Jessica Buchanan was working as a humanitarian aid worker in Somali when she was kidnapped by pirates and held in the desert for 93 days, subsisting on a single daily meal and suffering through extreme heat and cold.
Eventually, Navy SEALs stormed the compound, freeing Buchanan and killing the bandits who had tormented her. But Buchanan’s ordeal did not end upon her return home. She was plagued by nightmares, anxiety and panic attacks and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—symptoms that caused her suffering until she tried an innovative therapy called Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART).
“I call it surviving survival,” says Buchanan. “In a lot of ways, the past eight years have been harder than the 93 days I was held in captivity. Once a trauma event is over, you start living in a whole different way. Your brain functions differently. The way you see yourself changes. The way you see others changes.”
Buchanan tried many different types of therapy before undergoing ART an evidence-based treatment for PTSD, trauma, anxiety and other mental health issues. ART has been extensively used with both veterans and civilians to reframe troubling memories and relieve the physical and emotional symptoms of trauma.
“ART was life-changing for me,” said Buchanan, who lives in Alexandria, Va. with her husband and children. “It was pretty profound. I moved a lot of blockages I didn’t know I had. I got in touch with my purpose again. I feel like I’ve been carrying around a heavy backpack and I finally got to take it off.
Buchanan will be speaking at Brave B.A.S.H., an annual gala for ART International, a Tampa-based nonprofit devoted to increasing access to ART. ART International has helped thousands of veterans, civilians, first responders and other trauma survivors receive this life-changing treatment. This year’s Brave B.A.S.H. will take place both in-person and virtually on Oct. 24. Tickets for both experiences are available at artherapyinternational.com or by calling (813) 435-1374. The event will be emceed by Rebekah Gregory, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, who has also found relief from her trauma through ART.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Buchanan feels that it is even more urgent to share her story. “We are collectively experiencing a prolonged trauma,” she says. “Peoples’ lives have changed dramatically. But for there is hope for people dealing with trauma. You don’t have to live with these symptoms for the rest of your life.