Bulk Flash within Ego State Therapy

The Flash Technique (Manfield, Lovett, Engel, & Manfield, 2017) developed by Dr. Phil Manfield has shown that moving a memory is possible without directly activating a memory or directly reprocessing it. How it happens and what is exactly happening is still up for discussion (See Dr. Ricky Greenwald’s blog HERE, particularly in the discussion section). Nonetheless, I have combined a bunch of ideas and approaches that helps a wide range of clients, particularly, first responders, police officers, vets, victims of crime, and people with addictions. I have also used it to help stabilize someone’s addiction recovery when they find themselves substituting their addictions. It is more than possible that what I am suggesting has been done before but I have not heard of it yet.

I have been searching to find something that can help stabilize someone’s addiction either by stabilizing the symptoms of trauma or the addiction (as if they were separate) through targeting the “addiction memory” (Boening, 2001) as a trauma. What I have found by combining flash technique with Ego State Therapy and a solid conceptualization of addiction in an intensive format helps stabilize both trauma, dissociation, and addiction. I am in full agreement with Dr. Jamie Marich blog (2019) on EMDR 2.5 where a solid understanding of the EMDR protocol combined with various other trauma techniques like titration, pendulation, using fragments, body mapping, and body sensations are helpful in preparing clients for reprocessing, particularly in Phase 2 of EMDR. With that said, what the flash technique has shown me is that it offers something else, in combination with Ego State Therapy, mainly stabilization of the memory system, creates a common goal, and provides access and resources to the unconscious mind. I find that the case conceptualization is particularly important because it provides the rationale needed to stabilize and paired with Ego State Therapy it provides the structure of the psyche. Which can be an unknown to the client at this stage of treatment. The case conceptualization that Dr. Marich and I are producing currently is “Addiction as Dissociation.” You can see an overview HERE.

The flash technique offers these criteria before using it: (1) it is for high impact trauma/high SUDS and (2) be mindful of feeder memories. On the point of feeder memories, I find that this approach helps eliminate that issue to a large degree but you still need to rule out significant dissociation, bi-polar or mania, psychotic symptoms before performing the flash technique as you would in Phase 1 of EMDR.

To me, what the flash technique offers is different from standard resourcing, RDI, or traditional preparation skills like grounding and is more like titration and pendulation.

Standard EMDR preparation skills like safe/calm place, container, healing light, or butterfly hug do not require accessing or activation of traumatic memories, however, it can happen with more complex presentations. From my understanding, titration and pendulation in the resourcing and preparation phase 2 is about working with painful material but in moderation. This is where preparation/resourcing 2.5 comes in to play. Dr. Marich’s point, besides that we should cautious of the latest fades, holds that because titration and pendulation do similar things to the flash technique. I fully agree because body awareness is powerful and allows the clients to gain experience holding the pain in their physical awareness. However, the flash technique does not require this. Titration and pendulation provide a “toe in the water” process, whereas the flash technique does not. However, clients still needs body awareness to reprocess so 2.5 skills will still have to be done as well before moving forward in the phases of EMDR and for EMDR to be the most effective.

There are some other aspects that the Flash Technique is different from standard resourcing, titration, and pendulation.

1) In Dr. Ricky Greenwald’s blog, and quoting Bruce Ecker in the discussion section, the flash technique may be taking out some of the fear of addressing the memory. I think this is where titration and pendulation are similar but direct contact with the overwhelming experience is not required in the flash technique.

2) By pairing the distressing memories with a positive place provides the opportunity for discord, which memory reconsolidation requires (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley, 2012). Activation was also thought to be required in memory reconsolidation but this is what makes the flash technique different and possibly new.

3) Dual Attention Stimulus is used in Flash Technique and not typically in titration and pendulation.

4) Subliminal suggestions are powerful (just look at advertising) and when the memories are put on the back burner (possibly working memory) and a more positive experience is focused on, it appears that some shift in where the memory is stored is able to happen without activation. From my experience with this bulk format, when the more unconscious ego states are ready to let go of the pain of the traumas and have connected to the meeting area, they will let go. They feel more empowered to take on their stuff. Presentations where people are consciously or unconsciously bonded to their traumas, which are particularly in more shame-based presentation and developmental traumas, then memories are not going to move until there is cohesion in the ego state meeting area. However, the flash technique is not typically for these types of traumas and where titration and pendulation can be more helpful.

Where the flash technique is different is that it appears moves the memory… or memories as I found out about a year ago while working with a first responder and they said, “there are like 9 calls that stay with me still that are off the chart.” Ever curious, I thought about a bulk option.

What I am presenting here in the scripts below is an ideal and mostly general because each session is individual to the client. I do suggest consultation around this, particularly if is not clear. There is a level of finesse in this approach and it is not something that someone can teach per say because it is based on felt experience. This felt experience is based on the dual attunement that is critical to use as a guide. I have taught a handful of consultees this bulk technique,” who were first trained by Dr. Phil Manfield in the technique. “Bulk Flash,” as I am calling it, has gotten a similar response when they used it. I have done it with a dozen or so clients that I have used it and I am now offering it here to help others. For me, I have been using it to help first responders continue their work and to stabilize active addictions, which is quite promising.

Before you read further, you will need to know and feel comfortable with Ego State Therapy (or IFS), and the Theory of Structural Dissociation. I do not go into it too much here because it would be too much to cover. I do suggest Robin Shapiro’s Easy Ego State Interventions, Sandra Paulsen’s: When There are No Words and Looking Through the Eyes, Andrew Sheubert’s use of his RUG-C, Shirley Jean Schmidt’s: Development Needs and Meeting Strategy (DNMS), and Dissociation and Addiction Resources page with Institute for Creative Mindfulness: HERE.

Here is the set-up with some reasoning sprinkled in:

After the conscious intake, I do an unconscious intake by doing the dissociative meeting area based on Dissociative Table by Watkins and Watkins (1997) with every client. Whether it is metaphorical, analogous, or actual the ego state meeting area is a part of the clients lived experience one way or another, whether they are conscious of it or not. A main point of the meeting area is to see how conscious the client is of their unconscious process, let alone, how willing they are to go there. Another way of putting it is: the meeting area also helps see how willing the unconscious is to let them in.

What the ego state meeting area represents to me is a look into the psyche or “looking under the hood.” The aspects of self that present (and who don’t originally present) in the meeting area are what make this person, this person. The meeting area also allows them to see this aspect of themselves too, at least their conscious mind. This is a big moment for the conscious mind. This is how the “Eureka” moments work; the conscious aspects of the mind realizes what the unconscious has been saying all these years. The experiences and non-experiences alike that the client holds, have made them who they are today and I know that I am not only talking to the person that is sitting in front of me; I know that I am talking to every person they have ever been. Who they have been can hold the encapsulated memories (Scaer, 2010) of what happened to them. Or another way of saying it, they are personifications of those held traumatic experiences. All trauma impacts temporal time and space. Untreated trauma continues that trend to the point that the core beliefs and the emotion felt still stay with the person and is usually fragmented. However, as we know the body keeps the score. Trauma separates us because there was a before, during, and after a traumatic event so everyone who experiences trauma can feel a sense of separateness until it is resolved.

I offer this to clients: “I know that I am not only talking to the person that is sitting in front of me. I know that I am talking to every person you, you have ever been. I would like the yous that you have been to have opportunity to get the therapy that they did not get at the time.”

I then ask, “Where would be a comfortable place for you to meet who you have been?” “A meeting of the minds so to speak.”

This is a continuation of the assessment phase, meaning that I am looking to see how aware they are of their processes/who or what parts of them shows up. If and when there appears to be an understanding of the parts and their purpose (I use RUG-C or DNMS a lot here), I move forward by filling out the space by making it real with descriptions and see who shows up. If no one shows, then consider the broad spectrum of dissociation and do psycho-education and body awareness…)

I then ask, “Does it feel like any part of you is missing?”… “Or does it feel like there are parts that may be curious but are not ready to join quite yet?”

(If there are parts missing then suggest that this is the opportunity for them to listen, if they can and want to.)

I welcome any part that may be on the periphery to come in when they feel comfortable. Here I prepare to teach the container with psycho-education about the brain. For instance, the first five minutes of the movie Inside Out is extremely helpful here. I offer the clients and parts to fill the container (without eye movements for now) with the old memories that feel like they are still staying. I suggest that it is like a library, in such that there may be volumes of books or like a movie collection. I offer them to put any old tapes/movies of past experiences that they would like to put into the container, to put them there. I also offer around this time “that this is a space for the kids to be kids and adults to be adults.” Once everything is put away, I ask “is there any feeling that comes up as a result of having some separation from the bad experiences?” “Where do you feel it in your body?” (I will do a resource install or Brainspotting Resource Spot here, when appropriate). I then suggest that the client can put the container in waiting room like the flash technique offers. But before it is put away, I will then ask them (or really the conscious self), without opening any of them, “How many are there?” and then “How big are the volumes?” Just take note of them.

Then I set-up the flash/blink with a moment of joy and do the flash technique.

What I have found is that, after doing the first round of flash/blink, what was once 15 volumes are now 3-5 volumes and the parts that did not present earlier, start presenting more. I ask about body shifts and have them simply notice it. I do the flash technique again and check in with the meeting area to see what they might be noticing. I then have them check the volumes again. Usually it stays around 3-5 and the SUDS is significantly less. Clients also report that the volumes feel lighter, are smaller, and/or are more distant. They also report that the parts are lighter and more engaged. Sometimes the backdrop of the meeting area has lightened up, distance has been decreased, and more interaction is available. Utilizing Paulsen’s concept of building Ego strength, here is where to do it through relationship building and conflict resolution.

Some bullet points to consider from my experience of doing this so far...

  1. This may become their “safe place.”
  2. You may have to create a more separate work environment, suggested in the dissociative table were one can combine their efforts towards their treatment goals.
  3. At some point, when appropriate, the future self/recovery self as a way of the client seeing what their long-term goals are, to increase motivation, and provide an adult to be present for the younger versions.
  4. If the person is bonded or addicted to their traumatic memories, as Van der Kolk has suggested in several writings (Van der Kolk, Greenberg, Boyd, & Krystal, 1985; Van der Kolk, 1989) there will be mixed emotions about letting things go. Utilize Motivational Interviewing with the parts. Understanding how addiction presents in mental health and how to treat it will help the client successfully complete treatment.
  5. Borderline clients, from my experience, tend to avoid establishing the meeting area so more resourcing is needed to establish the meeting area.
  6. I mostly do what I have presented here in a 4-hour intensive session.

Next, I will more than likely go into the Toxic Shame: Shape and Color Set-up that I have written about. See my blog post: HERE. I then do into their traumas in a chronological fashion, unless there is a reason not to. For addiction: I make sure that I targeted their “addiction memory” with the standard protocol with the one minor alteration as outline in a previous blog that I did. You can access it: HERE.

The long and short of it is that I find that once the inner children have the space to be kids, without the responsibility of being in charge of the outcomes of life, and they can trust the adult in charge, they tend to let go of their stuff without direct reprocessing. I do go back and check in on all of their memories over the course of treatment but often times now that they have their inner-children, they are good to go for a while. You still want to process all of the memories as Flash Technique suggests.

Complex PTSD is complex because of the dissociation profile involved (which includes addictions). I have found that this is a great start for clients to build off of because now clients have a conscious awareness of the psyche structure to work with and a conceptualization that validates their unconscious processes. This makes sense because when the unconscious separation and alienation that trauma causes becomes a conscious unified front, people feel more connected to their treatment goals and whole to their purpose in life. Taking the sting out of therapy with the flash technique helps clients start to put the memories where they need to be in order for adaptive mindset and lifestyle to take root.

My newly developed training "Treating Addiction as Dissociation with EMDR Therapy" will touch upon this as well.


Boening, J. (2001). Neurobiology of addiction memory. Journal of Neural Transmission, 108, p. 755-765.

Ecker, B., Ticic, R., & Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory reconsolidation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Manfield, P.,  Lovett, J., Engel, L., & Manfield, D. (2017). Use of flash technique in EMDR Therapy: Four case examples. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, Vol. 11. No. 4.

Scaer, R. (2010). Robert Scaer: Trauma and dissociation. Somatic Perspectives. Jan 2010.

Van der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The compulsion to repeat the trauma: Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 389-411.

Van der Kolk, B., Greenberg, M., Boyd, H., & Krystal, J. (1985). Inescapable shock, neurotransmitters, and addiction to trauma: Towards a psychobiology of post traumatic stress. Society of Biological Psychiatry. Vol. 20. pp. 314-325.

Watkins, J. & Watkins, H. (1997). Ego states: Theory and therapy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.


