Below you will find the opening remarks to a book I am writing about Gentle Reprocessing and the first chapter which explains how it was developed. I hope it piques your curiosity.
Gentle Reprocessing – A Way to Release Trauma
This book is a story of discovery. Not the discovery of a new species at the bottom of the sea, or a tribe deep within the jungle or even if there is water on Mars. It is the discovery of the mind. It is a discovery that can help heal the mind, spirit and sometimes the body. It is a discovery that is relatively simple and easy to learn, yet it creates great change in the individual. And when this one individual heals, he or she contributes health to the world around him or her.
So I invite you to hear this story of discovery and view the results that may make our world a better place.
This journey toward discovery started for me in 1969, probably before many of you were born. I attended a regional high school. It was my senior year and there were many elective classes available. For the first time, psychology was being offered. A social studies teacher, Ms. Plaza, was teaching it. I guess it was not considered a science at the time. There were few psychology textbooks for high school students, . . .so Ms. Plaza chose a college textbook, Psychology by Norman L. Munn. The first copyright was 1946. This was the fourth edition, copyright 1966.
As soon as I saw the offering, I signed up. There was only one class offered. Sometimes certain paths seem to light up for people and this path was in neon for me.
I was fascinated by the subject matter. It was a very basic textbook in psychology, but to me it opened a whole new world I did not know existed. There was a short history of psychology. It presented various experiments with mice and humans. It looked at the differences between people. It looked at human behavior and personality.
As a senior in high school, I had been struggling with what direction I wanted to go in my life. I did not seem to have any strong skills. This psychology class revealed what my next step on my journey needed to be. I looked for a college that specialized in psychology. I got into Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Clark was the only college in the United States at which Sigmund Freud spoke. If you go to the campus today, there is a statue of Freud complete with his cigar on the grounds. He spoke in German. So I started taking classes in reading German in hopes of reading Freud’s original texts. I was committed.
Now reader, I do not profess to have a deep understanding of psychological theory, but I will share with you what struck me about various approaches, and eventually how these views finally became the therapeutic process I developed.
I studied a lot about Freud. He was a medical doctor who noticed that what happened in a patient’s life had an effect on that patient’s health. Later that would be an important piece of the therapy I would develop.
I ended up doing a double major in both psychology and sociology, graduating in 1974. The two departments were having a battle with nature versus nurture at the time I was in school. It seemed clear to me that they both played a part in how a person turned out. Sociology, how people were raised in their communities, would come to be another important aspect to take into account when approaching the problem of healing a client.
Following my four years at Clark, I did a social experiment of my own and brought three children into the world and raised them. When they were in middle school, I became a studying role model for them when I went to graduate school in 1988 at Assumption College, also in Worcester, MA to get my MA in counseling. I never had to ask them if their homework was done. They saw had hard I studied and followed suit.
A lot had happened in the psychology world since I had graduated from Clark. I was there to learn therapy techniques, not just theory. I was excited to be back in school and worked much harder than I had as an undergraduate. We were back to studying Freud, but this time it was more in depth and more about how he handled his cases.
I was also exposed to cognitive therapy. This made a lot of sense to me at first. People could change the way they felt about the world by changing the way they thought about the world. I did my own personal experiment along these lines by preparing for doing a presentation in front of the class. I was very nervous and believed (thought) I would freeze and do a poor job. So every time I thought about presenting, I would see myself enjoying myself, being articulate and doing a great job. No one was more surprised than I when I did my presentation I actually enjoyed it, found the right words and it went smoothly. This experience would make me a better teacher someday. Later in my career, I would recognize that repeating positive beliefs over negative beliefs did not work. When someone became stressed, the negative beliefs would be back. There had to be a way of clearing the negative beliefs, so the positive beliefs would have staying power. Someone once told me, putting the positive beliefs on top of the negative beliefs was like putting whipped cream on worms and calling it desert. Eventually the worms came to the surface. This was a problem I would someday solve.
