If trauma is something that a person perceives to be life-threatening, how do you find ways to heal from it? I believe it is essential to begin with talk therapy because research has proven that the relationship that you build with your therapist is a huge contributor to healing. There comes a time, though, when talking might not be enough. As I talked about in the last blog, your body stores the traumatic experience first, so it makes sense to try and find ways to release that stress from your body, and in turn your mind and emotions.
One alternative approach to therapy is Observed Experiential Integration (OEI). I have received permission from Lindsay Faas at ThriveLife Counselling & Wellness in Fort Langley to share the article below on this exciting way of doing therapy.
For a long time trauma therapy has involved use of standard talk therapy to recount, relive, and work to heal traumatic events from one’s past. For many who have undergone this style of therapy, the results varied significantly. Some clients have experienced successful relief of symptoms, or a decline in the intensity of symptoms. Meanwhile others have reported experiencing an actual increase in the intensity of symptoms due to the nature of reliving the event, producing a re-traumatization effect. Through it all, clinicians and researchers have been scratching their heads trying to develop better strategies that would produce more reliable results – a decrease in trauma symptoms for all trauma survivors.
Several therapies have emerged in recent years in order to address this issue, including Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT); Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); and most recently Observed Experiential Integration (OEI; also known as “One Eye Integration”). As a trained OEI therapist and trainer, I would like to share a little bit about this therapy and it’s advantages.
OEI is something of a local phenomenon in the Greater Vancouver Area, as it was created by a pair of local clinicians for the purpose of addressing some of the concerns emerging from talk therapy and EMDR with trauma survivors. Dr. Rick Bradshaw and Audrey Cook tell the story of how this therapeutic approach came about, you can find the details at http://www.sightpsychology.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=93&Itemid=110.
Essentially OEI is based on neurological principles related to how the brain stores trauma memories. When a traumatic event occurs, our brains’ “fight, flight or freeze” centre is activated and has a tendency of storing the memory in a way that lacks context, emphasizes the feeling of danger, and is disconnected from language. The result of this includes difficulty talking about the event while remaining connected to it (often described as “speechless terror”, client will begin to recount the trauma and find themselves speechless and unable to express what took place); experiencing the memory as if it is happening again rather than the memory feeling old and in the past; and re-experiencing fight, flight and freeze responses just thinking about the event, even if you are completely safe at the present moment. What is interesting about trauma memories is the fact that they are stored in such a way that makes talking about them difficult – making talk therapy fairly ineffective in accessing and processing these memories.
This is where OEI comes in. While speech has difficulty accessing this part of your brain, your visual centre is extremely close in proximity to where trauma memories are stored and seems to have an ability to access these memories in a way talking can’t. By following a few protocols (best described by your OEI therapist), trauma survivors are discovering a relief in symptom severity in a very short period of time. The creators of the therapy suggest that many clients will experience a significant decrease in symptom severity within 1-3 sessions, and that ongoing therapy can reduce this even further. This form of therapy has been shown to be effective for individuals experiencing a range of trauma symptoms from simple to complex. Simple trauma describes individuals who have experienced a single traumatic event, with adult onset (as opposed to child trauma), that is non-interpersonal in nature (e.g. a natural disaster, car accident or other circumstance where the event was not deliberate in nature). Complex trauma describes individuals who have experienced multiple incidents of traumatic events, many of these events will have early age onset, and many will be interpersonal in nature (e.g. sexual assault, childhood abuse, ritual abuse, and any event that involves deliberate and intentional harm). Those whose trauma history lies nearer to the “simple” end of the spectrum can expect fairly quick results, while those with more “complex” cases can expect a reduction of symptoms fairly quickly, however full processing of complex traumas will require ongoing therapy sessions.
If you would be interested in finding out more information about OEI, please contact me at 778-549-6334 or by clicking the link below.