An Integrative Protocol for Healing Attachment Wounds
© Alison Teal, MFT, 2017
Accelerated Information Processing (AIP) is a key factor in understanding the efficacy of EMDR Therapy. EMDR focuses on three neurological information storage forms — sensation, emotion and cognition. When all three negative neural networks are identified, linked with a distressing memory target and activated with Bilateral Stimulation (BLS), the consequence is a more complete and time-efficient resolution of disturbance. The development of Super Resourcing (SR) resulted from my discovery that the AIP model is just as effective in potentiating positive sensations, emotions and cognitions as it is in resolving traumatic experiences and all of its associated negative sensations, emotions and cognitions. When IRP is combined with elements of Attachment and Internal Family Systems theories, it maximizes healing, attachment repair and the creation of new and more positive neural networks. Positive neurological integration occurs not only with emotions, sensations and cognitions but also within distressed parts of the psyche. IRP focuses on healing the part who experienced the distress rather than focusing on the distress itself. A systemic experience of well-being allows dissociation and fragmentation to heal and an experience of present-time wholeness becomes possible.
Super Resourcing is based on EMDR research and its theoretical underpinnings but is turned “inside out.” An effective EMDR session ends with a positive cognition installation whereas Super Resourcing starts with positive installations by targeting and processing positive images, sensations, emotions and cognitions. There is a large body of research on the power of positive imagery and visualization. Researchers in Sweden have found that imagination has a direct influence on perception, i.e., positive imagery has the power to change the way we think about and experience trauma. In this study from the Karolinska Institutet, published in the scientific journal, Current Biology, the findings detail how imagination can alter mind-brain function. This finding, along with the conclusion of many mind/brain researchers is the foundation of Super Resourcing. SR, however, takes positive imagery a step further; Accelerated Information Processing and Bilateral Stimulation potentiate the positive matrix and a more fully embodied and integrated positive network is neurologically developed.
EMDR, as well as many other trauma methodologies, are based on the assumption that reprocessing traumatic memories is necessary for their resolution. Although this is an effective approach in many instances, SR provides an alternative for many clients; healing and resolution are possible without re-experiencing and reprocessing the original trauma. SR frequently takes the trauma out of trauma work. Additionally, it opens the door for a wider range of clients — clients for whom EMDR is contraindicated due to poor ego strength, inability to self-regulate as well as those suffering from more severe dissociation and fragmentation, stemming from complex trauma.
SEVEN APPLICATIONS OF SUPER RESOURCES
1) Preparatory protocol for EMDR or other therapy modalities.
Whatever modality you may be using with your clients, i.e., EMDR, Gestalt, Jungian, Psychodynamic, DBT, etc., Super Resourcing may be used n as a preparatory phase. The more resourced a client is going into trauma work, the better they will fare. Well-resourced clients experience less stuck, looping and blocked processing.
2) Enhance EMDR Interweaves or positive cognitions.
Super Resourcing serves to neurologically integrate the positive states of mind, emotion and body that result from successful EMDR interweaves. It is also useful to SR the positive cognition that is generated at the end of an EMDR session. This serves to enhance its efficacy by neurologically embodying the message.
3) Neurological integration of any positive feeling, thought, sensation or moment.
Super Resourcing has relevance at any point in a therapy session when a client expresses an important realization, feeling state or sensation. Insights have limited value on their own; they need to be more fully embodied in order for the client to derive maximum benefit.
4) Resolution of an activated disturbance as a stand-alone protocol.
SR is an effective treatment modality for reducing stress and trauma. Unlike traditional trauma methodologies, SR does not focus on the disturbing event or events. Rather,
it focuses on the person who experienced the event. A more fully present-time resourced client, has less interest or fixation on the past and experiences a reduction of disturbance on the presenting complaint. The trauma is impacted without having to deal with it directly.
5) No identified distress: Super Resourcing for increasing self-esteem, well-being, resiliency, performance, or empowerment.
