Rapid Resolution Therapy: A Lighthearted Approach to Processing Trauma

For those struggling with the lingering impact of past traumatic experiences, a psychotherapy method called Rapid Resolution Therapy (RRT) may offer a path to recovery.

After Kristin Rivas’ sister died in a collision with a drunk driver, she found herself struggling with her mental and physical health to an extreme degree. That same sister had been kicked out of their childhood home for being gay due to their parents’ religious beliefs, and the trauma of these experiences was impacting every facet of Rivas’ life.

A few years after her sister’s death, Rivas began experiencing non-epileptic seizures, sometimes up to nine times a day.

“I was forced to quit school and work, I was in a wheelchair wearing a helmet, afraid of dying from a head injury every day, and I saw six different kinds of therapists and tried all different kinds of medications [without success],” she tells Healthnews.

She eventually sought treatment from the Mayo Clinic, where she was diagnosed with what is now known as functional neurological disorder — a problem with how the brain receives and sends information to the rest of the body that is often caused by a traumatic event — as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Mayo Clinic connected Rivas with Dr. John Connelly, the founder of RRT, suggesting that his use of hypnotherapy might be able to help her.

Rivas had her first RRT session with Connelly on June 20, 2009. She says it was a life-changing experience.

“He had asked my mind to reprocess things that needed reprocessing and help me feel clear and free,” she says. “When my eyes opened, my vision was better, my smell was better, I felt more stable in my body, and I was able to test certain triggers that used to cause me to have a non-epileptic seizure immediately after the session — and I was fine.”

Rivas was so blown away by that first session with Connelly and the ones that followed that she decided to undertake RRT training and become a certified therapist. In 2013, after a few years of training and mentorship from Connelly, Rivas gave a TED Talk on her experience with RRT: the video has garnered nearly 1.6 million views.

How RRT came to be

In his early career, Connelly worked as a child protective service worker and a clinical supervisor in a program for traumatized teens, but he found himself dissatisfied with forms of therapy that asked people to continuously relive the worst moments of their lives.

While the logical mind knows a traumatic event happened in the past, the body and nervous system often don’t, and recounting such a memory may make the person feel as if it’s happening all over again.

It seemed to almost be working like a muscle of aggravating the emotions and the disturbing thoughts and making them stronger. So RRT came from him thinking, ‘How do I get the brain and somebody's nervous system to reprocess memories and, instead of getting confused as if it's still happening, how do I get that person to experience it just like any other old boring memory?’

Rivas

His goal with RRT was to improve upon other techniques he’d learned in his work, including hypnosis and other kinds of positive psychology, to create something new.

And so he created RRT: a form of psychotherapy that uses techniques including guided imagery, hypnosis, storytelling, metaphors, and more to essentially reprogram the body and nervous system’s response to certain triggers and traumatic memories.

The main goal of RRT, according to Rivas, is to neutralize the body’s flight or fight response and help it understand that whatever traumatic experiences it has endured are over. They’re not currently happening, and there’s no need to react as if they are.

How it works

To produce the desired result, RRT sessions look a little different than typical therapy appointments — some may even describe them as fun.

Instead of asking patients to relive their deepest traumas in detail or using cognitive strategies to change their thought patterns, RRT uses lighthearted techniques to create new neural pathways and reprogram the body’s responses to certain memories.

“Some of it can even be like playing games and laughing,” Rivas says. “Some of it can be encouraging what people might think of as meditative kind of experiences, where somebody is in a state of parasympathetic nervous system activity — very restful with their eyes closed.”

Rapid resolution therapists choose their words incredibly carefully, she adds, explaining that every word spoken in a session can impact a person’s association with a specific trauma or memory. They’ll use storytelling and metaphors to induce these more positive responses, with a focus on keeping the energy tactfully lighthearted and conversational throughout the session. This is a method they call multilevel communication.

