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Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model

The Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model is a theoretical framework that explains how trauma is stored and processed in the brain and how EMDR therapy can help heal these memories. The AIP model was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the founder of EMDR therapy, based on her observations of the effects of eye movements on distressing memories. The AIP model assumes that the brain has an innate ability to integrate new information into existing memory networks in an adaptive way, but this process can be disrupted by traumatic experiences that overwhelm the system. The AIP model also describes how unprocessed trauma can lead to maladaptive responses, such as negative feelings and cognitions, that affect a person’s personality, psychological problems, and mental disorders. The AIP model is influenced by the work of other researchers and theorists in the fields of behaviourism, cognitive psychology, and neurobiology.

According to the AIP model, when a traumatic event occurs, it may be stored in a state-specific form, meaning that it is isolated from other memory networks that hold adaptive information. This prevents the traumatic memory from being fully processed and integrated into the person’s adaptive memory system. As a result, the traumatic memory can be easily triggered by internal or external stimuli that resemble or are associated with the original event, causing the person to re-experience the negative emotions, sensations, and beliefs that were present at the time of the trauma. These maladaptive reactions can interfere with the person’s functioning and well-being in various domains of life.

Use of EMDR to process dysfunctional memories

The AIP model proposes that EMDR therapy can help process and resolve these dysfunctional memories by activating the natural information processing system of the brain. EMDR therapy involves stimulating both sides of the brain (bilateral stimulation) through eye movements or other methods while the person focuses on a specific aspect of the traumatic memory. This is believed to facilitate the connection between the isolated memory and other adaptive memory networks that contain positive emotions, sensations, and beliefs. As a result, the traumatic memory loses its intensity and negative charge and becomes more adaptive and integrated into the person’s memory system. This leads to a reduction of trauma symptoms and an improvement of the person’s functioning and well-being.

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The AIP model is supported by various types of evidence, such as clinical observations, case studies, randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, neuroimaging studies, physiological measures, and animal research. The AIP model is also consistent with other learning theories and models of trauma and memory. The AIP model is not a fixed or final theory, but rather an evolving one that is open to modifications and refinements based on new research and evidence.

Benefits of AIP

Some examples of how the AIP model has benefitted our understanding of trauma are:

  • It has broadened the concept of trauma beyond PTSD and recognized that many psychological problems can be traced back to unprocessed traumatic experiences.
  • In addition, it has provided a rationale for why EMDR therapy works and how it can be applied to various populations and settings.
  • Also, it has suggested that physiological changes (such as brain activity, heart rate, skin conductance, etc.) can be used as indicators of trauma processing and outcome measures for EMDR therapy.
  • It has highlighted the importance of adaptive information (such as positive beliefs, emotions, and sensations) in facilitating trauma recovery and enhancing resilience.
  • Furthermore, it has inspired further research on the mechanisms and effects of EMDR therapy and other forms of bilateral stimulation on trauma processing.
Further Reading

If you are interested in learning more about the AIP model and EMDR therapy, here are some weblinks that provide more details:

The AIP Model – EMDR European Association:

Adaptive Information Processing Theory: Origins, Principles, Applications, and Evidence:

The Adaptive Information Processing Model (Review from Part I):

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