Dissociation and Trauma
Pathological dissociation is a common obstacle faced by victims of trauma. In addition to getting in the way of day-to-day life, it may hamper their attempts to seek help. As defined by Verywell Mind, “dissociation is a psychological experience in which people feel disconnected from their sensory experiences, sense of self, or personal history.” The Centre for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress identifies the following as symptoms of pathological dissociation:
- Staring and/or glazed look
- Spacing out
- Difficulty focusing
- Out-of-body experiences
- Disconnection from one’s surroundings
As explained by Mayo Clinic, pathological dissociation often develops as a means to cope with trauma and traumatic memories. Because therapy often involves discussing these traumatic memories, it’s not uncommon for sessions to prompt episodes of dissociation.
How Dissociation Impacts Therapy
Depending on the severity, dissociation may not be immediately apparent. In mild cases, the patient might seem as though their mind is elsewhere — they seem emotionally distant, and their responses are vague and unfocused. In extremes, they might stop responding altogether. In any case, it will likely hinder (if not completely prevent) the patient’s participation in the session.
Dissociation’s nature makes it difficult to approach — it’s the patient’s response to traumatic memories they feel they can’t confront, and pressing the patient to discuss these memories will likely lead to further distress. However, it’s still possible and important to enable patients to overcome these memories.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is distinctly suited to these cases. Rather than relying on the patient discussing traumatic memories with the therapist, ART focuses on enabling patients to disarm these memories. As explained by ART International, ART does so by changing how these memories are stored. In detail, ART uses “memory visualization techniques that are enhanced by the use of horizontal eye movements, as well as memory reconsolidation, a way in which new information is incorporated into existing memories.” Importantly, the Accelerated Resolution Therapy Coalition Against Trauma explains that the therapist guides the patient in using these techniques to disarm these traumatic memories rather than requiring the patient to discuss them. As explained by multiple sources, ART has shown to achieve results rapidly. ART is showing to be a promising method for treating trauma and more, and patients and therapists alike are encouraged to learn more. With guidance through ART, patients may overcome previously unconfrontable traumatic memories.