Among the variety of therapies counselors can choose from to help their clients address gambling addiction, one that’s received relatively little attention is known as accelerated resolution therapy (ART). While ART, deemed an evidence-based therapy in 2015, has historically been studied and used as an alternative to traditional PTSD treatments that use drugs or lengthy psychotherapy sessions, it also may help those who struggle with gambling.
ART is a form of psychotherapy that’s rooted in existing evidence-based therapies and has been shown to achieve benefits much more rapidly (usually within one to five sessions). Clients with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, substance abuse, sexual abuse and many other mental and physical conditions can experience benefits starting with in the first session.
ART incorporates a combination of techniques used in many other traditional psychotherapies, including exposure therapy, gestalt therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), imagery re-scripting, guided imagery and brief psychodynamic therapy. It works directly to reprogram the way in which distressing memories and images are stored in the brain so that they no longer trigger strong physical and emotional reactions. This is accomplished through the use of rapid eye movements similar to eye movements that occur during dreaming. ART is not hypnosis.
The use of this very specific and directive approach can achieve rapid recovery from symptoms and reactions that may have been present for many years. It combines long-respected, sound treatment practices with safe and effective methods validated by current scientific research studies conducted by the University of South Florida.
The connection between gambling addiction and trauma may not be immediately apparent but the relationship is clear. “Trauma is frequently overlooked as something that can precipitate gambling behavior,” says Wade Lang, LPCC, LADC, NCGC-II, a counselor in southwestern Minnesota and one of only two certified ART therapy trainers in the state.
“Trauma comes in many forms — from the solider with wartime trauma to the person who was always made to feel ‘lesser-than’ or ‘insignificant’ compared to others. Gambling becomes the solution for these people and ends in a maladaptive pattern of chasing or escape.”
When working with clients that have a gambling disorder, Wade asks a client to mentally relive their first gambling experience and has them create new scenarios for a different reality. For example, Wade may plant a suggestion to a client that they never went to the casino and experienced their first big win, or he may have them think that they never went to the casino at all. “It’s that recollection of their first big win and the associated socioeconomic consequences that followed that we’re trying to change,” says Wade.
By using eye movement, ART is able to process hurts and pain that clients may never touch in conventional “talk-therapy” or when completing CBT worksheets. “Science tells us that when a strong memory is recalled it is rendered unstable, and through a process called the reconsolidation window new images can be laid down on the same dendritic spines as the original images, like a film or overlay.” Wade says this science prevents new episodes where the old pain or trauma can be triggered.
Jennifer Briest, MSW, CGC-MN, LADC, LICSW, who has worked with several clients with gambling addiction in her role as a counselor for Western Mental Health Center, has similarly been impressed by the therapy. “I have found ART to be an amazing and effective form of bilateral brain stimulation and positive image overlay,” says Jennifer. “The results are immediate and long lasting.”
While there are no studies focused specifically on using ART for patients with gambling addiction, it’s commonly recognized that individuals with trauma may have a gambling disorder. Several studies have been conducted that demonstrate the effectiveness of ART for patients with psychological trauma. Practice comparisons between ART, EMDR and cognitive processing therapy have also shown that ART offers several advantages. These studies can be viewed at NorthstarProblemGambling.org/for-professional/.