EMDR vs ART: Which Rapid Eye Movement Therapy and Why?
March 3, 2020

What is the real difference between EMDR and Accelerated Resolution Therapy? Which one should therapists get their training in? Which should therapy clients get more excited about? In the EMDR vs. ART debate, which one wins?

I have heard good things about Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), but its advocates seem a bit too quick to ignore that EMDR’s rapid results compare well with it. Yes, I am a long-time EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist and trainer, but I won’t deny that the early research on ART is extremely promising. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy or ART vs. the Power of EMDR

What’s the best way to analyse the EMDR vs. ART debate? In my opinion, it’s familiarizing yourself with the obvious similarities between these two rapid eye movement therapies. Proponents on either side can be found touting as advantages benefits that are in reality shared between ART and EMDR. 

For example, research supports that the ART protocol, which is delivered in two to five sessions without homework, provided significant improvements. This statement also can be said about EMDR therapy. 

In fact, this identical statement was said after the initial EMDR study was published in 1989. There, a variety of PTSD subjects were treated with only three treatment sessions with extraordinary improvement.

ART uses the psychotherapeutic practices of imaginal exposure and imagery re-scripting (IR) facilitated through sets of eye movements. This strategy has been employed by EMDR therapists for decades. 

It would be incorrect to let anyone sway you in the ART vs. EMDR debate through the claim that either one works fast or is homework free. Both of these rapid eye movement therapies offer these two key benefits. 

But here’s one point where ART differs from EMDR: a novel component of ART is use of IR to “replace” negative imagery (and other sensations) with positive imagery. EMDR, however, does not impose the positive image. 

EMDR allows the positive image to emerge after the client has processed the maladaptively stored information. In my experience, this more “organic” approach of EMDR vs ART is of greater benefit to client and therapist alike, resulting in a better long-term outcome.

EMDR vs ART: Why I’m Sticking with EMDR

It is always surprising to me when over 30 years of research and hundreds of books and discoveries by EMDR researchers and practitioners are dismissed. It’s a particularly troubling oversight for ART advocates to make, considering that ART is very much a spinoff of EMDR

Some champion ART against EMDR as if the huge and ever-growing body of work in support of EMDR does not exist; as if Accelerated Resolution Therapy owes nothing to EMDR. But that’s not the case, is it?

ART claims, in part, to be a lighter version of EMDR. The history of Accelerated Resolution Therapy, in fact, is that it’s developer, Laney Rosenzweig trained in and practiced EMDR. Finding the eye movements of EMDR effective, she sought to further enhance the process by modifying it. 

It’s remarkable that something which clearly seems to be a reinvention of a well-established wheel that has been riding along at increasing speeds since 1989 – except missing some spokes –  presents itself as something new.

ART contains elements of not only EMDR, but also CBT, BPP, and Gestalt. Still, it is a rapid eye movement therapy at its core. ART is supposedly “more directive, takes less time to administer, and easier to learn”. I beg to differ. 

Is ART more directive than EMDR?

More directive yes, but is that an advantage? As mentioned before, ART calls for the therapist to impose a positive image whereas EMDR allows it to emerge. And the imposition is easier on the therapist? 

It’s easier for the therapist, after having less training than with EMDR, to use ART and impose upon the client’s memory rather than allowing? Is this a recipe for a better, faster outcome in the long run for both client and therapist? In my experience, the answer here is a consistent NO. 

Does ART take less time to administer than EMDR? 

Again, no. Again, though it has been reported that significant improvements are achieved with just 1-5 one-hour sessions of ART, the same has been found of EMDR. There’s a large and growing body of research on EMDR that demonstrates this. 

Can EMDR take longer than ART? I have found that it has much to do with the therapist and how well he or she is trained. Therapists who operate according to improper EMDR training produce significantly slower, less stellar results than those who are well-trained and stick to their training, all else being equal. 

But now that brings us to the third claim in support of ART: therapist training…

Is ART easier to learn than EMDR??

