The ART of Healing
The ART of Healing
October 18, 2022
On this episode of The Pain Game Podcast, Lyndsay Soprano speaks with Brook Bralove, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker psychotherapist, AAS ECT Certified Sex Therapist, she is also a certified Daring Way facilitator AND an advanced Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) practitioner.
Soprano opens the episode by talking about being a deeply feeling and emotional person and how wonderful it is when she finds others alike. Sometimes it feels like they are hard to find, but just when you need another feeling person, they kind of pop into your life without us knowing that they’re going to be there.
Like, oh, wow, oh God, I found another feeling person that feels as hard as I do. A person that’s not blocked off from emotions. And for people that feel like Soprano does sometimes, it’s like, how are you not crying at this commercial right now? Like, what? And not afraid to share those emotions and those feelings and feel them with you? She loves finding people like that.
And you find a few amazing people along the way. And one of them is our guest on this episode. We find them on this journey called life. Soprano states that is learning more about herself along this journey as she started this show. And of course, since she was diagnosed with CRPS.
People continue to pop out of the woodwork that surprise her as a host, friend, family member, or complete strangers.
She feels blessed to unfortunately have been diagnosed with CRPS, because that has brought her to the place that she’s at, where she is able to reach out and touch and talk to and meet people like the guests on the show.
Soprano discusses how so incredibly hard she is working on taking herself out of the shadows because she feels like we all have a chance to release a little bit of darkness. And with a lot of darkness is pain.
She is here to talk about healthy ways of healing that aren’t necessarily textbook. Like go to the doctor, take a pill, call me in three months, right? They’re not part of the curriculum that we’re all used to and that we become accustomed to. There are alternatives to pain relief. There are alternatives to dealing with trauma that we need to pay attention to, like hard stop. And if you don’t know about alternatives to pills and are just going through the motions, then listen up. And she knows how emotional it is to make changes. We all have gotten used to our regiments. We wake up, we do this. We walk the dog, we kiss the wife, we get the blah, blah, blah. We’re doing the same stuff over and over. Well, we do that with pain management, we do that with trauma, we do that with all these things.
So, the guest today, Brooke Bralove who is also a deeply feeling and emotional person. One that loves witnessing growth and witnesses change and healing right before her eyes. She is one that loves helping others that have and do suffer with PTSD, trauma, phobias addictions, chronic pain, just to mention a few.
Soprano dives into Bralove’s background and then jumps into the discussion about ART. Bralove said that ART is unlike any modality she’d ever seen in 20 years. That got Soprano hooked.
Bralove was trained in psychodynamic psychotherapy, and has been practicing that for a long time. And there are definitely times when you’re doing long-term psychotherapy with patients where you feel stuck. They feel stuck. And she had started to feel like there were some things that maybe talk therapy couldn’t quite access.
And of course, there’s a lot more known about the brain-body connection and the vagus nerve and calming the nervous system and all these things that you hear so much more about. And several years ago, about five or six years ago, she had a traumatic breakup and wasn’t getting better. Her talk therapy wasn’t quite working. She did some other kinds of therapy and was at the end of her rope here in terms of how the breakup continued to have a hold on me. And someone mentioned this crazy thing called accelerated resolution therapy, or ART.
ART is a very creative process. So, the name is sort of fun. She did a couple sessions of ART, and got better right away, and that change lasted. So, she thought, well, we are definitely getting trained in this.
She got trained in 2018 and has been practicing ART since then. She sees tremendous healing in front of her in 60 Minutes, and she just never felt more excited about something. It’s a wonderful tool to sort of add to your tool belt as a therapist as well.
She encourages other therapists to look into getting trained. It’s just an amazing tool.
Bralove starts by explaining what ART actually is, and then gets into the differences between EMDR and ART. ART is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that utilizes bilateral brain stimulation and eye movements to address problems, like Soprano said, depression, anxiety, phobias, PTSD, trauma, chronic pain, and chronic illness.
And it uses two processes. One is, again, bilateral brain stimulation. It also uses something called voluntary image replacement. And basically, ART changes the way the brain stores traumatic images and sensations. And the rapid eye movement replicates REM sleep when memories are consolidated into long-term memories.
