Are you a therapist who has a real desire to do trauma work, especially complex trauma? Are you feeling confused about which modality works best for trauma? Are you thinking of taking some extra training but can’t figure out what to study? You don’t want to get it wrong given the time and finances you’d have to invest. So what is the best therapy for trauma? If you’re going to become a truly potent trauma therapist, what modality should you invest in?
It’s a great question, because it is genuinely confusing. Ask other therapists and you’ll receive a whole bundle of recommendations. You started off trying to pick between three options. Suddenly, you have as many as 20 therapies being fervently recommended by respected colleaugues.
EMDR. Accelerated Resolution Therapy. Cognitive Processing Therapy. Somatic Experiencing. Internal Family Systems. RTM. DBT. Brainspotting. Polyvagal theory. EFT. Psychodrama. The list goes on.
So what model should you choose if you want to work with trauma effectively?
A different question
In this article, I’ll ask that question in a different way. It will reduce your choices from 20+ to a more settling focus of one. One is not confusing but clear. The question isn’t which modality to focus on. The better question is why are these therapies getting great results? What is it that these therapies have in common when they produce lasting, transformational change?
To make the shift, we need to focus on brain mechanisms rather than modalities.
There is only one known brain mechanism that results in transformational change. It is called memory reconsolidation.
It allows old trauma responses to become rewritable for a brief period of time. This allows new, resourceful responses to overwrite the old. The traumatic response that is causing your client so much difficulty is literally erased.
As there is only one known brain mechanism that can do this, there is a clear implication. All of the transformational results that have been achieved by these many trauma therapies are because this brain mechanism was triggered.
The only door
Imagine a room with only one way to get in – the door. It has no window or secret passages. The door is genuinely the only entrance. Some may crawl in. Some may jog. Some may walk in. Some may hop. Their method of getting through the door may be different. But if they are in the room, you can guarantee they must have used the door.
This is how it is with transformational change and memory reconsolidation. If that kind of lasting, effortless change has occurred for your client, then memory reconsolidation must have taken place.
Knowing about memory reconsolidation changes the frame. Rather than be overwhelmed by 20 or more therapy models, you can focus on memory reconsolidation.
You can choose to learn more about how to trigger it. Whatever your therapeutic preference, you can ensure that you are producing memory reconsolidation for your clients.
Learn The Road Map
Neuroscience shows a clear road map for triggering memory reconsolidation. Knowing the road map helps you get creative, whatever modality you choose. It is also a useful lens to assess these different modalities through. When deciding which approach you want to invest time into, you can ask “which modality is most likely to reliably trigger memory reconsolidation?”
Knowing this road map has helped me create something new that is built around imaginal experiential work. By the same token, when working within other frameworks, it has allowed me to tweak them in such a way that I am more reliably creating transformational change.
Choosing between at least twenty modalities is bound to cause confusion and doubt. The answer is to instead study the one brain mechanism – memory reconsolidation – that produces all change that is lasting and effortless.
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