SR is an excellent modality for enhancing one’s positive experience of oneself and of one’s pursuits. Again, rather than focus on the negative events that underlie limiting mind/emotional and sensate states, or, the blocking beliefs that interfere in a more positive and wholesome assessment of self, SR directly downloads a new positive personal narrative. This results in more increased self-esteem, well-being and performance.
6) Resourcing parts to heal attachment wounds
Un-resourced parts of the psyche frequently emerge during an SR session precisely because the field is positive and often represents the corrective healing environment and experience. Based on knowledge of a client’s history, the clinician may also invite parts into the field for attachment repair. Less fragmentation and dissociation occur when the part is not being directly confronted with trauma.
7) Resolving special issues and populations such as addiction, depression, anxiety, insomnia and medical and health issues.
Super Resourcing is very effective with special populations. Frequently, these sorts of behaviors and mind states associated with these issues are survival strategies. By identifying and resourcing the part of the psyche who is caught, for example, in an addiction, in depression or anxiety or the one who can’t sleep, alters the client’s relationship to these issues. A well-resourced client does not need these coping mechanisms and has more fluidity and optimism in evolving healthier habit patterns.
THIRTEEN BENEFITS OF USING SUPER RESOURCING
1) Resource/Attachment Focus vs. Trauma Focus
EMDR is primarily trauma, dysregulation and distress focused. Attachment repair may be included as an aspect of EMDR. This is evident in Shapiro’s inclusion of the establishing and testing the efficacy of a Safe Place as part of the preparatory phase of EMDR. Additionally, Parnell’s expansion of the resource phase of EMDR and her inclusion of more kinds of interweaves, bring attention to wounded parts and attachment issues. At its core, however, no matter how many attachment features are added, EMDR was conceived and developed for resolving trauma. In contrast, SR is not trauma/distress focused. It is designed solely as a resource modality designed address and heal attachment wounds. With SR, the clinician attends to the person who experienced the trauma rather than the trauma itself. When activation of the attachment wound has been lowered or resolved, frequently, there will be a corresponding lowering of Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUDS) in relationship to the trauma. A well- resourced client experiences an enhanced state of well-being and a present-time embodiment of wholeness.
2) Neurological Embodiment of Resources
Shapiro developed Safe Place to be used as a resource for the client as needed during an EMDR session. Parnell renamed Safe Place as Peaceful Place and added three additional resource figures: Nurturing, Protective and Wise Figures as well as inviting them to be a team. SR is a further development of EMDR. The Procedural Steps of SR are designed to create a comprehensive positive resource field for healing and attachment repair. Each of the four (or more) resources, i.e., Peaceful Place as well as Nurturing, Protective and Wise figures, are not simply invited to be a team but each is potentiated by identifying and developing all three information storage forms – positive sensation, positive emotion and positive cognition. Beyond individually developing each resource; a Meta Field is created; each resource is linked to the prior one so an all-inclusive positive field is strategically crafted and integrated neurologically.
3) Enhanced Present Time Experience of Self
The integrated internalization of resources facilitates an enhanced present-time experience of self. More fully resourced clients are better able to tolerate doing deep trauma work. Resolving the attachment wound interwoven in a trauma unfixes it in the client’s psyche and it processes more easily during subsequent EMDR sessions. The work goes more smoothly. Interweaves and interventions are frequently not necessary. There is less occurrence of resistance, dissociation, looping or stuck processing. I came to understand that when these appear in a session, it is a cry for help from a distressed part of the psyche — that what is happening is too much or too scary and coping mechanisms have been overwhelmed. The part is in survival mode and shuts down the processing in order to protect itself. This phenomenon confirmed my interest in developing a protocol, which focuses on the client’s compromised inner parts and their needs – a protocol in which the parts feel no urgency to resort to coping strategies – instead, a protocol which creates the optimal healing environment in which un-resourced parts feel safe to come out of hiding and express their needs – an optimal healing environment which promotes the development of their vitality, stability, and ego strength.
