Something remarkable is happening right now in trauma recovery. But, because we’re talking about trauma and our relationship with trauma is both too close and too dissociated, it’s really hard to see and it’s even harder to get any perspective on.
For 130 years, we have assumed that clients need to have certain types of catharsis, distress, or reexperience as a prerequisite for healing from traumatic experiences.
A large part of the point of exposure is to go there, get more comfortable going there, and to see that you have survived.
In EMDR, we engage in lengthy preparation to make sure clients are able to sit with and digest the distress that comes. Noticing the distress that comes is the active ingredient in EMDR Therapy.
Noticing the distress that comes in Flash is an invitation for a mess.
Noticing distress in Flash will junk up your calm scene
Too much distress (including protective responses) from a memory reconsolidation perspective are confirming experiences rather than disconfirming experiences.
Activation (as in selecting a particular slice of memory) is key component in Flash, but what we do with that activation matters.
One of the things that Flash teaches us is that activation and distress are not equivalent. We can activate and container the distress and the memory will still resolve if we are doing the other core tasks of Flash. In fact, if we are doing anything else, Flash will result in a crawl.
In some of other versions of Flash, the therapist encourages the client to lightly activate, then encourage the client to talk about something pleasant. This pivot from the limbic brain to the cortical/language centers of the brain serves as a kind container and the activation is likely to quickly self-extinguish from the quick pivot away from it.
The Four Blinks Version of Flash has an explicit container, where the content and distress will be into (so it doesn’t hit the body). If it does hit the body, we have resources like the vacuum to container that activation.
As a bridge to the container, I like to use the Catcher’s Mitt metaphor. A catchers mitt is designed to receive fast things coming at it. The catcher will often quickly toss the ball back to the pitcher or give it to the umpire. In Flash Therapy, whatever comes out of the memory when we “open the door and close it” goes into the imaginary mitt and then goes directly into the container. Again, we want to route whatever comes out as soon as we can into the container. We don’t want to talk about it, explore it, or allow what comes out to connect to other things. We want the client to identify the activated content, but not attach to it.
In Flash therapy, activation and noticing are separate. The very idea that we can separate activation and the results of that activation is pretty novel in modern psychotherapies. All noticing is done in the calm scene. We want that activated microslice to go straight into the container and out of awareness so that all of awareness is available to the calm scene. If activation is showing up while we are trying to have an experience in the calm scene, Flash can stop working because the experience we are having is confirming instead of disconfirming of the expectation in the bad memory.
In this video, we’re focusing on a system of parts, but that is often only part or only one aspect of what we mean by dissociation.
Lots of things may become dissociated/disconnected/severed.
Black box that we throw stuff into that is loosely connected with the freeze response.
Memory or parts of memory
The body or parts of the body
Disconnection from a sense of reality or personhood
Disconnecting from the present
Parts of the self can become disconnected from each other
Regardless of the form that dissociation takes, Flash seems ideally suited for the treatment of these issues.
Best done in the context of normalizing and working with parts effectively outside of Flash
We want to engage parts because it’s the right thing to do
It’s something we’re going to want to do regardless of our approach
Failing to do that cause a wide range of problems
In general, clients with identified parts really like Flash, compared to EMDR
They like doing the work in the calm scene, instead of sitting in the distress (kid parts may view the clam scene as a kind of play)
They are more confident that other parts aren’t going to cause significant disruptions
As with any resource, we want to make sure that containment works for all parts. It’s okay for one part to container using a box and another to container using a safe. We want to think in terms of parallel processes. Long story short, containment need to work for all parts.
Positive Scene Selection
Is there a scene or process that all parts can endorse?
I have clients whose parts appreciate different aspects of the calm scene. Some parts focus on the sky, others focus on the waves, others focus on the seagulls, etc.
Or, maybe there is an alternate activity that a part can engage in while most of the parts are focusing on a particular scene.
Target selection must involve participation of all accessible parts.
Don’t be surprised if parts that have not had much to say in the past suddenly present with opinions, guidance, cautions, or concerns.
Asking permission from a place of openness and curiosity is key.
Be prepared to address concerns of parts, “This part is worried what will happen if we ‘forget’ that memory.” “This part is worried what will happen if a flashback happens.” Be prepared to answer questions like this.
Sometimes parts that appear to be “contrarian,” may grumble about almost any plan. Often these parts will permit the work to continue, but they may reserve the right to comment on the process if things don’t go as planned.
While Inside Reprocessing in Flash
We want the see-saw to keep going, but we also want any part to raise concerns if they appear.
If any part has relevant information to communicate, we want to hear it out.
Strategies for Target Memory Selection in Flash Therapy
Steps One and Two should always be completed, tested, and practiced first with each client in the course of their treatment.
Identifying a memory to work in any individual session on should be done only after we have confirmed that the container is still accessible and we have selected and verified that the scene/experience is accessible.
Step Three is very rapid, 10 seconds or less.
The act of identifying it is paired with the act of containing it.
What allows this approach to be remarkable and rapid also introduces the potential for peril.
Need to target a specific memory AND it needs to be a memory
We don’t want to talk about it. Talking = activating, but we may need to do some talking to select that specific memory out of the whole of experience
Strategies to identify target memories
Identify themes in prior sessions and get consent to work on something around that theme next session. When the next session starts, ask for consent to work on a memory that is relevant to that theme.
Target parts of the elephant in the room. You can suggest targets related to presenting issue. This can be lined up in the prior session, although I’m more likely to get general consent to work on something in prior sessions to avoid the client coming to session over-activated.
Still a good idea to work on smaller targets first, to “test the gear.”
If the client is in preparation phase for EMDR, one of the best strategies is to target memories (or memories insides of themes) that are most resonating lately. This will help clients because we are targeting what has been most contributing to instability… client will get healthier faster because we are targeting the presenting issue sooner.
The clients I’m most likely to be doing Flash with are the same clients where I’m probably not doing a detailed and chronological targeting sequence plan with… our energies are focused on trying to find somewhere to work that might be both helpful and tolerable to the system’s parts. If you are working with a client with identified parts, invite the system to provide input on target selection and open the door to let any part veto that memory as a target today
Don’t like to take the SUDs until the client is starting to struggle finding the distress to container. Whole podcast episode on this.
If the way you do Flash works to help your clients reliably, predictably, and safely reprocess memories, keep doing what you are doing. If Flash isn’t quite getting you there, let’s reduce it to several very simple variables and make adjustments from there so that nearly all of your clients can clear almost anything they decide to reprocess.