The Adaptive Information Processing Model (AIP)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach guided by the adaptive information processing (AIP) model, which posits that trauma is stored and stuck in the brains neural network. Any memory of a traumatic event causes the person to connect to the negative feelings and cognition associated with it. The goal is to add adaptive emotions to the neural network. This is obtained through bilateral stimulation, a process that creates new neural pathways and the ability to access the stored trauma. This allows for the reprocessing of the trauma and a reduction of associated anxiety, thereby creating new associations with memories and increasing adaptive behaviors
The AIP model explains the basis of pathology, predicts successful clinical outcomes, and guides case conceptualization and treatment procedures. Consistent with other learning theories, the AIP model posits the existence of an information processing system that assimilates new experiences into already existing memory networks. These memory networks are the basis of perception, attitudes, and behavior. Perceptions of current situations are automatically linked with associated memory networks (Buchanon, 2007). For example, the reader can make sense of this sentence because of previous experiences with written English. Similarly, burning one’s hand on a stove goes into memory networks having to do with stoves and the potential danger of hot objects. A conflict with a playmate (“me first”) and its resolution (“we can share”) is accommodated and assimilated into memory networks having to do with relationships and adds to the available knowledge base regarding interpersonal relations and conflict resolution. When working appropriately, the innate information processing system “metabolizes” or “digests” new experiences. Incoming sensory perceptions are integrated and connected to related information that is already stored in memory networks, allowing us to make sense of our experience. What is useful is learned, stored in memory networks with appropriate emotions, and made available to guide the person in the future (Shapiro, 2001).
Pathology According to the AIP Model
Problems arise when an experience is inadequately processed. Shapiro’s AIP model (1995, 2001, 2006) posits that a particularly distressing incident may become stored in state-specific form, meaning frozen in time in its own neural network, unable to connect with other memory networks that hold adaptive information. She hypothesizes that when a memory is encoded in excitatory, distressing, state-specific form, the original perceptions can continue to be triggered by a variety of internal and external stimuli, resulting in inappropriate emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions, as well as overt symptoms (e.g. high anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts). Dysfunctionally stored memories are understood to lay the foundation for future maladaptive responses, because perceptions of current situations are automatically linked with associated memory networks. Childhood events also may be encoded with survival mechanisms and include feelings of danger that are inappropriate for adults. However, these past events retain their power because they have not been appropriately assimilated over time into adaptive networks.
The AIP model views negative behaviors and personality characteristics as the result of dysfunctionally held information (Shapiro, 2001). From this perspective, a negative self-belief (e.g., “I am not good enough”) is not seen as the cause of present dysfunction; it is understood to be a symptom of the unprocessed earlier life experiences that contain that affect and perspective. Attitudes, emotions, and sensations are not considered simple reactions to a past event; they are seen as manifestations of the physiologically stored perceptions stored in memory and the reactions to them. This view of present symptoms as the result of the activation of memories that have been in- adequately processed and stored is integral to EMDR treatment. As such, directed belief restructuring and behavioral manipulation are not seen, within the AIP model, to be agents of change because they are considered in other treatments. Research that evaluates the mechanisms for the progressive changes in belief and self-efficacy attendant to EMDR processing compared to other treatments can help shed light on this issue.