4) Developing a New Narrative
Super Resourcing lays a strong foundation for subsequent EMDR work. Well-resourced clients are more willing and able to explore challenging places they may not have been willing to explore before as well as to feel things they may not have been able to feel before. They develop a more reliable and more resilient belief about themselves and their ability to heal. This more positive personal narrative has a beneficial effect in all areas of their lives. So often with attachment-based trauma, clients constellate their experience of themselves around their trauma. It becomes a defining touchstone in their psyche. When trauma is resolved, some clients experience a loss of identity. Their experience of the empty space where the trauma sensations, emotions, cognitions, flashbacks etc., used to reside is perceived as disorienting and sometimes disturbing. Some clients unconsciously choose to cling to their trauma as an identity marker rather than face the disequilibrium that comes from change. One client, at this juncture in her EMDR therapy exclaimed, “If I am not that person constantly scanning my environment for danger as if something bad were just about to happen, what will I do with myself? Who am I?” Sustaining therapeutic gains is more challenging when the gain itself is destabilizing. SR front loads new positive identity markers. Consequently, the transition out of the trauma vortex is not as disquieting.
5) IRP is Time Efficient
Like EMDR, SR is time-efficient. Accelerated Information Processing with Bilateral Stimulation, results in Rapid Free Association and a beneficial processing of the target moment for the session. (Shapiro) Reality and imagination both have the potential to create new neural connections which result in new perspectives on old events. Consequently, symptoms related to the trauma are less likely to get activated. Healing takes place on a neurological level and the client experiences more resolution with less need for interweaves and interventions. It is more time efficient to direct therapeutic attention toward building a new positive matrix then deconstructing a negative one. SR capitalizes on a fundamental and inherent human desire toward healing and freedom. It is easier and quicker to swim with the current of a river than against it.
6) Transforming Disturbance in the Positive Resourced Field
Shapiro and other trainers recommend short sets of BLS during resource installation so trauma and/or developmental networks do not get unduly activated prior to the EMDR session. Whether SR is used as a preparatory phase of EMDR or a stand-alone protocol, longer sets or continuous BLS are utilized. Consequently, as Shapiro and others have accurately predicted, disturbance frequently does surface. Rather than viewed as an undesirable occurrence, however, any disturbance is welcomed. Using Internal Family Systems, the distressed part of the client is identified and brought into the positive potentiated resource field for attachment repair. His/her needs are acknowledged and through imagination are addressed; the brain does not differentiate between real and imagined. Parts who have experienced significant developmental/attachment repair are better able to tolerate the distressing feelings, thoughts and sensations that may emerge.
7) Stabilization and Integration of Structurally Dissociated Parts
In more extreme cases of neglect and trauma, structural dissociation occurs. Babies and young children have immature nervous systems and rely on caretakers to help regulate their needs and disturbances. There are two kinds of regulation: 1) interactive regulation – being soothed by others, and 2) auto-regulation – soothing oneself. Chronologically, the first precedes the second; being adequately soothed by others provides the foundation for learning how to soothe oneself. In the absence of interactive regulation, the child must find his/her own way to cope and structural dissociation is the most common solution. SR does not reconstitute the trauma vortex. Consequently, these dissociated parts feel safer to emerge (or be invited) into the positive resourced field for stabilization and healing. The missed developmental stage of interactive regulation may be creatively imagined in order to provide the experience of loving care and safety. This allows fragmented parts to reintegrate and orient in present time. As the clinician, SR supports you in creating an environment in which interactive regulation is taking place. Your interest, your inquiries, your repetition of the client’s words, and your mirroring help supply the missing developmental stage. SR is also designed to encourage self- regulation and the development of self-soothing in order to sustain gains.