Emotional Logic


When I see my children play, I see them recreate/mimic things they have just experienced or stories that they have heard or read. As a therapist, these patterns interest me because I wonder how much of our psychological processes, i.e., attitudes, beliefs about the world, behaviors, and personality structure are a product of recreating or reenacting our earliest experiences. Repetition is also fundamental
to how we self-sooth, socially interact, play, and is also a key ingredient in how we heal. Healing is a critical aspect of survival. By taking a deeper psychological look at what forces are at play in repetitive behaviors we can better understand what makes us tick as human beings.

Have you ever wondered what forces drive you to repeat something that is bad for you (or good for that matter) and why you repeat it? Maybe you are repeating negative behavioral patterns that involve eating, drugs, sex, work, parenting, or romantic relationships. I hope that you have noticed these patterns because identifying these provide the opportunity to learn from your behavioral patterns.

Like with any form of learning, we need cues, prompts, or reminders to reference previously acquired information. These reminders are often emotional in nature and come in the form of cues from the body (i.e., butterflies in the stomach, heart pounding, hands sweating) and are prompted by the recognition of these emotional and behavioral patterns. If we don’t recognize emotional or behavioral pattern consciously then we can’t apply the message. Why don’t we recognize the message? Maybe it is because we consciously don’t know the language or why the body (which unconsciously holds all of our past experiences) is communicating to us in the first place. As a result, the experiences of not knowing leaves us consciously feeling “surprised” as to what is going on, which is also a reason why our behavioral patterns repeat.

Repetition is a form of communication and is essential to everything we do. To answer what is going on with repetition and why we do it, we first have to explore our motivations: We do everything and anything (and even nothing) for survival reasons. Our survival system, which include our action systems, help moves us/stop us depending on what is needed in a given situation. It references what has worked and not worked in the past through an associative and procedural process that utilizes our emotional/implicit and procedural memory systems. Oftentimes just hearing what works and what doesn’t isn’t enough to solidify our understanding so we have to try it ourselves to know what it feels like. Our actions, or lack thereof, do not always make sense rationally. However, there is a logic to our emotions if we consider them from the perspective of this procedural process.

For example, I once caught my toddler son putting a plastic bag on my infant daughter and trying to feed her small pieces of Legos, which both my wife and I explicitly warned him against doing before he had done it. I believe that from our prompting, he played it out and without correction he will come to know that he can express himself in such ways without consequences. But the key to understanding his behavior was when he decided to involve the plastic bag or Legos. It was when she was touching his toys for the first time or was hurt by the fact that she was getting more attention then he was. This is my son’s emotional side developing. I know in his heart he does not want his sister to die or be the one who kills her but in the moment when she is touching his toys he may feel threaten and it is hard to not react like this. I interpret the behaviors not as malicious or with murderous intent but with emotional logic.

Emotional Logic

Emotional logic can be found in one-liners that capture the paradoxes of life. “The more things change, the more things stay the same.” “Sometimes less is more.” “You don’t know what you got until its gone.” “No pain, no gain.” “The end is just the beginning.” “Creating pain in order to have relief later.” “We are living and dying at the same time.” “What feels good to you is bad for you and what feels bad is good for you.” To the extreme, emotional logic rationalizes all problematic behaviors: “I hit you because I love you.” “I need a cigarette/drink/sex/materialism.” “I cut myself to get relief.” “I had to drive drunk.” “I had to kill her so she would know how much I loved her.”

These are statements are emotional truths that are felt in the moment, are usually an end that justify the means, and are felt wants that are labeled as needs. When emotional logic is put to the extreme, it provides the philosophical and emotional grounding for problematic behaviors like abuse, overanalyzing, worrying, enabling, stealing, self-harm/abuse, murder, addictions, and suicide. All these actions are based on short-term survival thinking and can be linked to earlier developmental ages or states of the ego. These ego states are based on our reference material (i.e., memories). Underlying all of these behaviors is an unconscious and dissociative process of reenactments (more on this point later.)

In the survival system, staying alive and safe is paramount. This includes not only our defense reactions like fight, flight, freeze, and appease but also locating food, relating with others, engaging in play, feeling open to seek new experiences with curiosity, and respectful lust. If these latter experiences are not happening, we can feel as if something is not right and this makes us feel threatened or in danger. When we feel threatened or in danger our bodies internally and biologically organically produce symptoms of traumatic stress that include the desire to fight, flight, freeze or appease by triggering butterflies in the stomach, heart rate increase or decrease, or palms sweating. Psychologically and emotionally, we register these experiences by what we have experienced before and if our external world is continually triggering our internal world, our internal world starts communicating with external world through reminders by way of intrusive symptoms (and the element of “surprise,” dramatic expression, or extreme presentation ensures that the message is received but does not guarantee that it will be interpreted, comprehended, and/or applied). Intrusive symptoms of traumatic stress are flashbacks, thoughts, images, or body sensations but the “intrusive” nature of traumatic stress is a matter of perspective i.e., “who is intruding on whom?”

Parts Work

The answer to “who is intruding on whom?” lies in our temporal understanding because our past is playing out in our present. Rational logic that says “the past is in the past” doesn’t hold up because emotional logic says “Bullshit, that feels like it is still happening now so let me show you that it is by showing images of the past while you are in a conscious state or asleep.” The external emotional circumstances are triggering our internal survival programming because they are being felt as a matter of survival due to their needs not getting met. It is not that people want to consciously be doing these problematic behaviors but they do not want to unconsciously be living under these conditions either.

Our survival programming is the main platform for maintaining homeostasis both physically and psychologically. Psychologically, we have different sides to us that we use to keep ourselves balanced just like biologically we have different systems for different bodily functions. For example, psychologically, we have a side meant for daily functioning and an emotional side which guides us on how we feel about what we are experiencing based on what we have experienced before. In the theory of structural dissociation (Van der Hart, Nijenhuis, & Steele, 2006) these are identified as Appearing Normal Part(s) (ANP) and the Emotional Part(s) (EP). These parts of us can also be seen as correlated to functions in the brain i.e., the left-brain (ANP) predominately is oriented to time and space, logical, linear, and forms verbal language and the right-brain (EP) predominately is oriented to symbolism, affective responses, non-verbal communication, and facial recognition. The ANP and EP ego states are “states of being” “brain states” or “states of the brain.” meaning that are internal states of consciousness that are presenting externally. They also relates to our brain from a bottom-up/top-down perspective i.e., EP is related to the older reptilian brain and mammalian brain as they are emotionally-based and because our emotional world developmentally first chronologically and then ANP is related to the newer cognitive brain.

The question becomes, “How are these created?” and the answer is: “through experience.” The stronger the experience, the stronger the ego state created. An ego state is related to traumatic stress and memory because the ego state represents the part of us that is encapsulated in the trauma or emerged as a result. Meaning that an ego state is a manifestation of an unprocessed memory or what it learned from the experience. Furthermore, what is held in that ego state is a level of awareness, developmental level, and worldview of the age when the trauma happened. This is what we revert back to when we regress psychologically as a result of stress.

Now, back to the question at hand... Why would you keep doing something despite obvious negative consequences? On the surface, logic says that doing anything that could potentially have negative consequences like smoking, drinking, sex, or relationships is bad for you. Emotional logic says, “Wait! You cannot say you are alive if you don’t try new things so let me do more of that bad thing to prove a point because you need to learn that there are no absolutes in life and that everything has a consequence dependent upon the time and space that it is viewed!” The question again becomes, “who is talking to whom?” but also, “What part of the brain is talking to what part of the brain?” This is the proverbial scene where the devil and the angel are fighting over who is driving the bus i.e., the conscious (prefrontal cortex) and the unconscious (reptilian) brain or the left and right brain negotiating control over the action systems. True, negative consequences are going to be in the eye of the beholder and relative to when they are viewed, but when we breakdown the logic of why we do anything repetitively we see a deeper meaning emerge and access a deeper wisdom of life.

People often come into therapy to stop doing a behavior that they have consciously recognized as problematic, socially been pointed out as an issue, and/or because they feel some negative way of which they cannot explain; let alone change. Basically, they are seeing negative patterns repeat and trying to bring it to the attention of conscious brain so it can do something about it. When we feel a certain way because of what we do or what has been done to us, it leaves an impression on our survival reference material i.e., our memories.

This leads back to repetition: our unconscious processes repeat in order to learn/to increase awareness or consciousness. This is our survival brain trying to educate the conscious brain to what is an unresolved issue, which often presents in having mixed emotions. Our emotions are often mixed because they come from different experiences that we have had or different sides of us or from different times of our life when we held different views. When things from our past remain unresolved, the unconscious survival brain has a unique way and often indirect way of motivating our conscious brain to address the conflict through a process of reenacting previous experiences. From a more adaptive point of view, reenactments are attempts to make an experience conscious so that they can be resolved. Resolution is desired because it maintains homeostasis and when an experience can be stored properly in the memory systems i.e., memory resolution through a process of memory reconsolidation (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley, 2012), symptoms of distress is reduced; if not eliminated. Symptoms of distress include: anxiety, panic, depression, dissociation, anger, emotional cycling, and physical ailments.


In traumatology, recreating our traumatic experiences is known as trauma reenactments. Reenactments can happen in real time i.e., they unconsciously recreate unresolved relational dynamics, events/situations, or aspects of your life in order to draw attention externally to what is being experienced internally. Bessel van der Kolk (1989) provided a clear example of this phenomenon where he
describes treating a Vietnam vet from a night when the soldier “lit a cigarette at night and caused the death of a friend.” “From 1969 to 1986, on the exact anniversary of the death, to the hour and minute, he yearly committed “armed robbery” by putting a finger in his pocket and staging a “holdup,” in order to provoke gunfire from the police. The compulsive re-enactment ceased when he came to [consciously] understand its meaning (pg. 393).” I added [consciously] in the last line as an editorial statement to support the point I am making.

If reenactments are the survival brain’s way of performing memory reconsolidation, then what the survival brain is trying to do is heal our memories/experiences. This would make sense as the reptilian part of the body/brain (cerebellum, medulla, brain stem) that sends out the white platelets to clot a physical wound so psychological they would be involved too. This part of the brain has survived on the planet for at least 500 millions of years and the ability to heal is essential for survival, however, cognitive/rational processes or societal expectations (stigma) are often blocking healing. From the psychological perspective, memory resolution and appropriate storage of memories are critical to healthy brain functioning, personality integration, and our overall mental health.

Integration is a sign of optimal state for our mental health (Seigel, 2011) and when memory reconsolidation cannot be performed naturally then it remains stuck and produces symptoms of distress i.e., dissociation, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and rigid personalities. With symptoms like these, it stands to reason that anxiety, panic, depression, and addictions (which I would include eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive behaviors) would result. However, despite the internal conflict that results in these symptoms, the cause for them continuing and not resolving is often external. We make meaning by being able to share our experience with a safe person by telling our story or expressing it non-verbally through artistic means. Oftentimes people are not able to express what has happened to them because they don’t have that safe person to share their emotions with.


Emotional logic is not without it flaws because it is often the ends justifying the means and rational logic often negates it. When our needs and wants are not objectively balanced out, there is conflict and disorder. Social stigma of mental health adds to the conflict because people are made fun of or suppressed if they express their emotions and expose their vulnerability. This often stems from our family and culture of origin. We all have an emotional side to our biological and psychological make-up, but like a muscle, if it is not used it weakens over time. In family or societal structures where our emotional experience is suppressed: subversion, deviance, and defiance persist.

Philosophically, all addictions are based on emotional logic, which is rationally disconnected but that does not mean that they are any less valid. Emotional logic is based on procedural memory, emotional survival, defense mechanisms, traumatic and dissociative reenactments, and ultimately our stories. When there is a disconnection between logic and our emotional world, which is often represented as disconnected from heart and mind, then it stands to reason that addiction is dissociative and dissociation always accompanies trauma, to what degree or measure is debatable. This is why Dr. Marich and I started our Addiction as Dissociation Model (O’Brien & Marich, 2019). What has been presented here are some concepts that are foundational to seeing Addiction as Dissociation and I believe that knowing these would benefit clients, families, clinicians, treatment centers, policymakers, and government agencies.

Until we recognize the different sides to us, we will be beholden to their survival needs. However, we are not condemned to repeat our past if we remain in a process of learning, applying said learning, and continue healing from our past. However, as Billy Preston asked… “Will it go round in circles?” Yes it will, Billy, yes it will...


Ecker, B., Ticic, R., & Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory reconsolidation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Maté, G. (2003). When the body says no: exploring the stress-disease connection. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

O’Brien, A., & Marich, J. (2019). Addiction as Dissociation Model by Adam O'Brien and Dr. Jamie Marich. Retrieve

Scaer, R. (2005). The trauma spectrum: Hidden wounds and human resiliency. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Siegel, D. (2011). Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. New York, NY: Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.