The temptation is just to great for me to resist. I can’t help but to point out that just because something is easier to learn doesn’t make it more effective or more worthwhile to learn. But still, if an enjoyable training experience is what you’re looking for, you can find it right here at EMDR Educators of Florida (just ask my students). 

In developing Accelerated Resolution Therapy, some key parts of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing were removed. That’s why ART therapist training takes a few days/hours less than EMDR therapist training. 

To become an EMDR therapist, you must complete 50 hours of basic training, including 10 consultation hours. EMDR training consists of part 1 and part 2. These can be taken separately or all at once. When combined, EMDR parts 1 and 2 constitute the 5-day intensive. 

Accelerated Resolution Therapy training takes 3 days total. And yet, interestingly enough, the cost of becoming an ART therapist is often a couple of hundred dollars more than the full 5-day intensive EMDR training cost

Other Differences Between ART and EMDR

  • ART uses a set number of eye movements whereas with EMDR numbers can vary
  • ART focuses on emotions. EMDR focuses on content
  • ART gives therapists a list of specific directives. The guidelines EMDR therapists follow are more general.
  • When it comes to adaptability, EMDR wins. EMDR plays well with others.

EMDR vs. ART: EMDR Transform Lives

What seems to have been lost in the understanding of the advantages and benefits of EMDR is that EMDR is specifically endorsed by the World Health Organizations for the treatment of trauma in children and adults. In fact, it’s one of two approved therapies for the treatment of trauma in children –  and ART isn’t the second on the list.  But this is the least of what EMDR does.

The treatment of a single episode of trauma is usually done in short order. One or two sessions are very common using EMDR, depending on the event, of course. Often the problem with all of us, whether we have a diagnosis or not, is that we are driven by one of two core beliefs: “I don’t matter” or “I’m not good enough.” You can disagree, but the first stage of this process is AVOIDANCE—so welcome to the party.

These schemas begin at a young age, often at birth, and are perpetuated and strengthened throughout the lifespan. These schemas affect just about everything we do. Mine was “I’m not good enough” and is probably why I have two master’s degrees and a doctorate. 

EMDR is the only treatment I have ever found that causes a permanent shift in these negative beliefs. And these shifts happen without talking. The shift has very little to do with what I say.

Once these beliefs change to the adaptive thought, “I am good enough” or “I do matter,” the real work begins, because the client is thrown into chaos because they have lost their identity. He/she has no idea how to behave in this adaptive way. In this stage, they almost always retreat to the old way, but now they have insight. Therefore, nothing quite looks the same—they can’t go back.

This is not trauma work, although traumas may be part of the work. This is transformational work

The client moves through six stages of transformation. It is a very real death/rebirth experience that happens at warp speed, and it happens right before my very eyes. It is the most incredible feeling that I have ever had as a therapist, to watch the rebirth, when the “aha” moment occurs. 

Immediately a client’s affect changes, a calm enters the room, and sometimes they even begin to laugh. Laughter is a sure-fire sign that we are headed to the promised land. 

These moments frequently occur with EMDR, which is why I never tire of the work. I just do not know why more therapists are not aware of the power of EMDR to permanently and adaptively change a person’s life.

When I train therapists in EMDR, I bring my passion to the table. In part, it’s automatic for me and on the other side, I know the training experience makes all the difference in how comfortable and competent the therapist becomes in administering the treatment. 

Sure, with EMDR training it’s 5 days of training instead of the 3 with ART, but the impact EMDR therapy makes on clients’ lives and the therapist’s practice (when done competently) should be well worth the extra 2 days to any serious therapist or social worker. 

Thinking EMDR is only for trauma is so 1990s. EMDR is not just a trauma treatment. It is a model of therapy: EMDR Therapy does not just treat symptoms, it transforms lives! And, in my opinion, EMDR wins the ART vs. EMDR debate hands down every time.

EMDR vs ART…What’s your position? 


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