ART removes the emotional charge of traumatic memory. It’s about moving from “I can’t handle this” to “I can handle this”.
The amygdala is a small structure located in the brain. When you experience something that is emotionally salient, such as a traumatic event, the amygdala becomes activated and helps to store and process the emotional memory of that event. This emotional memory can then influence your behavior and emotional responses in the future.
In other words, the amygdala helps you to remember the emotional significance of past events and to respond appropriately to similar events in the future. This is an important function, as it helps you to learn from your experiences and navigate the world in a way that is adaptive and beneficial for your survival and well-being.
Trauma can have a significant impact on the amygdala's adaptive process by altering the way it processes and stores emotional memories. In response to a traumatic event, the amygdala can become overactive and hypersensitive, causing it to encode and store traumatic memories in a way that can be more difficult to manage and regulate.
When traumatic memories are stored in an overactive amygdala, they can be triggered more easily by seemingly unrelated stimuli, leading to intense emotional reactions and symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can make it difficult for individuals to regulate their emotional responses and can interfere with their ability to function in daily life.
Therapies like ART can help individuals reprocess traumatic memories in a way that is less overwhelming and more adaptive, leading to a reduction in emotional symptoms and an improvement in overall functioning.
Memory reconsolidation essentially describes putting the recalled memory back on the shelf, along with any new information that has been added or removed during the reconsolidation window that is activated by the recollection itself. This actually is an important part of your learning process, and can be disrupted during an incident(s) of emotional intensity (trauma) when your brain and body get stuck in the emotional intensity. Further, this process can continue to be disrupted when traumatic memories are triggered, because the trauma is essentially re-experienced by the nervous system, leading to ongoing symptoms of Post traumatic Stress. ART uses interventions that slow this process down, allowing the brain to use it's adaptive reconsolidation process.
Extinction learning is a process by which your brain learns to stop responding to a specific trigger or stimulus that you have previously associated with a negative or unpleasant experience. Essentially, you are unlearning your fear or anxiety response to that trigger. ART uses a variety of techniques, including visualization (VMR/VIR) and eye movements, to help facilitate the extinction learning process and reduce negative emotions associated with past experiences. By helping you to reprocess traumatic memories and associations, ART can help you to overcome fears, anxieties, and other emotional challenges.
Virtual Memory Replacement (VMR)
VMR is a technique used in ART to facilitate the extinction learning process. When the reconsolidation window is open, you are asked to voluntarily recall a specific memory or experience that is causing you distress, and then to replace that memory with a new, positive memory. This new memory is typically one that involves feelings of safety, calmness, and security. By actively replacing negative memories with positive ones, your brain can learn to associate the triggering event with a more positive and less distressing experience. VMR can help to facilitate the extinction learning process by creating new neural connections in your brain, and by helping to rewire your brain's response to triggering events.
Virtual Image Replacement (VIR)
VIR involves replacing negative mental images with positive ones. You may be asked to visualize a specific event or situation that is causing you distress, and then to replace that image with a more positive one. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, you may be asked to visualize yourself giving a successful presentation, with a supportive audience and positive feedback. By actively replacing negative mental images with positive ones, your brain can learn to associate the triggering event with a more positive and less distressing experience. VIR can help to facilitate the extinction learning process by creating new neural connections in your brain, and by helping to rewire your brain's response to triggering events.
Lateral Eye Movements
During ART therapy, smooth pursuit lateral eye movements are used to help temper the amygdala's response to traumatic memories. Eye movements can activate the brain's information processing system, which helps to reprocess the traumatic memory in a way that reduces its emotional intensity. Essentially, as you recall the traumatic memory, I will guide you through a series of eye movements, which will stimulate the brain's natural processing system, helping you to "digest" the memory in a more manageable way. By doing this, the emotional intensity of the memory can be reduced, which can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and other negative emotions associated with the memory. This is because the brain is able to reprocess the traumatic memory in a way that is less overwhelming and allows you to develop a new perspective on the experience.