Van der Hart, O., Nijenhuis, E., Steele, K. (2006). The haunted self: The structural dissociation and the treatment of chronic traumatization. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Van der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The compulsion to repeat the trauma: Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 389-411.


Update on Treating Addictions with EMDR

Gabor Maté says that “the root cause of addiction is trauma” (Maté, 2010) but I think we need to add dissociation to that sentence because addiction is a dissociative process caused by trauma. I do not think that he would disagree considering that he wrote a book called Scattered (1999), which talks about the roots of ADD/ADHD as emotional dissociation.

You will have to reference my previous blog on this subject (HERE) to have more of the backdrop of what I am presenting here. This is intended for EMDR/trauma resolution clinicians but believe that anyone would benefit from exploring. Also, before I can give you this update, I will briefly make sense of how addiction, trauma, and dissociation interplay.

“Addiction as Dissociation Model” is what I have been working on for the past year (along with my mentor Dr. Jamie Marich) and have submitted it as a position paper and is currently under review. HERE is a recent blog that we did to highlight some of the main points (O’Brien & Marich, 2019). I believe that this model’s importance is critical to the treatment of addiction because it highlights where addictions fit into the mental health “disorder” paradigm but also because addiction symptomatology can hide in other mental health presentations.

I put “disorder” in quotations because specifically addiction, trauma, and dissociation are normed experiences, meaning that they are supposed to happen given certain conditions and for this reason they are interrelated. Addiction, trauma, and dissociation are inseparable forces of nature because like a stone into a pond (trauma) there going to be ripples (dissociation and potentially addiction). I believe that addiction and dissociation are the same process and that it is the impact of trauma that creates the extremes. Because of this, the root of addiction is untreated dissociation caused by trauma and untreated trauma. We use the definition of “dissociation in trauma” as the operational definition for dissociation (Nijenhuis & Van der Hart, 2011). For addiction, I will use our working definition of addiction as “a manifestation of untreated dissociation and trauma.”

When looking at these three experiences and how they overlay, we have to recognize 3 things.

1) Any life-threatening or adverse life experience, perceived or real, can produce the same symptomatology i.e., trauma and stress symptomatology, 2) that dissociative/addictive states create traumas, 3) and that dissociation always accompanies trauma due to the law of cause and effect.

So I ask, can you have trauma without dissociation? Can you have trauma without addiction? Can you have addiction without trauma and dissociation? Can you have dissociation without addiction?

Here are my answers and rationale for what I am suggesting.

Can you have trauma without some form of dissociation? No, i.e., a stone thrown in a pond is going to create a ripple. It was brought to my attention in a FB group, basically warning me against absolutes, that dissociation does not always happen during a traumatic event because people can consciously experience a traumatic event. I agree that people can be conscious during a traumatic event but this does not mean that a form of dissociation is not present because we can be consciously dissociated. This viewing of an experience sounds more like depersonalization, which is a form of dissociation. Furthermore, there is the concept of co-consciousness that suggests that both can be happening at the same time. Dissociation is not just about checking out momentarily; we can be consciously living dissociated, which can be considered dual attention. This is paradoxical but is essential to understanding dissociation and addiction and this is why parts work is essential to treating addictions.

Can you have trauma without addiction? Yes, you can have trauma without addiction but the trauma is most likely from a natural disaster i.e., an “act of God” as insurance companies call them but ultimately, “God” gives enough warnings before a natural disasters. Staying and not heeding the warnings is a sign of being addicted. “Addiction as Dissociation” explores when we are living dissociatively we are in a state of being addicted. All other traumas that I can think of happen as a result of someone else trying to get their needs met in excessive or maladaptive ways while under the influence of this unmet need (not just a drug).

Can you have addiction without trauma (and dissociation)? No, because addictive behaviors are traumatic/life threatening to the survival reptilian brain and this would produce dissociation as a response. Addictive Memory (Boening, 2001) is traumatic memory and so would produce the same symptoms. Addictions are on the spectrum of trauma and dissociation and what can be inferred is that since dissociation has a normal range of presentations so do addictions and trauma.

Can you have dissociation without addiction? Yes, because there is a normal range of dissociative experiences, however, outside the normal range is where pathological dissociation (Waller, Putnam, & Carlson, 1996) begins and this can be considered an addicted state. Interestingly enough, dissociation is produced by the endogenous opiate and cannabinoid systems in the brain (Lanius, 2014), which suggests that we can become addicted to the processes produced by dissociation and the traumas that cause them (Van der Kolk, 1989).

When conceptualizing “Addiction as Dissociation” we must see that the addictive behaviors are a manifestation of a previous dissociative experience that is manifesting as a re-enactment and/or creating a feedback loop. So, to explore this connection comprehensively with EMDR, by performing a floatback from the first time the client fell in love with the drug or bonded with their dissociation, will produce their dissociation history.

When doing this, what I have found is that clients floatback to early childhood experiences of excessively watching TV, playing video games or sports, eating sugar/food, studying/school, fighting, stealing, or extra-circular activities. Again, these are all done excessively suggesting that they were compensating for emotional abuse or neglect. We can conceptualize these as “small d” dissociations. Also, and more obviously, previous dissociative experiences as a result of traumas or adverse life events. These would be “big D” dissociations which would include any (real, potential, or perceived) medical procedure/illness of the individual or family member or hearing age-inappropriate stories with adult themes or death. More on this last point in the conclusion.

Here is the update… The Set-up

The dissociative response produces a felt experience of numb (the relief moment) that would emotionally be interpreted as safety, stillness, peace, and comfort. Some dissociative responses like fighting and stealing produced a high as well and if that still stays with them then it is a target. Even though it may be in the absence of conscious presence, it is still real to the person experiencing the immediate effects of relief from the subjective experience. Our survival brain would retain these experiences for future survival needs and would reproduce/reenact it as a way of communicating this need to the conscious self.

Temporally, there is a before, during, and after any given trauma. However, I contend that there are really two memories created in the “during phase” i.e., the stone and the ripple. First, is the inescapable shock moment (trauma) and then second is the dissociative response (safety/relief moment). If the dissociative response registers on the Positive Feeling State Scale (PFS) or even if it registers on the SUD scale, then it is the target. If it doesn’t register then it may have been processed naturally or is dissociated suggesting that it is unresolved. It is essential to target this because this is what is being re-enacted or caught in the feedback loop. We can target it by switching the NC and the PC as I suggested in my previous writing.

What we are doing as EMDR therapist is treating the “during” part of the memory when we are reprocessing a traumatic memory (Phases 4 and 5). Typically, when reprocessing the trauma you can get the dissociative moment (the safety/relief moment) as well - but not always. Taking a dissociative history like we do a trauma history is probably not something that most clinicians do regularly so this relief moment is often missed as a component of the client’s treatment. By doing the dissociative floatback it will provide more access to their dissociative profile, provide targets, and provide comprehensive treatment.

We can treat dissociation by targeting the dissociative moment and/or the safety that it provides. This is the memory that we need to target when treating dissociation and also addiction. In reference to my previous blog, how we set this up with our clients is by asking, “Do you remember that moment that checking out felt good or right?” This is the same question for addiction “Do you remember when you fell in love with the addictive behavior or that feeling of numb?” PC: “What does that make you believe about yourself or this situation?” (You will need a greatest hits list for this purpose. Click HERE for Dr. Marich or HERE for mine.) “What do you need to believe about this now (as the adult you)? Then get a PFS (Positive Feeling State) or SUD, feeling, and body sensation i.e., standard protocol.


Addictions can form as a response to trauma but often times linking the addictive behavior to the consequences or treating the trauma does not eliminate the addiction. In cases where addictions are present, we need to treat both the trauma and dissociative response from the earliest ages (even pre-verbal or inter-generationally) and for that we need the Addiction as Dissociation conceptualization. Once that is in place, then we can use trauma resolution methods to treat it. This is what Dr. Marich and I providing. Treating the cravings or triggers is really treating the symptoms of addiction. Often times this leads to the underlying mechanisms of dissociation but to securely say that we have treated an addiction therapeutically we have to resolve both the trauma and the dissociative response.

To me the dissociative response of living dissociatively (this includes re-enactments and feedback looping in the memory system) is what defines active addiction. We cannot separate trauma from dissociation anymore then we can separate water from the wave. Someone who is addicted (to be fair I believe that bonded is a better word for addiction) to his or her dissociation is going to produce reenactments that are based on emotional logic. See my most recent blog HERE on the subject.

Often times addiction is seen an avoidance tactic. What is the difference between avoidance and keeping one safe? For me, it is our cultural stigma, which inform our negative beliefs. With “Addiction as Dissociation” conceptualization, addictions are more of a survival need for securing a feeling of safety. Clients respond better to this more humanistic approach rather than being told that they are doing something wrong.

Lastly, the power of story cannot be denied or dissociated from. Stories are often our first highs in life. A good story hooks us in and it is that hook that gets us before any addictive behaviors sets in. Our stories are what our survival brains eat for food. It gobbles up the information as facts because it might have to use this knowledge in the future in order to survive but also in order to thrive. I write this last part because you may have to address the glorifying stories that the client has heard or seen from their childhood or saw in media. For example, I have targeted characters from “Dazed and Confused” and “Hunter S. Thompson,” however, more often I have targeted familial stories. Hearing that mom or dad did this or that when s/he was younger suggests to the child listening that this is what s/he has to do in order to be a wo/man or adult. Following in the footsteps of our parents is inevitable but it does not have to be so literally. Ultimately, this is breaking the cycle of addiction, which is essential to truly treating addictions. Stories are our reference material for life, so be mindful of what and how you share.


Boening, J. (2001). Neurobiology of addiction memory. Journal of Neural Transmission, 108, 755-765.

Lanius, U. (2014). Dissociation and endogenous opioids: A foundational role. In U. Lanis, S. Paulsen, and F. Corrigan (Eds.), Neurobiology and treatment of traumatic dissociation: Toward an embodied self. (pp. 81-104). New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Maté, G. (1999). Scattered: How attention deficit disorder originates and what can you do about it. New York, NY: Plume.

Maté, G. (2010). In the realm of hungry ghosts: Close encounters with addiction. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Nijenhuis, E.R.S., & van der Hart, O. (2011). Dissociation in trauma: A new definition and comparison with previous formulations. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. 12:4 (pp. 416-445). DOI: 10.1080/15299732.2011.570592

O’Brien, A., & Marich, J. (2019). Addiction as Dissociation Model by Adam O'Brien and Dr. Jamie Marich. Retrieve

Van der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The compulsion to repeat the trauma: Re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 389-411.

Waller, N., Putnam, F.W., & Carlson, E.B. (1996). Types of dissociation and dissociative types: A taxmetric analysis of dissociative experience. Psychological Methods, 1(3). 300-321.


Addressing Shame: The Color and Shape Set-up for EMDR Therapy

When I first started to use EMDR with my clients, particularly with more complex cases, there seemed to be more that needed to get done before trauma processing. There needed to be more resourcing but also something that is able to touch a deeper trauma that is inside of our clients. Shame is usually the culprit.

Mason (2013) stated that, “shame safeguards the spirit.”  When shame is our reality, we don’t feel good about ourselves.  Shame is generally learned from experiences in our most vulnerable developmental years. However, since memories can be moved/restored through the process of memory reconsolidation (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley, 2012), our reality is subjective to the meaning we give it. This teaching may question our foundation of what composes our reality. Even more to the point, it calls into question the very essence of who we are.

In the Institute for Creative Mindfulness EMDR therapy training, we explore the client’s trauma targets using a thematic approach. Addressing traumas in a thematic way allows the client to address what they believe and how they feel about themselves in order to rewrite, renew, or own their story. Because of this, anything can be targeted with EMDR, if it holds adaptive or maladaptive value and the client can emotionally access it. However, what about the experiences that are there but not recognized consciously or that started before narrative or declarative memory developed in the brain?

Let me first acknowledge the difference between what I am presenting and Paulsen and O’Shea’s (2017) “When There Are No Words” protocol. Paulsen and O’Shea’s stance is that their protocol “reset the hardwired neuro-affect circuits” and this is done in Phase 2 Preparation. What I am presenting here is an option for clinicians who are not trained to do “When There Are No Words” (or are having difficulty following the nuances of protocol they downloaded off the web). Paulsen and O’Shea’s protocol can be helpful for clients; however, I also believe that accessing implicit memories through what I am suggesting holds additional value on two levels. One, it is a good and safer place to get “buy-in” from a client, and two, if it does not go as we would hope, it can be “diagnostic.” I want to gain access to my client’s earliest wounds. What I am proposing is more of a “Phase 2.5” intervention that links Phase 2 and the reprocessing Phases 3-6 (Marich, 2019). This intervention allows clinicians to address our client's preverbal schemas with any and all thematically shame-based core belief clusters because this is actually where the cluster begins.