So, we basically call up these memories, these images, and the corresponding negative sensations that are clearly associated with PTSD or chronic pain or depression. We call all those up, and we use calming eye movements to calm those sensations in our body, and then we voluntarily replace them with healing positive images, and then that gets stored in the brain.
So, “we” say in ART, keep the knowledge, lose the pain. This is not hypnosis. The client is fully in charge of the session, fully aware of exactly what’s happening, and we don’t lose the content of what happened, but we do lose the negative images and the body sensations and the trauma responses in our body that are associated with these events or illnesses or phobias.
So the difference between ART and EMDR… is a very important thing to address because a lot of people haven’t heard about ART, but a lot of people have heard about EMDR.
ART is based on EMDR. So, they really have a similar sort of basis in science and reality, and they’re kind of from the same birthplace. But the way they’re different is that ART really requires almost no talking about your trauma. So, for people who have talked and talked and talked in talk therapy or to doctors about their symptoms, the event, their chronic pain, their chronic illness, they’re done. They don’t want to keep talking about it.
EMDR often requires a little bit more talking than ART, and ART is much shorter. ART usually only requires one to five sessions, and in fact, she rarely ever must work with someone for five sessions on a particular problem or issue.
The other thing is that like other sorts of exposure therapy, we are not retraumatizing people. We are asking them to kind of conjure up some of the images and sensations at the beginning of the session, but that’s only so we can very quickly erase them, get rid of them, and lessen those sensations. And the other thing that’s really different about ART from EMDR is it’s called accelerated resolution therapy, because there literally is a resolution at the end of every session. She has yet to start a session and then end it in some way that doesn’t feel good for the client in a way that they feel that they have accomplished something. And sometimes in talk therapy, somebody starts feeling feelings and you’ve got two minutes left in a session and you can’t resolve them. And that feels really bad to both the client and the therapist. And so there is a real satisfaction that happens at the end of each session that feels good to both of us.
Soprano mentions how she recently put a pause on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) because lately she feels like every week she’s just saying the same damn thing over and over again. She stated, “my noodle is still watching this movie. I don’t know how familiar you are with Miss Saigon, but there’s a song in there, it’s called The Movie in My Mind. As a vocalist, I used to sing that song in high school and college, and I had no idea what it actually really meant. And now I do.”
Soprano asks, “so what you’re kind of saying to a certain extent, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you can kind of almost recreate a new movie in your mind?”
That is literally what we’re doing.
When people leave her office, she says to them, “you have the new movie now. Literally. You have the new images, and you can call upon them anytime because your brain now has those deeply embedded. So even when you do see that spider that you’re phobic of, you can immediately go to your positive image or positive sensation.”
ART is quite procedural. EMDR is a little bit more open-ended. You kind of follow people where they are in EMDR. But there’s actually a real procedure and a protocol for ART, which really makes it a little bit sort of more simple in terms of training. And it also, allows people to then predict what’s going to happen next. So, she might see someone for their first ART session, but by the second, they know where we’re going. And what’s amazing is their brain knows where we’re going and will sometimes just move ahead to the next step because it knows what’s going to happen. That’s really empowering.
The last difference between ART and EMDR is EMDR and a lot of regular psychotherapy are focused on thoughts and feelings, and ART is focused on images and body sensations. It’s really focused on where you feel that feeling in your body and what sensation. You know, how would you describe the sensation? So we are focused on the body! And most of us know the wonderful book on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score.
Soprano is having a session with Bralove in a few weeks. She asks some questions about the approach that will be taken. She mentions that the majority of her pain from CRPS lives from her hips down even though pain radiates through her whole body 24/7/365.
She asked, “So I would be talking to you about where my pain lives and how it feels? Can you talk to me a little bit about how that works? Because I can tell you exactly what my legs and my feet feel like.”
“So, it’s not that you would be telling me about it. You would be imagining sometimes with chronic pain, I asked people to imagine you have to come up with, again, that movie. So, I will ask people, what is the worst experience of your pain that you can possibly think of? What was your worst day or when was the first time you felt? Or when was the most recent?”