8) Applicable to a Wide Range of Clients
Typically, SR with clients takes anywhere from one session to many months or years depending upon the depth of attachment wounding and the fragility of the client’s ego. Extended SR is especially important for highly traumatized clients who have requested EMDR work and our clinical assessment is they are too dysregulated and do not have the ego strength necessary for a positive outcome. A common question asked by my consultees is, “How do I tell a client they are not ready for EMDR in a way that does not make them feel bad about themselves?” Rather than tell the client he/she is not ready (which may indeed have a negative impact on their already tenuous self-esteem,) SR is an EMDR based resource protocol, which is clinically sound with a wider range of clients. The focus on developing positive neurological networks becomes empowering for the client and fosters a more natural “buy-in” to the therapeutic process. SR is also an effective alternative healing modality with clients for whom trauma based EMDR may never be indicated.
9) Subjective to Objective Memory
Adaptive resolution to disturbance may occur entirely within the positively integrated resourced field. Frequently, I have found that once a client is fully resourced with SR his/her perspective on the disturbing event evolves from a personal narrative to a more reality based and objective memory. It is a very different psychological constellation to say, “It happened to me,” vs. “It happened.” In a place of relative neutrality, the client is less likely to project the past onto the future. A stronger reality orientation results in a lowering of disturbance.
10) More Access to Positive Neural Networks
More fully potentiated positive neural networks are developed through the SR. During subsequent EMDR sessions when the client enters an activated trauma network, s/he has more natural access to resources as they were also developed in an Accelerated Information Processing (AIP) manner. This access to resources supports self-regulation and maintaining optimal arousal, i.e., the frontal cortex is more likely to stay online. Maintaining optimal arousal is necessary for healing old memories and developmental wounds as well as for the integration of new information. Clients frequently report that the empowerment they experience in sessions, generalizes into many other areas of their lives. Maintaining optimal arousal in the face of challenging life moments, is more naturally possible. Clients are better able to respond to situations rather than react. SR invites the restoration of hope and optimism.
11) Identification of Processing Style
Even with just one session of SR, much can be learned about the clients’ processing style as well as their readiness to do EMDR trauma work. By introducing extended BLS in a less evocative situation, the clinician can discern whether the client has a tendency to flood or dissociate as well as their processing style. We learn whether they process quickly or slowly or whether they are a linear processor (likely to remain in one neural network) or a tangential processor (likely to activate multiple networks.) This positions the clinician to better navigate the time management aspect of EMDR sessions and to formulate a therapeutic plan tailored to the client’s processing style.
12) Identifying Resource Resistant Clients
The clinician is also able to identify resource “resistant” clients during the first session of SR. Resistance is sometimes the only way a compromised part can protect itself. Consequently, it is important not to pathologize the client and to discern the positive intention in the resistance. In the case of a client who appears unable to come up with resources, I do not use terms like Nurturing or Protective figures. I move from the realm of imagination to reality. I invite the client to recall actual past or present experiences. For Peaceful Place, I invite the client to recall a time they felt, for example, smart or strong or in tune with themselves. Instead of Nurturing figure, I ask for a memory of someone who was kind to them at a difficult time in their life. For Protective figure, I ask for some who has or had their back; someone who came to their aid or protected them in some way. And, for Wise figure, I ask them, if they had a problem to solve or needed a sounding board, who would they seek out. Additionally, with some clients, I “back in.” Instead of asking the client to name the place or figure, I inquire about the qualities each resource embodies. Non-resource resistant clients pull easily from either imagination or reality. For resistant types, however, reality-based resources are easier to access. This approach also works with clients who are very left brained, i.e., linear and literal. They are more comfortable in the realm of reality than in imagination.
13) Client Centered and Empowering
Super Resourcing is client centered and empowering. It supports the development of the client’s own imagination for creative solutions to distress. It also supports the strengthening of resilience. A more pervasive experience of well-being becomes possible when previously disavowed or fragmented parts of the self are more fully healed and integrated.
