Clinical, Empirical, and Theoretical Rationale for Selection of Accelerated Resolution Therapy for Treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in VA and DoD Facilities

Mil Med. 2018 Sep 1;183(9-10):e314-e321. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usy027.


Introduction: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic, disabling psychiatric disorder prevalent among U.S. service members and veterans. First-line treatments for PTSD endorsed in the 2017 Veterans Affairs (VA)/Department of Defense (DoD) Clinical Practice Guideline for PTSD emphasize individual, manualized trauma-focused psychotherapies that have a primary component of exposure and/or cognitive restructuring. These include prolonged exposure (PE) therapy, cognitive processing therapy (CPT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and others. Accelerated resolution therapy (ART) is an emerging trauma-focused therapy not specifically referenced in the guideline, but one that is consistent with the recommendations and is derived directly from EMDR. One randomized clinical trial and multiple observational studies have suggested that ART can be delivered in an average of just four treatment sessions. This commentary reviews the clinical, empirical, and theoretical rationale for use of ART as a potential first-line PTSD treatment modality in VA and DoD facilities.

Materials and methods: The clinical protocol of ART is summarized into discrete procedural steps. The theoretical rationale as to how ART may help clients process traumatic memories and resolve symptoms of PTSD is also discussed, including how repeated sets of smooth pursuit horizontal eye movements may facilitate a relaxation response and assist with processing emotionally intrusive memories. Herein, we review primary treatment results from four published studies of ART, including mean symptom score reductions on the 17-item PCL (PTSD checklist) after treatment with ART, along with effect sizes and percentage of treatment responders. Finally, the ART protocol is compared directly against specific recommended elements of trauma-focused therapy described in the VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline.

Results: The four published studies of ART reviewed (n = 291) included adult civilians and service members/veterans; the mean age was 42.3 ± 12.3 yr and 28.9% were female. Among 237 treatment completers (81.4% of the combined cohort), the mean number of ART sessions received was 3.9 ± 1.1. Across the four studies, mean treatment-related reductions in PCL scores ranged from 15.6 ± 13.2 to 25.6 ± 11.3, with a pooled mean reduction on the PCL of 20.6 ± 15.0. Effect sizes were large and ranged from 1.18 to 2.26 (p< 0.0005) across studies, with a pooled effect size of 1.38 (95% confidence interval: 1.20-1.56, p < 0.0001). Using the clinical cutpoint of >10-point reduction on the PCL instrument, clinically significant change (response) ranged from 63.8% to 100.0% across the four studies, with a pooled treatment response rate of 74.7%. Results were nominally attenuated when conservatively assuming no treatment response for non-completers.

Conclusion: The ART protocol contains the core therapeutic elements and aligns closely with the current VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline. It has a plausible theoretical rationale and an evolving empirical research base that includes four studies with peer-reviewed publications, one of which was a randomized controlled trial. These features, along with the brevity of the treatment protocol, no requirement for narration, and high provider satisfaction rates, provide a rationale for the potential use of ART as a first-line PTSD treatment modality for active duty and veteran military personnel.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing / methods
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing / standards*
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome*
  • United States
  • United States Department of Defense / organization & administration
  • United States Department of Defense / statistics & numerical data
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / organization & administration
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / statistics & numerical data
  • Veterans / psychology
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data