Because those are the sort of three things that usually stick out. So maybe you had one day where your pain was so off the charts, and she would ask you to bring up the movie of that day while you were doing great. So, look, you can feel it now, right?
Yeah, 100%. Soprano knows exactly the moment.
For a lot of people, let’s say they had repeated sexual assaults. We would say, what was the worst sexual assault? What was the first sexual assault? And we would start there. So, you do try to go back to the sort of earliest time that the person felt a specific way, and then we ask you to imagine it. While you’re doing the rapid eye movements, tell us what’s going on in your body and using the rapid eye movements, we change those sensations, and then over the course of the session, we replace that movie with the way you wish it had been.
And again, we hope to heal your trauma, but we can also probably make your symptoms better. And of course, there are no guarantees, right?
Soprano poses the question, “So how do you handle and compartmentalize people like myself who are sitting here crying on a podcast with you? How do you deal with that? How do we care for you?”
There are two answers to that in Bralove’s opinion. How does a regular psychotherapist practice self-care? As we are certainly not usually hearing about people’s best day or their favorite day. Negative, hard, traumatic, and sad things.
ART provides Bralove with satisfaction that she cannot even describe. She loves it. Because nothing about our growth is usually ever rapid. And ART is rapid.
Soprano talked about a previous episode where she talked about the debilitating anxiety that she’s had since she was a little girl.
“It was like it got to the point where I listened to myself on my solo episode because I listen to my episodes a couple of times after I record them because I want to learn more about myself. I want to learn more about my guests. I want to be better at what I do. And I was like, holy shit, I’m not going to take a pill. And I’m so anti-pills in the first place. So, for me to have done it, that for me, showed me how debilitating my anxiety was because I was willing to take Lexapro! And I was like, nope, never mind. That was fun. But no, not happening,” said Soprano.
“Accelerated. That word matters,” says Bralove.
Bralove states, “Laney Rosenzweig’s book is called Too Good to Be True. So, we all get it. We get that this sounds very hard to believe, and I welcome skepticism. I don’t take it personally. It makes sense that you’re skeptical. You should be skeptical, but try to just remain a little bit open, and then I can work with you.”
Bralove discusses that there are three prerequisites to do ART that are important because that’s the first screening tool. One is, can you hold a thought? Two is, can you move your eyes back and forth? So may or may not work with someone who has seizures or major concussion, things like that. And so, she always tell people, if you have any doubt, you check with your doctor, of course. And the third is, are you motivated to change? That one is a little bit trickier.
When you’re working with chronic pain, chronic illness, or complex PTSD, people, of course, want to change. They are dying to change. They want desperately to feel better. But we also have to address occasionally that there is secondary gain, that unconscious gain that they might have by staying stuck.
Staying stuck is familiar. Staying in pain and staying in distress is familiar. And we gravitate toward what is familiar, not because it’s good for us, but just because we know it right. So, when she tells people that she’s not blaming anyone for their symptoms, for their pain, for their trauma, for their experiences, but occasionally people will say, “I just don’t know if I can change my movie to something better. I don’t feel entitled to change it. I don’t deserve better.”
Bralove thinks one of the main things that ART does is just provide hope.
“Well, it’s scary to have hope, isn’t it, Lyndsay? Yeah, that’s really scary to have hope. And I really hear that and I get that,” Bralove states.
Bralove works virtually as well as in-person. Yes. What’s amazing about ART and honestly, she would not have expected this to be true, but it works equally well virtually.
Bralove and Soprano conclude the episode with a message of encouragement and hope. It’s really about the body and the connection to the brain and learning to regulate your nervous system, learning the tools, learning about the vagus nerve, understanding that when you have a feeling of anxiety, your throat gets tight or, you know your angry because you look down and you’re clenching your fist or clenching your jaw. Really just be more in your body. And she knows telling someone with chronic pain to be more in their body seems counterintuitive, but the more we all can get to know what is going on inside of us, the more we can heal.
Let’s get to the heart of how to heal. With you by my side.
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