Shape and Color Set-up:  While taking clients trauma history (Phase 1) and assessing core beliefs (Phase 3), I am looking to put their core beliefs in two categories: shame-based (i.e., I am bad, I am worthless) and fear-based (i.e., I am in danger, I am powerless) core beliefs. Before floating back on a core belief I will ask, “Do any of these shame-based beliefs just feel like they have always been there?” (I will either ask this during Phase 1, Client History or Phase 3 Assessment.) Nine times out of ten, clients will identify a shame-based negative cognition. If the clients pick a fear-based cognition like “I am in danger,” I stay away from it because it is most likely linked directly to an event that can be directly recalled and I am not trying to have them start reprocessing a direct memory. If this happens, I will guide them towards a shame-based core belief.

After resourcing in Preparation (Phase 2), assessing targets (Phase 3), and establishing some kind of stop signal, I then have the client create a target of the core belief felt-sense by asking, “What shape and color would represent this ‘has always been there’ belief?” Once the client has the image (and negative cognition) then it is standard protocol time (i.e., Phases 4-7 and Phase 8 in the next session). Future template can be done but I feel that because I am priming the pump and that there are declarative memories still to go, I wait until I see how the client responses to the process and do future templates with memories that are able to be recalled.

Rationale: I am trying to see what is going on under the hood and also preparing their memory system for reprocessing shifts. My reference to the shape and color or image comes from Mark Grant’s work on pain management (1995) and so any strong preverbal emotion can be targeted in this way. Paulsen and O’Shea also use this strategy; they do not, however, want you to activate the client. My position is that if we are addressing the client’s schema, that they are feeling all the time, they are already activated. Again, I suggest doing this on shame-based themes and not fear-based ones because I believe it is safer and the client is less likely to activate actual memories. However, activating shame-based memories does happen. In this case, I will guide them back to target or go back to resourcing. If the client has too much shame then the standard practices of creating some distance between the client and image, having the client pendulate, or taking only doing a fragment is advised. To further support my position, if the theme carries a high SUDs, which it normally does, Shapiro (2018) suggests doing a more intense early memory first because if they can do this, then they can handle whatever else is to come. Lastly, and for obvious reasons, this is actually the start of the cluster.

Buy In: Starting with a shape and a color allows the client to test-drive reprocessing. When clients open up to reprocessing they are opening themselves to their own healing. When that positive shift happens, they have experienced something that is effective and they will have more buy-in into their treatment. When, as the clinician, we express that it is a more indirect way of reprocessing EMDR, it implies that we are starting someplace safer. Clients appreciate this. Also, since their core beliefs are something that they already feel and live with on a daily basis they are familiar with it and okay talking about this more than their traumas. Once they have seen a shift in this, then now know and have direct experience that EMDR therapy works for them.

Diagnostic: Doing this is also a good test run to see if the person is able to do the deeper work and can be diagnostic in the sense that you get a feel for the clients protective/dissociative system and their level of preparedness on an unconscious level. Ideally, this is assessed in Phases 1-3 of EMDR but it is not always apparent on an unconscious level. Obviously, we need to have rapport, do assessments like the DES (at a bare minimum), and use our clinical judgment but it is not always obvious how someone’s unconscious will respond. If the client picks a shape and a color that goes from dark to something light and has freed something in them or they feel lighter, then chances are they are ready to do the deeper work that they are coming to us for. Additionally, they now have direct experience with feeling a shift in their emotional body, particularly with something that feels like it has always been there, again, we get a lot of buy-in.

As clinicians, we also get a lot of information regarding diagnostics if the client cannot remember their early childhood and/or by seeing if the client can do calm/safe place or container. If they cannot do this effectively then there is more going on in their dissociative process that is worth discussing with them (Paulsen, 2009). I started doing the Color and Shape Set-up before having the Dissociative Table (Paulsen, 2009) as a tool in my EMDR toolbox. I now will start with the dissociative table, O’Shea and Paulsen’s “When There Are No Words,” and then this Color and Shape Set-up, when appropriate.

Observations: The shame color/shape/image is usually dark. When reprocessing goes well, people get to a bright and lively color and/or translucent image. Sometimes, it just disappears. When it does not go “right” the image usually stays the same and clients will say, “it does not feel like it is going to move.” This is clinically telling and potentially diagnostic so more psycho-education and resourcing may be needed. Yes, some clients will have the wherewithal to identify that “it has always been there” or “I just feel it.” This insight may indicate where they are at in their readiness to do deeper reprocessing. This suggests to me that they are highly attuned to their body and are already primed to do EMDR or trauma reprocessing.

Generalization: Generalization is when the client starts to reprocess all of the thematic memories in a cluster (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley, 2012). This happens because once a core belief is resolved in an earlier memory the lesson learned is applied to other similar situations. Since the brain works through making associations, any association can connect to the neuro-network that rides this theme is going to be impacted, hence has the opportunity to be reprocessed. If the client is consciously and unconsciously open to healing then they are going to do a great deal of work starting in this way.

Populations: I particularly love doing this with people are addressing their addictions because they are usually living in their right-brain processes. This also goes for people who are creative and children between the ages of 2-12 respectfully. Highly motivated adolescents respond well but other adolescents find it weird. Similarly, I like doing this with personality disorders as well because it gives them the opportunity to allow shifts to happen, and/or challenges them if it does not. It provides experiential material to work on. For more left-brained people, it can be a challenge but it gives them the opportunity to connect to their more emotional side.

Healing Light: Also, consider that this can be done in combination with healing light. I will have clients get their SUDS down to a like 2-3 and then I will perform the healing light or Light Stream on the remainder. I have witnessed some very spiritual and religious experiences by doing this.

Target Order: When I do a floatback and get the earliest memory if it is not between the ages of 2-5, I have my client’s try and float further back. Because of what I am purposing, with regard to schemas and shame-based beliefs, it is implied that the earliest recall memories are going to be represented around the chronological ages of 2 to 5. Our expertise that tells us that the schemas started before the age of 2 so we would be better to start there.

Clients are coming to us for our expertise on the therapeutic process and trauma etiology, which can conflict with letting the client lead or decide what memory to do first. If I have a client who wants to address something more recent or only one specific memory then I will have them try the Color and Shape Set-up first as a test run. Similarly, if there is no discrete memory (Greenwald, 2007) or test run memory to do, I do this set-up. There are times when having the client lead or pick a memory that they want to work on can be effective.  Allowing the client to lead the selection of targets without any guidance, however, can be what creates more work later. So, we have to have a good case conceptualization in order to maximize the outcomes of healing and our conceptualization has to be based on trauma-informed care, which means to me, safety first. What this writing ultimately comes down to is that traumas are compounded in the memory network because our neuro-networks are associative and by previous traumas so starting off at the earliest is the safest and will be more likely going to produce better outcomes (Greenwald, 2007).

Feel free to contact me for individual consultation or attend my weekly group on Friday’s 12-2pm EST.


Ecker, B., Ticic, R., & Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory reconsolidation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Grant, M. (1995). From Retrieved on 2/8/19

Greenwald, R. (2007). EMDR: Within a phase model of trauma-informed treatment. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, Inc.

Marich, J. (2019). EMDR Therapy Phase 2.5: Honoring a Wider Context for Cnhanced Preparation. [Blog Post]  Retrieved from

Mason, M. (2013). Women and shame: Kin and Culture. In. Claudia Bepko (Ed.), Feminism and addiction (pp. 175-194). New York, NY: Routledge

Paulsen, S. (2009). Looking through the eyes of trauma and dissociation: An illustrated guide for EMDR therapists and clients. Bainbridge Island, WA: A Bainbridge Institute for Integrative Psychology Publication.

Paulsen, S., & O’Shea, K. (2017). When there are no words: Repairing early trauma and neglect from the attachment period with EMDR Therapy. Bainbridge Island, WA: A Bainbridge Institute for Integrative Psychology Publication.

Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd ed). New York, NY: Guilford Press.


Psychedelic Healing

Research on the use of psychedelics for mental health issues has
been publicized quite a bit recently. Experiments in the use of psychedelics
are demonstrating benefits in healing for chronic conditions such as
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, end of life processes,
depression, anxiety (Miller, 2017; Pollan, 2018). The use of these medicines
has recently received research breakthrough status (MAPS Press Release, 2018). From
a therapeutic standpoint, a lot of questions have been raised as to its
veracity because people have been using these substances recreationally for centuries.
Shouldn’t we have a lot of “healed” people running around the world? Well, like
most things, the answer is yes and no.

The fact is that most people do not know how to use these
powerful medicines, when to use them, and for what purpose when they start
taking them recreationally. This then is what causes unhealthy relationships to
form. Historically, these drugs have provided more healing/inspiration then
negative outcomes and rarely have they directly killed people. What has killed
people is the societal suppression of these medicines due to perceived fear and
ignorance. This fear and ignorance, societally produced, prevent proper education
on the use of psychedelics. This has helped create the toxic relationship to
these substances. Also, our culture has failed to manage or provide proper
assessment and guidance for people seeking what these medicines intrinsically
offer due to these suppression tactics. This is a failure of society and
culture, not individuals.

When people ask me about how taking these medicines to heal addiction
can be true, I say, we weren’t only doing them because they were “fun.” The topic
on the use of psychedelics in therapy offers me the opportunity to reflect on
the underlying psychological process being accessed. As people understand the
psychological process of healing that is at work in all therapies, they find
that it is not much different than a deep conversation with a friend or loved
one, fasting, floating, yoga, or dancing. The therapies of Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Brainspotting are the ones that I
use because they were effective for my own substance use disorder on stabilized
in recovery. To me, the application of psychedelic medicines can address an
underlying process of healing that happens in all trauma resolution therapies
(and all therapies in general when done properly) once the therapeutic
relationship has created the safe space to open up.  So, I would like to explore the use of psychedelics
as a trauma resolution method.

As a person in recovery from abusing substances, I have taken
more than my fair share of psychedelics. As a trauma and addiction clinician
who utilizes the trauma resolution methods of EMDR, Progressive Counting,
Mindfulness, somatic therapies, Expressive Arts, and Brainspotting to help
people heal from their traumas and addictions, I can say without a doubt that
the underlying process of memory reconsolidation (which is what produces trauma
resolution) is being activated when psychedelic medicines are being used.

Memory consolidation is how we naturally store our memories for
the day and memory reconsolidation is when we revisit or reactivate memories in
order to resolve and stored them accordingly (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley,
2012). Both memory consolidation and memory reconsolidation are processes that
we do naturally. Every night in our REM sleep we do bilateral stimulation (left
to right movements) which is believed to be storing our memories for the day
(Shapiro, 2001). Bilateral movements also happen when we walk, run, write, read,
cook, play music, and when we are making art. This is why exercise, hobbies,
creative arts, and expressive arts are effective ways to help people with
trauma healing. Similarly, effective talk-therapy will reduce symptoms of
anxiety, depression, panic, and anything else because memories are continually
being retriggered to reconsolidate when the client talk about what is going on
for them. If you have ever had difficult experience which you replay over and
over again, you have engaged in the basic premise for Progressive Counting
(Greenwald, 2013). If you have ever stared or gazed off into space in a focused
and intentional way like in Brainspotting (Grand, 2012) then you have done
memory reconsolidation. If you find yourself doodling and not consciously knowing
why you are expressing your self creatively.

Since these processes are happening naturally and in some instances,
automatically, they can also be replicated in therapy. While there is a lot
more to them that this rather simple explanation, the fact that we do these
naturally means they happen more regularly than not. So, it can also be
inferred that they are naturally happening when one takes a psychedelic but psychedelics
offer more of an opportunity for memory reconsolidation because they provide
access through the removal of our psychological defenses.

It has long been understood that recreational drugs lower
inhibitions, social correctness, or ego defenses. The mechanisms in the brain
that are either turned on or off during these processes vary depending on the
drug but for the most part, a person is more open to experiences or ideas when
on a psychedelic substance, for better or worse. This is where the psychedelic
drug turns into medicine. We can use psychedelic states to help open people to
their emotions or confront the psyches manifestations. Without going into the
brain mechanisms that may or not be activated when someone is under the
influence of a psychedelic, one thing is for sure: what needs to be addressed
is going to come up. So, the skillful means of planning, preparation, and
guidance is necessary.

What is so often reported after a psychedelic use is that people
gained insights into themselves, their past, or the nature of being or
existence because their psychological material comes up and got worked through.
It is often reported during or after taking a psychedelic that visual
representation of the past present, sense of time is altered, feelings of
floating, and videotapes of old memories are played out to a point of
resolution. My clinical experience, particularly with EMDR and Brainspotting, collects
similar reports from clients doing these therapies. So, it is not surprising
that MDMA trials for PTSD are showing positive outcomes.

