By Jacqueline M. HamesAugust 27, 2010
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious and often hard-to-treat condition. It can affect the lives of Soldiers and their loved ones severely and can interfere with daily life. Finding the right treatment can greatly improve a Soldier's quality of life.
The Army offers several support programs for Soldiers experiencing PTSD, such as Battlemind, Post Deployment Health Reassessment, and specialized psychotherapy sessions, said Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, medical director for the Army Medical Department's Office of Strategic Communications. But sometimes, private treatment can offer individuals options currently not available through military medicine; rapid resolution therapy is one of those options.
The Army isn't currently using RRT to treat PTSD, but the treatment is provided through private practices. RRT can clear trauma in as little as one to three sessions, according to its developer, Jon Connelly.
Laura Bokar, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed clinical professional counselor, uses RRT in her practice to treat patients with PTSD and other trauma. At first, Bokar was a skeptic of the treatment. She wanted proof of how it worked.
"Show it," Bokar said. "Well, they did! Three of us from my office flew down to Florida, where the gentleman who created rapid resolution therapy is located, and got our training and certification."
After 60 hours of training and continued monthly conversations, Bokar was convinced. Two years after her training, Bokar is a passionate advocate for RRT.
"(RRT) is a type of therapy that eliminates or clears negative effects of past experiences and the distorted beliefs that get attached to it," Bokar explained. "The one thing that's different about RRT is that the clients don't have to relive the past or feel it; they need to tell the story, but they don't have to experience the pain of it. And that's a key difference from one of the other types of therapies."
Former Marine Sgt. Brent Lewis, a client of Bokar's, recommends RRT to other servicemembers and civilians. Lewis was part of the initial invasion of Iraq and was deployed for 13 months. His experiences in the war were traumatic, and left him with symptoms of PTSD that made it difficult to transition back into civilian life, he said.
"I wasn't good at talking about it because I didn't know how to talk about it. (Bokar's) given me the tools not only to learn how to talk about it, but how to not go into a different frame of mind, or just lose focus," Lewis said. "And that does help me."
The treatment consists of a "purposeful conversation," Bokar explained. The therapist maintains control of the RRT session, guiding the patient through their subconscious to a specific result.
The subconscious does not understand that the trauma is in the past, and is no longer occurring when a memory is triggered, Bokar said. It does not distinguish between "similar and same," which is why a client may have trouble moving past certain memories.
"When you're working with RRT, especially with trauma, (the patients) don't know how to get to the subconscious. You want them to be free and clear and happy, secure and light, so you're really kind of planting those things in the subconscious-that that is how they want to be," Bokar said.
In traditional therapy, the client drives the session, discussing why he came and describing his personal history. The therapist lets the client's story unfold and builds a relationship with him, Bokar said. In RRT sessions, the therapist helps the client create a map of where he wants to go and guides him past the trauma.
The therapist is always letting the client know, when he is relating his story, that the story is in the past. "You're using a certain type of language where you are letting them know it's the past."
Lewis explained that during an RRT session the client and therapist pass objects, like sponge-balls, between each other while the client is telling his story. That action serves to focus the patient, and helps to keep the emotions of the story in the past. It enables the client to speak about a traumatic event without actually reliving the situation.
Once the client is able to speak about the trauma, the therapist can identify "ghosts," (the effects the trauma has had on the person), be it the event itself, or negative associations attached to the event. When the ghost is identified, the therapist can help the client work through the trauma entirely and provide the tools to help the client deal with the memories of trauma in an effective and objective manner.
Tom, who prefers to be identified only by his first name, is a Vietnam veteran who served first in the Air Force and later the Army National Guard, with a total of 17 years on active duty. He lived with survivor guilt, caused by a traumatic event he feels could have been prevented, for more than 45 years.
In 1991 Tom experienced an intense flashback that put him in a psychiatric ward at a military hospital. Despite his brigade commander and other officers vouching he was still fit for duty, Tom was discharged from active duty in 1992. "What sealed my fate was the fact that Desert Storm was over, and the pull down of troops was coming very quickly, so I just became one of the ones that came down," he said.
As a civilian, Tom sought private treatment for symptoms of PTSD as well as treatment from the Veterans Affairs office, but nothing seemed to work. "As late as last year, I was still seeing VA psychologists," he said. Tom's primary care doctor recommended he see Jason Quintal, who used RRT to treat Iraq war veterans.
"I could stand on mountain tops and yell about how good it was," Tom said of the RRT sessions he had with Quintal. Quintal explained how the brain works, and why the mind holds on to things for no real reason, Tom said.
"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said. "I could afford it. It wasn't comfy, but I could afford it. I started seeing Jason and after the first four-hour session-not immediately, but by the next day-it was like the whole world had come into Technicolor."
"He walks you through everything you went through, and then proves to you (that) you shouldn't be paying attention to any of that," Tom explained. "That's the best layman's terms I can use."
Tom said he recommends RRT to other Soldiers and servicemembers, and hopes the military will start using it someday as well. "Every penny of (the treatment) was worth it," he said.
Lewis also recommends the treatment for PTSD. He explained his family saw a huge difference with his personality. "They see somebody whose got a little more pep in their step," he said. RRT is working smarter, not harder, Lewis added.
It is possible for a person to walk away entirely free of trauma after undergoing RRT, Bokar said, and it won't take months or years to happen.
"It's absolutely a type of treatment that I would encourage people to check out, because it's just a phenomenal freedom," Bokar said. "The success has been phenomenal."
Ritchie suggests seeking help from a chaplain, primary care provider or Military OneSource if a Soldier is experiencing symptoms of PTSD or other problems.
To find out more information on RRT, visit: www.rapidresolutiontherapy.com.
Soldiers can also visit the National Center for PTSD website: www.ptsd.va.gov, or Army Medical Command's Behavioral Health website: www.behavioralhealth.army.mil, for more information on treatment options.