other warriors to see what this therapy – a therapy that I call brain fitness on steroids -- is really about. I didn’t go through another ART session for a year and a half. I did go through several more ART sessions after the year and a half for things like my time in war, people passing, survivor’s guilt and other stories. During these sessions, I would picture myself waking up in the morning and feeling this heavy guilt and shame, which expanded to the entire day. I would then envision what my perfect day was. That was about a year and a half ago and I haven’t had guilt and shame since then. I think ART absolutely is effective and it helped me out tremendously with overcoming some of these gaps that I’ve had. ART saved my life.”
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com