My question is this: if a memory created in a dissociative
state, does one need to be in a dissociative state to resolve it? An
interesting aspect of the trauma resolution therapies of EMDR and Brainspotting
is that they are really predicated on the act of dissociating into memory but
with dual attention (Shapiro, 2001) and dual attunement (Grant, 2012). Because
of this, my answer to my question is yes. The vehicle of how one gets there is
players choice. However, skill and the art of therapeutic means are inevitably
needed for successful outcomes because the relationship provides the
opportunity for dual attention and dual attunement in the form of having a witness.

Furthermore, if we take a neutral point of view, the
question of whether memory is either traumatic or a peak experience is
debatable because it is subjective to the observer. I argue that the survival brain
retains memories or experience of value in addiction vs. a memory that gets stuck
in the memory system as in PTSD. Either way, memory is held until reprocessed
because of its value.

Here is how I know addiction is held as a “traumatic”
memory. I have targeted my own drug use as well as that of hundreds of clients
with EMDR and Brainspotting and have resolved them. This is not to say that I am
(or they are) “cured” but I can say the recovery created on resolving
addiction/traumatic memory is firmly situated on principles of healing. For
this reason, I am open to utilizing whatever means necessary for clients to
gain access to healing.

Another reason why I know that psychedelics activate memory
reconsolidation and the Adaptive Information Process (AIP) with specific drugs
like LSD is due to my training as an EMDR therapist. We had to test-drive the
techniques on each other, meaning that we also got to experience them. When I
first did EMDR, I had a similar experience to the first time that I did with
LSD and felt the awe-inspired relief, as if I understood the meaning of life or
at least my role in it. I felt connected and insightfully present as is often
reported by people who have done LSD. In EMDR terms, this is the accessing of
the AIP in the brain and is the foundational theory of EMDR (Shapiro, 2001).
AIP is activated when new information is introduced by revisiting the memory
which allows us to make a connection that was not available before and allows
for a paradigm shift happen in cognitions, beliefs, somatic memory, and
personality structures. This, in turn, allows us to become more adaptive in our
thinking, hence in your lives and actions. However, one of the more difficult
parts to therapy is when we are not open to the new information or the process
they are engaging in.

My personal experiences with taking
psychedelics speak to the same mechanism being activated like when I
am watching clients do their trauma healing and when I do mine because of the fact that the
feedback is the same. All trauma resolution therapies activate memory
reconsolidation when done properly but what they all have in common is that
they are experiential (this is why Mindfulness, Yoga, and somatic therapies/breathwork
are effective too) and ultimately psychedelics are experiential too. Any
experience that lowers our defense mechanisms and allows us to find out more
about ourselves, our true nature, or allows us to be open to new information is
going to allow our natural healing energies to be activated can be turned into
therapy. Psychedelics open up our psychological processes, which are based on
the experiences that we have had i.e., memories and since the brain works
through associations a lot of the symbolism, representations, and
manifestations that a psychedelic trip can take one on are grounded in one's
psychological makeup and past experiences. If our psychological makeups have
unresolved attachment issues, traumas, or addictions they are going to come up
because the ego defenses are down, due to the opening of psychological
processes. This is why set and setting are critical to a smooth trip but also
why a mental health screening is worth doing before taking these substances
freely. I personally believe that people should not do drugs before the age of
25 because the brain has not had the chance to fully develop and the effects on
the emotional maturation process typically becomes delayed.

When it comes down to it, healing happens when you engage in
solutions. Yet, with addiction, we are often over-healing to the point of
hurting ourselves. I will address my concerns for addiction/recovery and the
use of psychedelics in another post, but at the end of the day, psychedelic
healing can offer another avenue for people to utilize under the guidance of a
skilled practitioner. I believe that psychedelics, when used properly and under
the proper guidance, can provide the healing needed to resolve traumas and our
addictions because they lower ego defenses, AIP, and activate the memory
reconsolidation process.

What is different from recreational psychedelic use is the
intention setting pre-session, therapeutic structure, and guide during the
session, and post-session follow-ups to help apply the insights. Also, the dosage
and purity of these substances is maintained to maximum healing effect. If we do not
set our intentions, have an experienced guide who knows the lay of the
land, or apply what we learn, then we remain in our own ignorance (this also
applies culturally as well). This is why I am in support of having psychedelic
medicines available to professionals and why I started incorporating psychedelic
integration (a harm reduction approach) into my therapeutic and recovery services
(which does NOT offer any substances, does NOT offer any referrals, and/or does
NOT include any psychedelic guiding.) What psychedelic integration services
offers are psychedelic assessment and evaluation, pre/post integration, and
crisis services. In the future, these services may include psychedelic sessions
but for now, I utilize EMDR, Progressive Counting, Mindfulness/Yoga, Somatic
Therapies, Expressive Arts, Somatic Breathwork (with Victor Anderson), and
Brainspotting to best prepare people for their journeying, increase the chances of performance enhancement, and that clients gain maximum effect from their experiences in
order to heal from addiction and/or trauma.

In summary, the use of psychedelics offers willing participants
access to the state of mind needed to heal because they create a state of
defenseless ego that allows trauma resolution. Once the person is open to the
therapeutic process, memory reconsolidation is more available; and when that
happens people are able to get relief from their suffering.


Ecker, B., Ticic, R., &
Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the
emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory
New York, NY: Routledge.

Greenwald, R. (2013). Progressive Counting: Within a phase model
of trauma-informed treatment.
New York, NY: Routledge.

MAPS Press Release, (2018).,-agrees-on-special-protocol-assessment-for-phase-3-trials
Retrieved on 12/28/18.

Miller, R. (2017). Psychedelic Medicine: The healing powers of
LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca.
Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and
Reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures
. New York, NY:
Guilford Press.

Pollan, M. (2018). How to Change Your Mind: What the new
science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction,
depression, and transcendence.
New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Other Psychedelic Research can
be found at


General Theory of Addiction

While researching gambling addiction and I came across this critique (National Research Council, 1999) of Durand Jacobs (1986) “General Theory of Addictions” which calls for a “credible and testable theory of addiction that acts as an overriding conceptual framework for addiction that would address the causes and course of addictive behaviors (Jacobs, 1987, 1988; Shaffer et al., 1989a).”

I think that it is worth exploring what Jacobs has to say to see how it compares with my own theory, that addiction is not only intimately related to trauma but that addiction is also is a trauma and an act of dissociation in its own right. The excerpts of the critique of Jacobs’ work are in italics and quotation marks.

“Jacobs has proposed an interactive model of addiction, defining it as a dependent state that is acquired over time by a predisposed person in an attempt to relieve a chronic stress condition.”

A “predisposed person…relieving a chronic stress condition” sounds like trauma to me. Tell me more.

“Using pathological gambling as the prototype addiction, he posited that two interacting sets of factors (1) an abnormal physiological arousal state and (2) childhood experiences resulting in a deep sense of personal inadequacy and rejection.”

This is literally part of the criteria for PTSD (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 2013). Criteria A: Experienced, witnessed, or heard about the death or serious life-threatening injury which causes an arousal state and alterations in moods, which we now know can also cause a shutdown response i.e. dorsal vagal shutdown often labeled as depression. Interestingly enough, some common traumas that are not identified as traumas still fit these criteria i.e., birth, medical surgeries, use of medicines, illness, sickness, stressful pregnancies, family history of loss, generational and cultural trauma, and parenting styles performed over time. Furthermore, Criteria A is implying that the life-threatening event that was experienced, witnessed, or heard about was conscious, but my question is "what about the threats to our body or our unconscious system like drug use?" My answer is that these would be retained as well because they have value to the survival brain. Criteria B: Strong negative beliefs and cognitions about oneself as a result of the experience.

The critique continues: “…[A] conducive environment may produce addiction to any activity or substance that possesses three attributes: (1) it blurs reality by temporarily diverting the person's attention from the chronic aversive arousal state, (2) it lowers self-criticism and self-consciousness through an internal cognitive shift that deflects preoccupation from one's perceived inadequacies, and (3) it permits complimentary daydreams about oneself through a self-induced dissociative process.”

Overall, I like the train of thought so far. It is the closest thing that I have found that directly highlights that trauma or adverse life experiences create the “conducive” conditions for addictive behaviors to thrive and quantifies why addictive behaviors make sense. Lastly, it directly identifies the dissociative process as it is referenced in each of the attributes i.e., “blurs reality” “cognitive shift that deflects” and “daydream.” However, I have one point of contention with a “self-induced dissociative process.” This needs more contexts in order to help accurately provide a sustainable general theory of addiction.

The next part of the excerpt states…

“The general theory holds that a given individual's addictive pattern of behavior represents that person's deliberately chosen means for entering and maintaining a dissociative-like state while indulging.”

I am not in agreement here. A “self-induced” or “deliberately chosen” choice goes against the definition of addiction because addiction is the removal of choice. I would agree with “self-induced” or “deliberately chosen” if the general theory identifies that an unconscious survival process in the primitive and limbic areas in the brain is making the choice, which is what we now know is happening. The qualifier of “maintaining a dissociative-like state while indulging” negates the experience of the unconscious survival process. What if the “while indulging” was an unconscious dissociative survival process like re-enactment based on what parts of the self have previously experienced? I believe that a process of re-enactment is happening unconsciously and is not deliberate but can become conscious, however, THIS IS NOT GOING TO STOP THE UNCONSCIOUS PROCESS! It would be like trying to stop someone from falling in love with you.

To add more context: Your survival brain makes decisions all the time that you are consciously unaware of, like maintaining blood pressure, cell repair, and performing digestion, because it has to. You cannot cognitively process all things that your body needs to do to survive hence you are at the whim of the unconscious process. Similarly, the unconscious processes are at the whim of the choices you make like what you put into your body but even that too is influenced by the unconscious, which is attracted to experiences that provide certain value or boosts the chances of survival. It is easier to see these as intimate processes that work together in an effort to create homeostasis within a system.

We have to understand addiction in relation to brain/body’s survival functioning and the psychological parts of self that are often represented in our survival actions. There are parts of the brain that specialize in performing different tasks, which, if you attribute them to who you are as a whole person or your cognitive/conscious self, you miss the fact that those parts make up the whole. All states of addiction are altered and dissociative. To the point where I suggest that they mimic the disorders of dissociation (I also suggest that continued use of addiction behaviors cause dissociative disorders.) While decisions made in these states make sense at the time they do not hold the same value socially because they are based on information that is survival only and fueled by the unconscious processes in the brain rather than a conscious, deliberate choice. In dissociative disorders, this is called trance logic (Howell, 2011) and in addiction/self-help terms it is “addict logic” and both are ultimately based on survival decisions where the ideas and concepts make sense in that state of being.

Furthermore, if you made previous decisions to survive (traumas) then you are going to use those methods again because your survival brain knows that they work. You can make a conscious choice in a dissociative state, but by definition, a dissociative choice is not a part of the conscious whole and/or by societal standards and/or can be both conscious and unconscious because different parts of the brain functioning are consciously influencing the decision-making process. The process of going between different states is environmentally dependent but also reference-dependent depending on individual history. The same is true in the addiction process that produces shifts in personality.

In Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) there is the experience of switching in which the part that is driving the conscious bus is placed in the backseat. This can be likened to the “hijacking” of the brain in addiction. There can also be co-consciousness where the parts that are conscious are working together. If addictive states mimic psychosis then they can mimic DID, which in addiction terms, this is the Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde but it is all based on the survival fear-based brain being activated, just not in the typical fight, flight, freeze, and appease response. I think that we have to look at the pleasure side of the fence and when we do we can add the love-based survival mechanisms of strive, provide, and enjoy the ride. These pleasurable survival responses have the same value to our survival needs as do the fear based ones. To understand more about dissociation and addiction more please consider reading Dr. Jamie Marich and my work on Demystifying Dissociation: A clinician’s guide (Marich and O’Brien, 2018).

Lastly, in the phrasing, “dissociative-like” I would drop the “like” from it because it is a dissociative state in its own right because addictive behaviors produce dissociative states and leave traces of the experience in the form of memories. Even though trauma, addiction, and dissociation are conditional and ultimately temporary, the impact of them is not from a body and memory perspective because all experiences leave a mark. It is a paradox but something that did not happen did happen. The aftermath is what people suffer from and the memory of the experience creates the symptoms. Dissociation, PTSD, and addictions are diagnoses that can go into remission and for this reason, I am in favor of having addiction be categorized as Trauma and Stress-Related Disorder, under the main heading of Dissociative Disorders because it is more philosophically and diagnostically accurate (even though addiction is induced, it is the inducing that is the trauma). It is important to note that the act of dissociating utilizes the natural opiate and cannabinoid system in the brain (Lanius, Paulsen, & Corrigan, 2014), which suggests to me that this is why addictive behaviors feels good or right and that this experience is what fuels the process of re-enactment in the memory systems that creates the habit. The process of re-enactment can come in many different forms and deserves a blog of its own.