The following two case histories exemplify the efficacy of Super Resourcing
Susan, a 43-year woman, was having relationship issues with her in-laws. This case is particularly useful for exemplifying Super Resourcing because there were no precipitating traumatic events in her life. Susan had a good enough childhood and a good enough life. Consequently, this case allows for a clear view into the time-efficient healing potential of this protocol. Susan described feeling very judged by her husband’s parents. She felt misunderstood and misrepresented and it was interfering with her sleep and her general well-being. We set up four sessions. We used the first session for history taking and building therapeutic alliance. We spent the second session using IRP. Given her psychological maturity, her access to her inner life and lack of trauma, she was able to respond to each inquiry with specificity and confidence. She internalized the resources quickly and smoothly. At the close of this session, as she was getting up to go, she turned to me and said, “ You know what, I am going to cancel those other sessions. I’m feeling really good inside. Solid. Grounded in my own reality. I don’t really care what they think anymore. They can bad mouth me all they want but I know who I am. That’s all that matters.” A month later, I contacted her to find out if the positive results had lasted over time. She emphatically replied, “Yes.” Beyond resolving her upset regarding her in-laws, she felt more positive about everything and had taken on some new challenges at work, all of which she attributed to our session.
Steven entered therapy with lingering symptoms from a car accident, which occurred a year before we started working together. Each time he got into his car to drive somewhere a vague dread came over him; he rated his distress level at 7 (zero no distress and ten high distress.) During our conversation about the accident we identified an 8-year-old self who had experienced some abuse as a child and had similar feelings of not being in control and of powerlessness. Rather than use EMDR to process the early abuse events in order to impact lingering symptoms from the car accident, or use EMDR to process the car accident itself, I used SR. During the session, I invited the 8-year-old into the fully integrated resource field for repair. This invitation serves much the same purpose as a rescue interweave but with IRP the imaginal experience is super charged by relying on the Accelerated Information Processing Model along with Bilateral Stimulation in order to more fully integrate the experience. Once the child self was fully resourced we checked the level of dread that originally accompanied getting in the car to drive somewhere; his distress level was reduced to two. What prevented the distress from going to zero was guilt — perhaps he could have prevented the accident had he been driving more defensively. We reentered the resourced field and within minutes, he accessed self-compassion and moved to accept the reality of the accident without second-guessing or judgment. His symptoms of dread while driving did not reappear over time.
SR is based on the principles of EMDR and by extension, has been the subject of comprehensive research as to its efficacy. SR relies on the Accelerated Information Processing model and resulting in Rapid Free Association. SR expands the resource phase of EMDR and provides a way of reducing the trauma inherent in trauma processing. By resourcing the person who experienced the distress, one’s relationship to the distress is altered. Wounded parts which emerge in the session are fully resourced and invited into the positive field for attachment repair. Fully resourced clients experience greater well-being, more optimism and more reliable personal agency when facing the challenges in their lives.
I have been using SR with my clients with great success. I have taught this protocol to numerous EMDR consultees and colleagues who report positive results. They feel it has augmented the healing of attachment wounds and complex trauma in a time efficient manner. It has also decreased the level of trauma experienced in the process of doing trauma work. I have taught SR to some non-EMDR clinicians, who found it to be a valuable addition to their practice. Additionally, I have taught SR to non-clinicians who serve people in compromised circumstances, i.e., in addition to licensed psychotherapists, a hospice pastor who successfully uses it with his clients and his clients’ families as well as a home care nurse who uses it with her patients.
Super Resourcing has its roots in the brilliant work and thinking of Francine Shapiro who developed EMDR. I feel gratitude for having studied with her and for the trail blazing work she did which resulted in EMDR taking its rightful place as a legitimate and effective trauma methodology. I have also been strongly influenced by the many clinicians who took Shapiro’s work and adapted it for special populations and issues. Attachment wounding and healing has become a popular issue of focus in the psychology world. I have great appreciation and respect for Laurel Parnell who adapted EMDR to more directly address developmental wounding – most especially her addition of expanding the resource elements of EMDR as well as increasing the variety of potential interweaves. Additionally, I wish to acknowledge the work of Janina Fisher. She deepened my understanding of structural dissociation and taught me how to procedurally switch my clinical focus of attention from the trauma to the client who experienced it.
© Alison Teal, MFT, 2017 8