ART: What’s up with this new therapy?

Written by Anna Robertshaw, RSW

When we think of therapy, what often comes to mind is traditional ideas of talk therapy. We may have moved beyond the image of lying on a couch while an impassive therapist jots down notes, but many of our expectations are still tied up in therapy as discussion, validation, reflection, and problem solving. While talk therapy still provides an invaluable outlet for self-examination and growth, the last few decades have brought on a wave of therapies that use eye movements to process difficult memories and events, providing relief from the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that accompany them. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is a relatively new form of psychotherapy that has been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years. Building on the foundations of other popular therapies using eye movements (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, for example), research shows it to be helpful in addressing common problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and in particular trauma and traumatic memories. 

Who is ART helpful for?

Research shows ART has been helpful for individuals experiencing:

    • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

    • Traumatic response to distressing events/experiences (for example: abuse, violence, relationship break up, car accident)

    • Generalized anxiety and social anxiety

    • Specific phobias

    • Depression

    • Nightmares

    • Grief

So, what is ART and how does it work?

The way our brains process trauma and memory can offer some insights into how ART works. Despite how it might feel sometimes, our memories are not as fixed as we once believed. With the use of eye movements, it appears there is a window in time during which memories can be deliberately impacted. Specifically, in recalling an image or scene from our past, we have the opportunity using ART to replace distressing emotional or physical sensations associated with it with a soothing and safe experience. In this way, the facts of the event will stay with us (we won’t forget what happened) but our painful emotional and physical response to it will be changed. 

The eye movements also naturally endorse relaxation, and so viewing old memories and thoughts from a place of calm and safety may lead to new insights and evaluations of past events and unhelpful thoughts. Clients may make new connections with their strengths and problem-solving abilities while concurrently focussing on a problem and using eye movements. Sound confusing? It’s not – in fact, many people say they forget they are doing the eve movements at all. Further, some people report that in finding relief from the pain of the past, they are better equipped to make changes to the patterns and relationships they desire in the present.

So, what makes ART unique to other therapies being used today? Most notably, ART is a relatively short-term therapy, usually taking between 1 – 5 sessions. Clients often find it helpful as part of a holistic therapeutic plan, including traditional talk therapy. ART is thought of as a ‘bottom-up’ therapy, meaning it alters specific images, emotions, and physical responses related to a problem, with thought patterns often changing once the images are gone. It is also a directive approach, where the therapist guides the client through specific procedural steps, while maintaining an interactive and conversational experience.

What does ART look like?

During a typical ART session, the therapist will guide the individual through a series of eye movements, relaxation strategies, and visualization exercises while they think about their issue. Client’s will only be required to share with their therapist as much as they are comfortable, which may be helpful for people who have difficulty explicitly talking about their trauma or putting words to their feelings of anxiety. The client is in total control throughout the session – this is not hypnosis and the client and therapist interact with each other the same way they would in a session not involving eye movements. 

The therapist will ask the client to follow their hand left to right with their eyes while thinking about their problem. Physical sensations will also be processed using eye movements to weaken disturbing sensations and strengthen feelings of safety and positivity. 

Typical ART sessions will work on one problem or event per session. 

Click here for more information on ART services at Monarch Psychology. 



Who We Are

We are a team of compassionate and welcoming Psychologists and Social Workers in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We create space to understand people and their stories by looking beyond symptoms and diagnoses. Learn more about our team here

Anna Robertshaw