The critique of Jacobs work continues… “Jacobs also characterizes this feature as a type of self-management or self-medicating strategy (Khantzian, 1985); that is, the person's addictive behavior represents the best solution to the stresses generated by longstanding underlying problems.”

After reading this section, the next train of thought for me is... when the solution turns into the problem and the addiction has developed i.e., the toxic relationship to the solution-oriented behavior has reached a state of dependence; the addiction becomes traumatic because the relief is causing pain. This is critical to understanding the idea of the trauma-addiction on the dissociative spectrum that I am advocating for because it highlights the cyclical nature of the relationship between these experiences (also represented in the cycle of abuse i.e. honeymoon, escalation, abuse/fallout, make-up/honeymoon (). Also, to link this back to the re-enactment idea stated above, the “longstanding underlying problems” is trauma/pain and what is being re-enacted and the reason why it is being re-enacted is an attempt to resolve it.

“Testing this theory on pathological gamblers, persons with other kinds of addictions, and normal control subjects, Jacobs and others have found principally through self-report research, that similar dissociative states are reported by pathological gamblers, alcoholics, and compulsive overeaters (Kuley and Jacobs, 1988; Marston et al., 1988). However, others have found that, although his work represents an important step toward the development of multidimensional models, Jacobs has largely ignored the importance of the social setting factors (Lesieur and Klein, 1987; Rosecrance, 1988; Zinberg, 1984) that influence the development, maintenance, and recovery from addictive behaviors (Shaffer et al., 1989).”

As to Jacobs “largely ignoring the importance of the social setting factors,” this may be true in his work but it seems to me that “two intersecting factors” of a heightened arousal state (trauma), strong negative beliefs, as well as chronic stress (trauma) happen in the context of relationships, therefore, cannot be created in social isolation. Maybe he did not state it directly but I believe that it is implied. This critique of his work does not identify the word trauma. In 1986, that would make sense since seminal work of Judith Herman (1992) in Trauma and Recovery was not published yet, PTSD was still an “abnormal response to an abnormal event,” polyvagal theory was being formulated, and the influence of a decade of brain research into trauma had yet to take place.

So where does this lead us…?

My point of view is that Jacobs gets a lot right; namely, he identified trauma and dissociative processes that are infused in the development of addictions. But since we now use the word trauma or adverse life experiences to highlight a lot of what he was identifying we can use that trauma framework to provide a general theory of addiction. I think it is critical for clinicians and people in general to understand the role that addiction plays in creating trauma. Furthermore, if one can be addicted to pleasure then one can become addicted to pain. The process is so intimate that it cannot be separated and should be viewed on a spectrum because they are intimately related to one another.

So, borrowing from trauma theory to support a general theory of addiction, the symptoms of traumatic experience are based on are traumatic memories, which is my over-arching theory of addiction. Addiction is a series of stuck memories. To put it more succinctly, addiction is the result of a series of stuck memories that cause strong beliefs, affect dysregulation, and intrusive reminders. This causes the need to self-regulate with coping skills that provide temporary relief, which become habitual and progress like a disease. A disease/allergy is the closest analogy or metaphor that we have for this is that addiction is, however, disease or allergy is really a form of memory. Diseases come in many different forms and so I agree that addiction acts like a disease and kills like a disease but ultimately, from a more psychological and philosophical perspective: addiction based on a series of stuck memories that create habitual dependence.

At the end of the day, memories and how the memory systems interact is the conceptual framework for all reality so they can also be for addiction. But the fact remains that you cannot have trauma without dissociation. Similarly, you cannot have an addiction without dissociation and you cannot have either without a break in trust or attachment, which is traumatic. So, we have to examine the intimate relationship that exists between these events in order to truly understand the context in which these conditions thrive. This is where qualitative analyses are critical in understanding addiction. One interesting current state of affairs that I think undermines the understanding of addiction is the denial of Developmental Trauma (and stress related) Disorder (DTD) in the DSM5 (van der Kolk, 2014). Having the category of Developmental Trauma-Related Disorder (DTRD) would help accurately define addiction. To me, addiction is the poster child for this disorder.

I continue to see the need for clinicians, people who are in a state of active addiction, medical doctors, families, and communities to have an accurate definition of addiction in order to comprehend what addiction truly is. Having an overarching framework that helps clinicians and researchers identify fertile grounds or “conducive environments” will generate effective therapeutic interventions. However, it means that the environment has to change as well. Borrowing from traumatology is way easier and more accurate but we have to come to some realizations about trauma that particularly challenges cultural mores and values, family and traditional beliefs, and medical and legal norms. Since trauma is subjective it can be dismissed when these institutions are the perpetrators. I believe that my definition of addiction as a series of stuck memories holds the validity needed to provide appropriate treatments for this condition once the stigmas and resulting judgments of and from these institutions have matured.


Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders DSM-5 5th ed. (2013). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Herman, J. (1992). Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic violence to political terror. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Howell, E. (2011). Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder: A relational approach. New York, NY: Routledge.

Jacobs, D. (1986). A General Theory of Addictions: A Theoretical Model. Journal of Gambling Behavior. Vol. 2(1), Spring/Summer. Human Sciences Press.

Jacobs, D.F. (1987). Evidence for a common dissociative-like reaction among addicts. Journal of Gambling Behavior 4:27-37.

Jacobs, D. (1988). A general theory of addictions: Rationale for and evidence supporting a new approach for understanding and treating addictive behaviors. Pp. 35-64 in Compulsive Gambling: Theory, Research and Practice, H.J. Shaffer, S. Stein, B. Gambino, and T.N. Cummings, eds. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Jacobs, D. (1989a). Illegal and undocumented: A review of teenage gambling and the plight of children of problem gamblers in America. In Compulsive Gambling: Theory, Research and Practice, H.J. Shaffer, S.A. Stein, B. Gambino, and T.N. Cummings, eds. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Jacobs, D. (1989b). Special issue: Gambling and the family. Journal of Gambling Behavior5(4).

Khantzian, E.J. (1975). Self-selection and progression in drug dependence. Psychiatry Digest 36:19-22.

Kuley, N., and D. Jacobs (1988). The relationship between dissociative-like experiences and sensation seeking among social and problem gamblers. Journal of Gambling Behavior 4:197-207.

Lanius, U., Paulsen, S., & Corrigan, F. (2014). Neurobiology and treatment of traumatic dissociation: Toward an embodied self. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Lesieur, H.R., and R. Klein (1987). Pathological gambling among high school students. Addictive Behaviors 12:129-135.

Marich, J., and O’Brien, A. (2018). Demystifying dissociation: A clinician’s guide. Addiction Professional Fall 2018 Vol. 16. No. 4.

Marston, A.R., D.F. Jacobs, R.D. Singer, and K.F. Widaman (1988). Characteristics of adolescents at risk for compulsive overeating on a brief screening test. Adolescence 23(89):59-65.

National Research Council. (1999). “Gambling Concepts and Nomenclature." Pathological Gambling: A Critical Review. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/6329.

Rosecrance, J.D. 1985 Compulsive gambling and the medicalization of deviance. Social Problems 32:275-284.

Shaffer, H.J. (1986). Assessment of addictive disorders: The use of clinical reflection and hypotheses testing. Psychiatric Clinics of North America9(3):385-398.

Shaffer, H.J., S.A. Stein, et al., eds. (1989). Compulsive Gambling: Theory, Research, and Practice. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Zinberg, N.E. 1975 Addiction and ego function. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child 30:567-588.


Addition to Adaption to EMDR for Addiction

At some point in a persons treatment or recovery, their addiction becomes a memory. It has a beginning and an end. The relationship to the behavior has changed in some way that they are ready to put this story behind them.

In my first blog on this subject (HERE) I suggested that switching the Negative Cognition (NC) and Positive Cognition (PC) in the EMDR protocol could help desensitize and reprocess positive relationships/associations in addiction. In the process of putting this adaption idea out there to EMDR clinicians, someone made a comment that it was targeting the "positive affect or positive state." I don't disagree with this observation but I think that it does more than just that.

The moment that we fall in love is one of the most impactful moments in our lives. It is something that the brain is going to remember and hold onto in order to perpetuate the species, hence survive. The positive state that arises out of that connection is only part of the story. The full story is that there was a high from the experience (positive feeling state) and the experience makes a deep connection to our emotional being i.e., gave us purpose, helped solve a problem, relieved pain, and/or provided some pleasure by providing a new chapter to the individual's storyline (declarative/narrative memory systems). This is often representative of an earlier felt experience (often an earlier attachment, trauma, or dissociative experience as the result of trauma). Targeting the positive feeling state by switching the NC and PC does allow for this information to come up, particularly if we do floatbacks on the falling in love memory. This is just another way of conceptualizing it and I believe that it is a way of ensuring that it does. Addressing the beginning of the addiction is what allows for the narrative to make sense and allows the brain to store the memory of addiction appropriately.

I warned against the premature use of this in the client’s treatment because the person can start processing their whole addiction and everything that happened in it. If they are not ready for it, then they are likely to experience a strong response to it. Also, if the guilt and shame of the behavior have not been lifted in some respects then it can be a lot for someone to witness either what they did or what was done to them.

So, with that said, here is something that has come up in my work that helps with these issues. Long and short of it… PC, NC, PC. Example…

“Do you have an image of the first time that you fell in love with addicted behavior (i.e. relationship)?”

“What does it make you believe about yourself?” PC: “I am in control.”

“What would you prefer to believe about yourself?” NC: “I was not in control or that is me under the influence.”

Then “What would you prefer to believe about yourself NOW? PC “It is over now. I am in recovery. that was the old me.”

Experienced EMDR clinicians will recognize that often clients will list 2-5 PC once asked this question the first time in the protocol, particularly if you give them a list of PC. One of them is typically a more future tense phrase like the example above.

What I noticed is that it is easier for the client to process, they did digest their addiction, and they had a stronger felt sense in their VoC. If timed right, the consolidation and generalization process in the desensitization and reprocessing provide the opportunity to solidify the new core beliefs in their reprocessing and/or reaffirms their purpose and recovery. The timing should be after they processed the majority of their traumas, themes, and/or core beliefs. I also look at a time in their treatment where they have started to empower themselves in their personal life i.e. speaking up for their needs as a result of their recovery work and EMDR therapy. I believe that clients are more likely to give up this addictive behavior/relationship if they see a new one forming that they believe in. Ultimately, this allows the person, in the memory system, to reprioritize this adaptive coping skill as ineffective, outdated, and something that they used to do.

Another point to make is what can be targeted with this. I have done this adaption with gambling, eating disorders, and co-dependency. I work with a lot of DV survivors and what I have learned, in the cluster or target sequence, is that this is the memory that is stuck but is often not identified by the client as a target. I did this recently with a client who was processing the last of her DV relationships and it was pretty charged cluster with multiple murder attempts, hospitalizations, and ended with a suicide. I decided to direct her to do the moment that she first fell for him as a solution to her being "alone problem." She did the whole relationship cluster that resulted in a new confidence that was undeniably strong. I believe that the reason for this was that there was self-forgiveness regarding the guilt and shame around her role in getting into this relationship and the subsequent events that followed. It was quite beautiful.

A final point on this, addiction to me has the ingredients of an abusive relationship. There is an abuser and victim dynamic within the parts system. What I have come to realize is that the addiction denial system is really dissociation. This has wide ramifications so there will be more on this in a future blog.


Our Addictive Personality

As a trained therapist, I often have the opportunity to educate my clients on the nuances of diagnosing. Since I work with a lot of people living with addictions who are trying to figure why they have an addiction or what their addiction means, eventually the conversation comes around to the ever-popular “Addictive Personality.”

Some years ago, I was leading a support group on mental health disorders in a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment setting and a discussion emerged around whether or not there is an Addictive Personality Disorder, which does not exist in the DSM5. In the group setting, it is helpful for people to explore what the topic means for them and for the clients to explore their train of thinking. For these reasons, I am willing to hear out any argument. I countered that there was already a “personality disorder” that addiction would fall under Dependent Personality Disorder. Isn’t addiction is called substance dependence?

I wanted to explore this concept and develop it further here because I sometimes present this idea to clients who could fall under this umbrella. The clients said that they find this helpful because it combines emotional validation and reason. As I see it, addiction is not currently clearly defined on a philosophical level. The relationship between pain and pleasure is not fully appreciated so it is difficult to understand addiction emotionally. Addiction and trauma are matters of emotionality and not rationality. The major point is that when people have an accurate conception and understanding around what they are dealing with, they are more apt to address it. I believe that the clinical, medical definition of addiction and how it impacts the organism is accurate, but the philosophical underpinnings (which are emotionally satisfying) are not highlighted, hence clients might feel invalidated.

