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OEI Therapy

Observed & Experiential Integration Therapy

Observed and Experiential Integration (OEI) Therapy was originated in 1995 in Vancouver, BC by marriage and family therapist (Audrey Cook), and co-developed with a registered psychologist (Rick Bradshaw) (in 2003 David Grand developed a similar approach known as 'brainspotting'). One highlight of OEI is that the techniques can address all three levels of human response as outlined by Porges (2001, 2007 [Polyvagal Theory]): (a) social connection (i.e. ventral vagal, brake on), (b) fight or flight (ventral vagal, brake off), and (c) freeze (dorsal vagal). The social connection level is addressed in OEI through neuro-activation with micro-attunement (NAMA). In terms of the fight, flight and freeze level of human response, OEI techniques serve to dissipate panic and distress symptoms. Dissociative artefacts [e.g. headaches] are addressed and resolved quickly with other procedures. OEI is a 'bottom-up' neurobiological therapy, in that is uses physical sensations and trauma reactions to connect to the memories for healing, rather than the other way around. It is an advancement and extension of EMDR methods.

From SightPsych Seminars Inc. and 'A word to new psychologists on levels of intervention: Don't forget neurobiological treatments in your training and practice' by Rick Bradshaw, published in BC Psychologist:

Observed & Experiential Integration (OEI) is a new psychotherapy for psychological trauma and dissociation that involves alternately covering and uncovering the eyes, and tracking a visual stimulus. Deeper parts of the brain associated with intense symptoms like panic attacks, nausea, hyperventilation, and throat constriction are the targets of this new intervention, along with areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with emotional processing. The theory is that during psychological traumas the 6 major muscles of the eye are moving the eyeball in various directions to follow or locate visual stimuli and intra-ocular muscles adjust to focus the lens and dilate or constrict the pupil. It is hypothesised that messages from the visual fields and the eye muscles are transmitted to the brain through the visual pathway to the visual cortex in the back of the brain. When someone then recalls that same experience, the information is brought forward, including the sensations, visual movement patterns, and body symptoms. As the therapist guides the eye, tiny halts, skips, and 'glitches' can be seen at the points that seem associated with these earlier traumatic experiences. By 'massaging' (guiding) one or both eyes in various directions, the stored multisensory experiences can be re-accessed briefly and released in terms of intensity, providing relief from current and future 'triggers' associated with those cues in the environment. This 'integration' is thought to occur both across the hemispheres of the brain, and vertically within the hemispheres. It is used to treat many conditions, including PTSD, agitated depression, eating disorders, dissociation, addictions, and relationship conflicts.

During OEI treatment, you will be asked to focus on upsetting events, people, emotions, and physical sensations. As you do so, we believe that the brain and eyes work together to bring forward 'mappings' of the eye movements that occurred during the related traumas (e.g. whether an upsetting person or object was moving toward or away from you, above or below your eye level, in the centre or to the side of your eyes, at particular distances from your eyes). By guiding your eyes over specific places in your eyes, the therapist can dissipate the associated physical and emotional intensity.

'It's a bit weird, but it works!'

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