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Tamie Pushlar - Therapy Blog

Adaptive Information Processing Model (AIP)

posted by Tamie Pushlar at 2022-01-28 09:01:00

Adaptive Information Processing Model (AIP)

The adaptive information processing model (AIP) is foundational to EMDR. According to the AIP model, under the right circumstances, our brain has the natural capacity to heal in a healthy and adaptive manner. The model explains how information is digested, processed, and stored in our brain. The brain processes information within milliseconds and it relies on using already existing neural memory networks to assimilate any new experience. Neural memory networks hold thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and images that are related.

hot stove

For Example:
When you were a child, your parent (caretaker) may have told you that stoves can be hot when turned on and you may have touched a hot stove. Information about a stove is properly stored and whenever you see a stove you avoid touching it if the burners are on.

This is an example of AIP working properly.

When the brain is faced with a distressing event, sometimes the information gets stored as it was originally encoded along with any distorted thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Therefore, there are memories stored in our brain that have not been fully processed and it causes dysregulated responses when it is activated. The memories are not connected to the adaptive neural networks in the brain that help us heal.

The distressing event can be frozen in time within its own dysfunctional neural network and does not communicate with other memory networks that hold adaptive information. It is stored in the implicit memory (basal ganglia). Implicit memory is stored, you can have access to it but you are not aware (conscious) of it.

When a new event occurs that reminds you of the disturbing event, your brain accesses the dysfunctional neural network. Each time this network is accessed, it expands and can become stronger.

Examples of Adaptive Information Processing (IP)


Your boss gives you negative feedback in front of your coworkers. You feel humiliated because your coworkers heard the interaction. You may also feel scared about your job stability.

Adaptive IP:
You talk about the event with your partner and some coworkers you trust. You may dream about work and you think about different scenarios in your head. Throughout this process, you increase self-awareness and understanding about your fears regarding work. You realize you have two options: one option is to learn from the feedback and let it not bother you anymore; the second option is to get some more clarity from your boss and ask your boss to give you feedback in privacy. Either choice you choose, you have learned from the event because you used your AIP and will have more confidence next time a similar situation occurs.

Unsuccessful IP & Small T trauma

Small T Trauma example:
You were not a strong academic student, you had teachers and a parent who would talk about your grades in front of others. Therefore you are more sensitive to humiliation.

How you may respond to the scenario above:

Thoughts: "I am stupid" or "I am not good enough"
Feelings: Scared, sad, hopeless
Body Sensations: Stomachaches, muscle aches
Behaviors: You may drink more when you get home or isolate yourself in the bedroom

Your response is more severe than the event warranted because the event triggered the dysfunctional neural network that is "frozen in time"

Unsuccessful IP and Big T trauma:
In the past, you experienced an event or series of events which impacted your emotional and physical safety. You have PTSD from the event:

Big T Trauma:
Your parent would humiliate you in front of your family and give you strict punishments such as forcing you to skip a meal, kicking you out of the house, physical abuse, etc.

How you may respond to the scenario above:
After your boss gives you negative feedback you may dissociate for the rest of the day. You return home and you tell your partner that work was fine.

Thoughts: "I am a horrible person who deserves to die"
Feelings: Numb
Body Sensations: You can't feel your body, it feels detached from your body
Behaviors: You may go home, have dinner quietly and go to bed really early. The next day you may call out sick from work.

How does therapy, specifically EMDR, help?

  1. You will learn how past disturbances can impact your current state.
  2. You will increase self-awareness so you can begin identifying thoughts, behaviors, body sensations, and feelings.
  3. A thorough history will help the therapist and you bridge current thoughts, behaviors, body sensations, and feelings to a time that they were developed. The goal is to find out when the dysregulated neural networks were created.
  4. You will start to develop new tools/skills to manage the dysregulation and increase your connection to an adaptive neural network.
  5. When it is time to process the disturbing events, bilateral stimulation (BLS) will help move the disturbing information (at a faster rate) along with neural networks which contain adaptive information and the event will be stored with appropriate emotions and adaptive beliefs.
  6. The information shifts from implicit memory (does not require conscious thought) to explicit memory.

Let's look at the same scenario as before and discuss what will occur in EMDR therapy:
Your boss gives you negative feedback in front of your coworkers. You feel humiliated because your coworkers heard the interaction. You may also feel scared about your job stability.

Small t trauma:
After the scenario, you meet with your EMDR therapist. You are at the beginning stages of therapy. You and your therapist discuss the incident.

Your EMDR therapist will ask you to identify your body sensations and emotions connected to the event. They may ask you to give this emotion or body sensation a SUD (subjective unit of distress). You may say it is a 6 out of 10. Your therapist will ask you to float back to a time when you first remembered feeling humiliated and perhaps you recall 3rd grade and failing the math multiplication test and the teacher announces your grade in the class in front of your peers. You start to begin to understand the connections to events today and how they connect to earlier memories and neural networks that hold dysregulated body sensations, emotions, and beliefs. Your therapist will guide you through a resource tool to manage the feelings and body sensations to decrease your level of distress. When you are ready to process the past, your therapist will use BLS and you will choose, with the therapis, which memories are relevant to process.

Big T trauma:
You will meet with the EMDR trained therapist and you recall the event that happened at work. You and your therapist have already identified that current disturbing events can activate the dysregulated neural network. You have identified that your go-to behavior is to dissociate. You and your therapist will work on mindfulness and grounding techniques to decrease the incidents of dissociation. You may even begin to understand that you have different parts of yourself (ego parts) that appear when the dysregulated neural network is activated. When you are able to tolerate more emotions without dissociating. You and your EMDR therapist will start working on processing your memories using BLS (bilateral stimulation).