This leads us to the addictive personality, but first, we have to explore “personality disorders” in general. “Personality disorder” is akin to “getting your own way.” This is not to minimize people living with personality disorders (not in quotation out of respect), rather to highlight that they can be seen as normative. I view all “personality disorders” as ingrained (untreated) PTSD because the only reason why people create hard and rigid personalities is that they had to. It is a response to an unsafe environment. This is known to many therapists but not often understood by clients. For example, when a client presents to me with Borderline Personality Disorder, I do not dismiss the traumas underneath because I know is that 87% of people diagnosed with BPD are women who have a strong trauma history (van der Kolk, 2014). The etiologies of addition and trauma continue to challenge the diagnosis of personality disorders and for good reason.

In his book, The Body Keeps Score, Bessel van der Kolk (2014) explores the proposed diagnosis of Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD). This is a valid diagnosis in my opinion, due to the nature of smaller things adding up over time like drops in a bucket. Shapiro called these small “t’s” that create an impact over time (Shapiro, 2001). Now, van der Kolk highlighted research from the foster care system that supported his proposal for a DTD. This diagnosis was not permitted into the DSM5 based on the “evidence.” I believe that if research is lacking to support a diagnosis of DTD, then we need not look any further than people living with addictions.

It is common enough for professionals to say that not all addictions were created by trauma. Addiction is progressive, which means that each problematic use or behavior is a drop in the bucket and is another step away from healthy. If poison is present in the body or self-abuse is occurring, could that be considered traumatic? The developmental nature or “progression of the disease” of addiction logically support this, however, some of the philosophical underpinnings are worth highlighting.

First, the drug is neutral to the organism that ingests it. The drug just does what it does and most intoxicants that we get high on are poison to the body. Second, the body is neutral, in the sense that it has to take care of what is given. It just does what it has to do to get rid of it. The body recognizes danger (and addictive behaviors are a threat to the organism) and sends out biochemical alerts when triggered by the environment. Without education around what the body is saying, an untrained mind has trouble interpreting these body cues. Third, the mind is not neutral. As the mind regulates the flow of information between the internal and external worlds, it associates it with similar experiences and makes inferences and references to help eliminate the introduced toxin. The mind’s “reference points” are what it has experienced before, i.e. memories. Our relationship to our memories is not neutral, especially if they are stuck and causing dysfunction.

Lastly, since addiction lives in the brainstem, which sends signals to the pain/reward system in the brain, we have to acknowledge the relationship between pain and reward but also the relationship of the brainstem to the pain/pleasure system. The brainstem houses unconscious behaviors like blood pressure, breathing, and body temperature regulation. These functions speak to how unconscious our addictions are. We all have a brainstem that motivates the pain and reward system; hence we are all on an addiction spectrum. But we do not all create rigid personalities that get in our way or become addicted. There is a normative bell curve to addiction but that does not mean that falling inside the curve of normal means that the person or addiction is not normal human behavior.

Over time, our met/unmet needs and wants, speak to the creation of our traumas, addictions, and our personalities but also how we develop as a society and culture. Our personality is a collection of stories that we tell ourselves, based on the stories we hear or overhear. We can become addicted to our story, which is what I have come to believe as the most powerful and insidious addiction that we as individuals, society, or culture have to address if we are going to transcend all cycles of abuse and systems of dependence.

This is why I treat mental health disorders, which include addiction from a trauma-informed, trauma-focus perspective, and utilize trauma resolution methods. I treat addiction with trauma resolution because I believe that we have mislabeled addiction and that it is really a trauma, let alone that the trauma story can be addicting as well. Philosophically, I see addiction and trauma as the same process but on different ends of the spectrum of the pain/reward pathway in the brain. Addictions create traumas and traumas create addictions. If this is true, if we can treat trauma with trauma resolution, then we can treat addiction. At the root of both trauma and addictions are our stuck memories. The implications of addiction and abuse (trauma) will be highlighted in my next blog.

Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

by Adam O’Brien LMHC, CASAC, EAS-C is the owner/clinician of Mutual Arising Mental Health Counseling, PLLC in Chatham NY. He works primarily with people suffering from their addictions but is also a trauma therapist working with victims of crime. In these freelance writings, he brings a variety of experiences and points of view to entertain and educate. He is an EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist/Consultant-in-Training and is trained in Progressive Counting and Brainspotting.


Abuse and Addiction

With all the recent sexual assaults/abuse/allegations, many have questioned it whether or not these behaviors constitute an addiction. This is probably because the perpetrators have been going to addiction treatment. My answer is categorically a “yes” due to the nature of abuse and addiction, my experience with treating abuse and addiction, and the context in which these abusive behaviors occur.

My therapeutic and personal philosophy is “D) All of the above” because if people believe their answer to be true then I have to be prepared to engage in all answers. Whether their/our answers will stand the test of time is the real measure. As a therapist when a question is asked, the act of asking a question (and how it is presented and worded) sheds light on where the person is at in their psychosocial, spiritual/moral development, and their level of awareness on the topics presented in the question. It is commonly understood by therapists that people already have the answers to their questions but many times people are not conscious of them. So, if people are not aware of their answers then people are more than likely not aware of the outcomes the answers produce.

In America, there is an awareness rising socially and culturally around the topics of abuse and addiction that gives me the opportunity to tie the topics of abuse and addiction together. I believe is worth exploring not only these topics but also the relationship between opposing opposites like pain (abuse) and pleasure (addiction/pain relief), safe and unsafe, healthy and unhealthy, known and unknown, and conscious and unconscious because it is this relationship that produces human behavior. The issue with not understanding the conditions of what is fully going on with the relationship between opposing opposites is that we make assumptions that ultimately create a misinformed opinion.

Abuse and addiction are really the same pain/pleasure process, represented in the pain/reward pathway of the brain. However, two key factors to understanding the conditions of this process are usually missing. First, what fuels this relationship dynamic is our unconscious survival system (fight, flight, freeze, and appease) and secondly that our unconscious survival system is rooted in our collection of unresolved memories that are unconsciously playing themselves out in our lives, particularly in our relationships (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley, 2012). With these two key factors stated, it stands to reason that it is the conscious choice to pick pain or pleasure and our unconscious processes that produce our behaviors, hence it is our relationship between the conscious and unconscious that needs to be addressed.

My stance is that trauma is addiction and addiction is trauma because they are philosophically apart of the same process. So since abuse and addiction are the same processes then active abuse/trauma and active addiction are both conscious and unconscious processes because they come into being together. The extent of which they go to the extreme is a manifestation of the conditions/environment in which they exist. With an understanding of these two key factors and the conclusions derived from them, they help end the debate of choice vs. disease. For these reasons, I believe that it is the relationship between abuse/trauma and addiction that needs to be better understood in order to heal them individually and societally. Furthermore, since the unconscious is based on unprocessed memories, then the unprocessed memories of where we learned these behaviors is where I believe that we need to be targeting in treatment if we are going to identify ourselves as treating these conditions.

I believe that these abuses that are coming to light are the result of the toxic relationship between abuse/trauma and addiction that we as individuals, society, and as a culture have been living in denial about, particularly, where they originate. Our healthy and unhealthy relationships are learned through our shared experiences (i.e. family, socializing, and culturally sanctioned norms) and when unhealthy behaviors are present it is because we have unmet wants and needs (and the inability to tolerate not getting our wants and needs met i.e. delayed gratification). Additionally, deeper into the denial system is when a want is labeled as a need, which to me is the root of our addictions. So, since any form of abuse is fueled by an unmet want/need, then being abusive can be considered an active addiction. Conversely, any state of active addiction can be seen as abusive.

So then, often enough, the questions of “who, what, why, when, and how” come up when the topics of abuse and addiction are discussed. Many times these topics and answers are deflected or ignored because it is difficult to make sense of all of it all but by avoiding the conversation we end up creating more abuse later and for the next generation. I am going to answer the “who, what, why, when and how to stop them” questions of abuse from this trauma and addiction perspective because solutions to trauma and addiction are available if people are ready to break through the denial system built around these subjects.

Who abuses? Answer: D) All the above… We all do – either directly or indirectly. Abuse falls within the range of human behavior because it happens so regularly that it considered normal. There are varying degrees of abuse so the idea of seeing abuse as on a spectrum is valid to me. The varying degree of abuse depends upon the level of unmet wants/needs and these are created when extreme measures have been taken/modeled to meet unmet wants/needs previously (unresolved memories of abuse).

If we want to hate the game then that is reasonable but it is how we play the game that is in question. However, we have to understand the rules of the game first before we can decide if we want to play and then address how it is being played. These are the rules of the human game as I see it. Our needs/actions will hurt people and others will hurt you in order to get their wants and needs met i.e. in order to eat, something that is living has to die. By existing, we impact others. Everyone has to live together on this giant floating ball of water and rock so if we see that both the perpetrator and victims are somebody’s son or daughter, student, friend, co-worker, or neighbor, we can start to see that the rules of the game are everyone’s responsibility to follow.

So, what is abuse? Abuse is any act i.e. physically, psychologically, sexually, or through neglectful means of creating pain on someone else or oneself. Abuse is any action or inaction that causes intentional or unintentional pain. As pain is a matter of subjective experience, all pain is valid no matter what and is not fixed in time. Abuse can be direct or indirect, hence abuse can be conscious or unconscious, and so abuse is any action, non-action, or behavior that consciously or unconsciously causes harm to the development of an individual. Abuse can be directed towards another or be self-administered i.e. substance ABUSE. It can be presented as a selfish or selfless act and any abuse is present and will continue to be present when there is a lack of understanding, direct and effective communication, empathy, and resources. Culturally sanctioned forms of abuse can take on the forms of a right of passage, peer pressure, and societal influences. Also, like addiction, abuse is progressive and can take a life of its own on when it goes unchecked.

Abuse can come in both positive and negative forms, dependent upon one’s perception. As negative forms of abuse are the ones I just identified, but the not so clear forms stem from our expressions of loving someone/something too much like addiction and enabling. “Too much” is the main qualifier in any form of abuse or addiction. Abuse is also any violation or act of aggression (indirect or direct) of ones right to choose what is right for themselves. Entitlement is the result of enabling and enabling is abusive because it undermines the freedom of choice.

For the individual who is in a state of being abusive, it is a reach for control because they feel threatened or righteous. Reaches for control are based on previously not being in control of another similar situation and now are claiming their right to exert it or are protecting themselves from happening again. All abuse/addiction is a form of transference/projection and transference is a form of trauma re-enactment. Transference is an unconscious process of transferring emotional processes onto someone/something else (Ogden, Minton, & Pain, 2006). Trauma re-enactment is an attempt to resolve a previous unresolved experience through the re-enactment of similar experiences in the present moment (Ogden, Minton, & Pain, 2006). These are very unconscious processes and are reproducing patterns of what was taught/modeled and learned in an attempt to resolve them, hence why abuse/addiction are progressive, cyclical, and why they repeat.

If people were actually conscious of their trauma re-enactments, then they would be able to actually stop them from continuing. More rational people see it as something that someone can stop, but this logic gets turned on its head if I were to ask the rational people to stop rationalizing. It does not make rational sense to hurt the ones you love, but we do. However, when we add emotions to the equation, it does make sense given the fact that there are unmet wants/needs at play. Abuse and addiction are not rational. They are emotionally based, which is why I say that it feels like people can stop using drugs or leave an abusive relationship, but emotionally, they feel justified and are justified. The ability to stop is usually dependent on when the person realizes (becomes aware or conscious) that they are abusing themselves, someone, or something that they do not want to be hurt. They intern struggle with the conflict of getting their needs and wants met in healthy ways from an environment that they see as hurting them. They are aware that they are repeating the pattern in the moment but since their wants/needs are unmet they feel justified to continue the behavior. Factually, yes, they can stop, but emotionally they cannot stop until an emotional need is met. A person can be conscious of it happening but not be fully conscious as to why it is happening. Just like in substance use, the person is consciously aware that they are abusing themselves but do not always have the full context as to why. Without the “why” you cannot get to the “how to stop it” and this is why I see addiction as self-abuse. This take on abuse and addiction reinforces my observations that addiction is trauma and that addiction and trauma are a part of the same process.

So why do people abuse? Answer: i.e. Transference and when abuse/addiction are happening they are attempts to get an unmet want/need through re-enactment. People in a state of abusing feel justified in abusing because they feel that they were abused. In the act of abusing they feel like they are being abused because they have unmet wants/needs. When we have been hurt and are currently being threatened, we respond through our survival response i.e. fight, flight, flee, or appease which are unconscious responses and limit higher order of brain functioning i.e. compassion and empathy, due to the biological process of survival (Seigel, 2011). When judgments, assumptions, or preconceived notions are present we feel protective and feel as though we are being abused or could be abused. Also, people will abuse preemptively because they are anticipating being abused out of fear of not getting their wants/needs met.