“With everything that we say, we start to cause different ways of thinking and feeling, creating positive incremental shifts in the process,” she says.

Rapid resolution therapists are taught to use different communication techniques to help the person feel deeply heard, understood, and to form a positive connection — ensuring they never reflect poisonous language back to the patient.

We're using certain kinds of language techniques to make sure that we are influencing both the conscious mind, logical mind, and the subconscious mind with every process that we utilize. We're checking throughout the session to make sure somebody is starting to think and feel differently in real time, so that we can see a shift by the time the session is over.

Rivas

The ultimate goal, she says, isn’t to erase the traumatic memories but to rid the person of the intensely upsetting feelings they experience when recounting those memories. And she claims this can happen quickly, often in as few as one to four sessions.

An emphasis on survivors of sexual violence

While RRT can help people with all different kinds of trauma, Connelly’s original goal was specifically to help survivors of sexual violence — a group he’d spent much of his career helping. In addition to RRT, he founded the Institute for Survivors of Sexual Violence, a non-profit organization dedicated to pioneering research and advanced treatments for trauma survivors.

While Connelly was developing his methods, Rivas says he assisted police with the pursuit of serial rapists by helping survivors painlessly recall details of what happened to them. By calmly facilitating these interviews between survivors and police, he helped put a major serial rapist behind bars.

When Rapid resolution therapists get trained and certified, they also commit to doing pro bono work for survivors of sexual violence. “It’s a part of our values as a community,” Rivas says.

Sadly, shortly after giving her TED talk, Rivas herself was sexually assaulted by someone she met at a networking event in 2014.

“Thank god I had a community of really effective RRT practitioners that were chomping at the bit to assist me when they found out what happened,” she tells Healthnews.

But in 2016, Rivas was assaulted again — this time by someone very close to her. This led her to experience an immense amount of shame.

“One of the most insidious things about [sexual assault] is it can implant shame from the experience — the shame of the act of the rapist somehow gets transferred to the survivor and they feel ashamed of what happened,” she says. “And even though I had assisted many survivors in clearing up shame, and even from the rape that I had survived in 2014, I handled it by being really ashamed that it had happened to me again.”

She initially felt too ashamed to reach back out to Connelly and the community for help, and she was unable to practice RRT and help other survivors of sexual violence because it would trigger her own trauma.

Rivas says she struggled for about a year before her husband encouraged her to seek support from the same community that had been able to help her in the past.

She says each RRT session she had helped her heal from the trauma, including helping to clear up hives from stress, helping with nightmares, assisting with disordered eating, and reducing panic attacks.

“And as soon as I did, the PTSD symptoms again started clearing up,” she says. “I wasn't able to assist other survivors of sexual violence until after I got treated again, and now it's one of the most rewarding things that I assist people with. I love helping people clear up the trauma from sexual violence because it's a mission of mine now, and my mind and body don’t get confused when people are telling me about their experience.”

How to know if RRT is right for you

Before an individual begins RRT, Rivas says it’s important they see a doctor to determine whether there are any underlying physical health issues that may need to be treated medically. While RTT could still help someone struggling with serious health issues, she says they should also be taking other steps to help support their body’s healing process.

In cases of severe addiction to substances, Rivas says it’s important that individuals first work with physicians to detox safely.

Still, she says RTT practitioners can work with people whether they have an idea where their problems might have originated from or they have no conscious idea at all.

Individuals who are dealing with anxiety, mood issues, stress, anger, and any of the physical symptoms these mental health issues may cause are particularly good candidates for RRT, she says.

“We can really quickly get a shift with something if it's related to patterns of thought, somebody's attitudes, ways of thinking, belief systems, experiences that have impacted them in their life, and how they are responding to current situational stress,” she says. “We want to make sure that they're free to be living with their strongest health, mental clarity, resourcefulness, peace, joy, gratitude, love, purpose, and that we clear up anything not useful — like lingering fear and anger and grief that's bogging down the system.”


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