If you have been in counseling before, you may have been asked about your family of origin or stressful early childhood experiences. Some clients get annoyed by this question, thinking that therapy is just about blaming their parents for current-day problems. But it is not about blame. We believe that most parents have good intentions and are just humans doing the best they can. However, we also believe that the past is present in our daily interactions with others. This is the basis of the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model.
What is AIP?
First developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the AIP model suggests that the way past experiences were stored in the brain may impact one’s belief of self and others. It also suggests that based on these beliefs, people have adapted certain behaviors and attitudes that influence their daily life. During a trauma, the event can become trapped in the emotional part of the brain. If something similar to the original trauma comes up again, this memory gets activated in the same way and can cause the person to overreact or freeze much like they did originally.
In other words, our brain may repress traumatic experiences. They get stuck in the neural networks with the original perceptions of the trauma that are triggered by internal or external stimuli. As a result, they become the basis for future maladaptive responses when current events are connected with associated neural networks.
For example, let’s say a toddler was left at a hospital in the middle of the night due to a medical crisis. Her parents had to leave her and she had this overwhelming sense of abandonment and terror. Because of the stress on her body and the absence of her caregivers, she began to organize her experience to the best of her ability. But she presented with somatic symptoms and severe anxiety at any sign of separation from her mother. As she came into adulthood, this and other life experiences continued to shape her fear of abandonment in romantic relationships.
One of the tenets of the AIP model is that the failure of unpacking and resolving these stored memories leads to a range of symptoms when the memories are activated. These could include reactions that intrude and lower quality of life. These are called flashbacks. For that little girl in the hospital, unprocessed childhood trauma was stored with automatic preservative reactions of freeze and dissociation in any situational association with the danger. As an adult, this may not be maladaptive. Through EMDR, she can begin to reprocess these memories and see that the past is truly in the past and that she was not abandoned but had a medical crisis. She can then relate that she no longer needs to fear this same abandonment from her husband or children.
How can it help?
Understanding the tenets of the AIP model can further improve the efficacy of not just EMDR therapy but also trauma therapy. Misplaced emotions and negative behaviors that may be plaguing a patient can be recognized and connected to past experiences.
The model can help uncover exactly what memories trigger the reactions and attitudes one exhibits. With that information, a client and their therapist can develop strategies to transmute these memories and look at them differently. This would enable the patient to find a resolution from the symptoms and make progress with continued therapy.
Overall, the AIP model and ongoing research continue to demonstrate the efficacy and effectiveness in treating severe PTSD and other memory-based mental disorders. It could potentially change how patients are able to process their trauma and replace it with new neural network connections.
You can give RDU Counseling for Change a call at 919-713-0260 or contact us to learn more about AIP and how it can help you live your life to the fullest.