Not all abuse is a direct result of re-enacting a specific trauma but rather an associated similar one or one that has become habitual. The mind and brain work on associative properties and the core of the information comes from our previous experiences (memories) that are emotionally coded to help us navigate the associated feelings in order to get the desired outcomes (Seigel, 2011). The root feelings are often fear and love, which fuels an external reach for control. When we understand the fear response and our need to connect we understand the intention. It is the preservation of self and the self is merely a collection of stories that were either told to us or we tell ourselves.

Now it is unrealistic for everyone to have all their needs and wants to be met on every subject and/or everything, but that is rational thinking. However, emotionally we say things like “you deserve to be happy.” When emotions get in the way of rational thinking, the facts become subjective. Any response that is out of portion (positively or negatively) to a normal range (neutral), it can be assumed that there is something deeper and unresolved i.e. a memory that represents an unmet want/need. This is seen as a good thing when it drives positive behaviors like working or loving someone, but when they are applied to negative attributes of human behaviors like abuse and addiction they are shamed and stigmatized.

When do people abuse/commit crimes of abuse? Answer: When they are under the influence of an actual or perceived stress/threat of not getting their wants/needs met. When a stress or threat is present to the observer, it triggers the observer to try and meet their needs through the use of controlling someone else or a situation (abuse) or an unmet need getting met through abusive means (addiction). Stress (positive or negative) or (actual/perceived) threats bring out states of abuse or addiction. Because negative manifestations are seen as violations they are stigmatized but positive manifestations have their root in the same process. There are so many forms of abuse and addiction that it is confusing and all too often a double standard is present that complicate the matters even more. (FYI The double standard is something that we can do something about!) To complicate matters more and for the purposes of furthering the conversation, from a philosophical perspective, acts of abuse and the things that we are addicted to can be seen as neutral because it is our relationship to the want/need/behavior or addictive behavior that is really the issue.

When we take a broader definition of addiction, which includes acts of violence, gambling, Internet, shopping, care-taking, enabling and abuse, which includes jokes, prejudices, verbal aggression, emotional and neglectful means, and self-abuse, then we stand to see that we are all addicted and we are all victims of abuse. The relationship between addiction and abuse (trauma) is the plight of all individuals, organizations, institutions, societies, cultures, and species have to address if they wish to see healthy growth. If there is an inability to make healthy growth, can it be assumed that the reason why is not possible is that they are addicted to the norm? Consequently, this is the point that we see start to see that we are addicted to our story and trauma/drama has become the addiction. I am hopeful that people can find the courage to change and heal because healing is a part of our collective story too.

Coincidentally, we can also look at the solution of addiction recovery to help solve abuse. So, how do we stop it? Change the only thing you can; yourself. This might hurt but hurt and pain are great teachers if one is ready to learn the lesson. To avoid the pain is to avoid the lesson. Since hurt and pain is at the core of our traumas and addictions, what do we stand to learn? If someone is hurting you, they are themselves hurt and are transferring their hurt. When hurt has happened and is happening it is a form of re-enactment. All feelings are valid but it is when people have been un-validated or invalidated that one feels they have to respond in kind.

All of this points us to the question of who is responsible for abuse and addiction? Answer: Every living being that has ever lived or will live. Our collective history and our collective destiny have been transferred to us through the echoes of time through trauma i.e. prejudice, hate, fear, and genocide and addiction i.e. advancement, power, control, convenience, and materialism. We are all players on the stage and all have our hands in the pot. History includes our collective history but also our collective future, so the better question to ask now is, since we have solutions, who is responsible for abuse and addiction continuing? We all are responsible if we are not working a healthy solution.

The “If had I known, I would have done something different” moment is a precious one because this is the moment when reality and truth are no longer matters of perception because the context of the situation has been realized. Reality and truth are a matter of time and place for the observer, but there are eternal truths. One of them is: we are all a product of our environment and the environment is a product of what we produce. We have to choose between healthy or unhealthy, it is no longer a matter of right and wrong. Obviously, these problematic topics go a long way back but more of the question now is when are we going stop the cycle of abuse and addiction within ourselves? In the matters of abuse and addiction, a major issue is with responsibility. It is never the victim’s fault at all but it is not 100% the fault of the perpetrator/person addicted either. The conditions in which these behaviors are sanctioned have their responsibility as well. There are always other forces at work when violence is going on. In the context of historical facts, trauma and addiction are normative and are human realities. Something was done to all of us at some point but when the family, society or culture does not have the means or ability to empathize or support healing, then more hurt will happen.

Abuse and addiction are the symptoms of our toxic relationship to ourselves. The extreme nature of our symptoms speaks to our systems inability to either directly or indirectly protect each other. Our main support systems i.e. families, society, and culture along with our mores, values, and norms are ultimately at fault too. These were handed down to us in the form of stories. The stories that we tell ourselves are powerful and seep deep into the unconscious, just like abuse and addiction. From the unconscious perspective, none of us are fully responsible for our actions but once we become aware of our unconscious patterns and resulting behaviors, it is fully our responsibility to engage in the solution. In general, people, institutions, and systems are perplexed by abuse and addiction because they are trying to rationally understand emotions and unconscious processes. Artists throughout history have been speaking to the dangers of not understanding the relationship of opposites. This is where we are at in our story: awareness of everyday abuses and addictions are increasing thanks to the brave people who are willing to share their story and admit that abuse and addiction are happening. It is the responsibility of everyone else to humbly listen, identify instead of compare, and then apply the moral of the story to his or her own way of living.

Ecker, B., Ticic, R., & Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory reconsolidation. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ogden, P., Minton, K., & Pain, C. (2006). Trauma and the body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Siegel, D., Bryson, T. P. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York, NY: Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks.

by Adam O’Brien LMHC, CASAC, EAS-C is the owner/clinician of Mutual Arising Mental Health Counseling, PLLC in Chatham NY. He works primarily with people suffering from their addictions but is also a trauma therapist working with victims of crime. In these freelance writings, he brings a variety of experiences and points of view to entertain and educate. He is an EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist/Consultant-in-Training and is trained in Progressive Counting and Brainspotting.


Addiction-Informed Care

As I prepare for giving a presentation on Trauma Informed Care (TIC), I am wondering what blocks people living with addictions from getting access to treatment from both sides of the fence. Then I hear reports regarding its “public health crisis” status, how people believe that it is easy to just stop drugs; as if drugs were the only addiction that needs to stop. We can’t advertise our way out of addiction. I firmly believe that there needs to be more understanding around what addiction is on a societal and policy level. So I decided to create Addiction-Informed Care (AIC).

AIC (a term I am coining here) would be built on respect, understanding, and equality. AIC would be similar to Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) but with one key difference. For those who don’t know, TIC is defined as “an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma (2017).” For AIC’s definition, I substitute the word addiction for trauma because I believe they are the same thing because addiction itself is a trauma. TIC already accepts that trauma is at the heart of addiction but addiction-causing trauma is not part of the discussion. Trauma and addiction are in relationship with each other and are inseparable, so philosophically they are the same thing because they are a part of the same process. Trauma can be seen as pain and addiction can be seen as reward/pleasure. They are both rooted in our survival mechanisms because they ride on the pain/reward pathway in the brain but when seen in a social context, they are viewed as out of range of normal behavior. When in fact, since the pain/pleasure (rewards) system is the basic motivator of all human behavior, they are normal responses. Everyone has the propensity to become traumatized or addicted because we all have the propensity to feel pain and pleasure.

Addiction is a dysfunction in the brain caused by a trauma on biological, psychological, social, or existential/spiritual level. As a result of this trauma, a relationship is formed. Addiction is not about the drug or a particular behavior, it is about our individual “need” to have a relationship with the drug or behavior. Since we can form a relationship to anything, we can become addicted to anything that entices our pain/reward pathways. This includes power, control, righteousness, democracy, patriotism, ideals, morals, money, drama, or any desired outcome. Now, since addiction is a paradoxical play on right and wrong, one can become addicted to the other side i.e. humility, compassion, and righteousness.

AIC would be based on a thorough understanding of how addiction impacts an individual, communities, institutions, businesses, industries, systems, and the course of human history and development. AIC would help us understand our current state of the union and the human condition.

AIC would be built on mutual respect and understanding. It would be rooted in how neurological, biological, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of addiction impact our individual lives, communities, institutions, and systems. It would recognize that trauma and addiction are primal motivators for all human behavior, which can be linked to an abuse of power and a (conscious or unconscious) intention to cohesively control and stay in control. AIC would actively engage to confront blatant disregards for facts and observable conclusions relating to all manifestations of addiction.

AIC acknowledges why people, institutions, and systems become abusive, coercive, and dysfunctional. If one cannot stop something, would hurt someone over it, kill, die, or cannot live without for it, you’re in a state of being addicted to it. TIC recognizes the abuse of power but does not acknowledge why it occurs. Before there was trauma, there was addiction. Trauma appears to be at the root of human behavior because we remember the event, but addiction is there too. Addiction is happening in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, the trauma is the abuse. What unmet need/want caused the trauma? What was the need/want that was trying to get satisfied? Examples of addiction can be seen when the greater good is sacrificed for individual gain or self-preservation.

Examples being under the influence: inability to empathize or accept the other sides point of view, lack of concern for greater good, only seeking their needs to be met, unable or willing to listen to reason, and disregard for the law.

Reasons why individuals are unable to change: they are addicted to the outcome of an entrenched belief and can stand no contradiction to what the belief provides i.e. invested interest, and/or they are traumatized themselves, marked by an inability to accept progress or change.

When survival or “us vs. them mentality” are the only rules of the game, then you are either addicted to the game or are being traumatized by it. This is because our higher orders of thinking become compromised by our need for survival. The difference between surviving and thriving is overcoming the relationship between trauma and addiction within ourselves. This view can be extrapolated to societies.

TIC and AIC may seem confrontational but that is not the intent. The intention is to advocate for understanding, change, and to carry a message to those who need to hear this because it is getting to the point of the story (his-story) when the character asks, “what’s really going on here?” The conclusion is hopefully to ask and accept help.

All conflicts come down to a lack of understanding due to lack of information, either by choice or by psychological influence. For those who read this and do not feel that they have an addiction, please know that I believe that you do on some level. Addiction is a matter of degrees. Think of addiction on a spectrum with healthy, neutral, and unhealthy versions. They all end but some will end quicker than others. One can label one’s addiction as love, passion, materialism, or “the good life” but when we define addiction as “a want labeled as a need” or “something that one cannot stop” then a whole new avenue of thinking opens up.

At the heart of human existence, we are either addicted to life or death. From a higher order of thinking, there are no such things as life and death. Life simply fuels death and death fuels life. There is no “right or wrong;” only desired/undesired outcomes because of our addictions. The severity of our need for desired outcomes greatly impacts human development. The best we can do is minimize the impact of our desires on the outcomes and maximize our healthy relationships.

One man’s loss is another man’s gain, however, when future generations stand to lose (or have lost) a healthy ecology, basic human rights, and individual freedom as a result of our addictions, we have to re-evaluate our way of life and adjust accordingly. From a psychological standpoint, if someone is defensive they are protecting what they value. Any perceived value is a judgment and can become a “need.” This relationship over “want and need,” “love and hate,” “right and wrong,” “pain and pleasure,” “attachment and non-attachment,” “clinging and letting go,” has been discussed forever. The difference is that we have a solution for our unhealthy relationships to our addictive behaviors and can make the necessary changes to improve our lives through a process of recovery.

If we truly want to address the addiction crisis, then everyone would be in trauma and addiction treatment. I strongly recommend that each person looks at what is fueling their role in enabling these institutions if they want to see lasting change. Anything we put in front of the individual’s right to chose how they live their life, we stand to lose.

The US opioid/opiate crisis is not about the drug, but rather our nation’s relationship to addictive behavior. I would like to see is more informed policies based on the research and not on political gain, accountability to policymakers and businesses, and treatment options for the people who do not recognize their addiction or their addiction to trauma/drama.


2017/11/2. Retrieved on Frontpage.

by Adam O’Brien LMHC, CASAC, EAS-C is the owner/clinician of Mutual Arising Mental Health Counseling, PLLC in Chatham NY. He works primarily with people suffering from their addictions but is also a trauma therapist working with victims of crime. In these freelance writings, he brings a variety of experiences and points of view to entertain and educate. He is an EMDRIA certified EMDR therapist/Consultant-in-Training and is trained in Progressive Counting and Brainspotting.