Another area of study that fascinated me was family therapy. I loved the idea that if you fixed the family, the individual would do better. Also learning better communication skills seemed to help the family heal. One of my first jobs was being on a very intense family therapy team. Each family was assigned two clinicians who saw them several hours a week at their homes. Also once a month, the family and the clinicians would have a session in front of a one-way mirror while the rest of the team observed and came out and reflected on what they saw. The families did do much better with all the attention, but once the work was done and the clinicians no longer came by, we found families tended to go back to their old habits. I did however get to observe how what happens to someone when they are growing up, can have a positive or negative influence on the individual for the rest of their lives. It seemed Freud was right. The second lesson as I watched family therapy being taught was, it introduced me to the roles people play in their families and how those roles continue even after a child is grown up at some level. When someone is stressed, he or she tends to fall back into those old roles. Eventually, seeing this on the outside in a family would help me understand inner child work. Inner child work would also become an important part of my work years later.
After graduating with my masters in 1990, I continued to search for a therapeutic process that would help clients to heal quickly and permanently. Every approach seemed to hold a part of the solution. Freud considered the past and how it affected the client. Cognitive therapy brought people’s belief systems to the foreground. Family therapy looked at how the individual fit into a family system and community. Behavioral therapy thought clients would feel better if they change their behavior. And then there was talk therapy, which helped over time, but made painfully slow progress.
I had been receiving the Family Networker for a couple of years. I seldom got around to reading it. I also have the habit of reading magazines from the back to the front. This one day I started looking through the Networker, back to front and spotted a one-page interview with Francine Sharpiro on EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. After I read the article, I thought to myself, if this article is even half true I have found my Holy Grail. The next day an intern at the clinic, Ricky Greenwald, announced he was going to present a talk on EMDR. The more I listened, the more excited I became. He told us that Francine Sharpiro was doing a two-day EMDR workshop in Lowell, MA. I signed up and took it. I was the only one at my clinic who did.
One of the things this workshop did was introduce me to trauma theory and bilateral stimulation. According to EMDR, trauma was made up of four elements: the traumatic event, the emotions that event caused, where those emotions are in the body and finally the negative beliefs the event creates or supports for the client. Trauma, which Freud had originally noted, can cause stress in a client. This stress can come out in a variety of symptoms. I suspected that healing trauma reduced many of the mental health symptoms that people reported such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and generally feeling out of control. EMDR seemed to be a way to heal traumas and thereby reduce these symptoms. The bilateral stimulation appeared to help clients process the traumas more quickly.
The other significant thing that happened at this first EMDR training was actually a misunderstanding on my part. Dr. Sharpiro instructed us that as a client was thinking about a traumatic event, rather than get stuck in that event, the client should let it pass through the mind quickly as if it were scenery passing by a moving train. Somehow, I read this as the client should throw those memories off the train and leave them behind them. This error on my part would eventually be significant in this journey you are taking with me.
I started using it with clients and getting some amazing results. They quickly released the emotions and negative beliefs around each trauma. Then diagnoses like depression and anxiety seemed to be reduced. I met with Ricky Greenwald regularly to compare notes. I thought EMDR was my answer.
I want to remind the reader that I was trained in EMDR in 1993. EMDR had first come to light in 1989. This was a relatively new and untried technique. So it made sense that I ran into some issues with it. EMDR asked the client to look at the whole trauma at once: the event, all the emotions that event caused, where those emotions were stored in the body and the negative beliefs the event supported. I started to observe that for severely traumatized clients this became overwhelming. Some cleared up trauma but did not want to try EMDR again. Others quit halfway through the session and did not want to continue. In the worse cases, clients dissociated and acted as if the trauma was happening at the present time in my office. Since those beginning years, EMDR has built safeguards into its procedure, but at the time I felt if I were going to get the results I appreciated from EMDR, I would have to do it differently. How could I use elements of EMDR and still protect my clients? An alternative plan was starting to form.
Allow me to take a short detour in this journey away from therapies. In 1992 I started taking Kundalini Yoga. Along with yoga came meditation. For the next few years, I took different types of yoga and took part in a weekly meditation class. Meditation helped me see more clearly how powerful our subconscious mind is. In 1996 I graduated with a teacher’s certificate to teach yoga From Frog Pond Yoga in Princeton, MA. I taught two to three classes a week until 2001. I did continue to teach one class a week until 2015. Yoga helped me be comfortable in front of a class and to be able to go with the flow while teaching. That skill would help me to teach the new therapy I had been working on in some ways since 1969. My knowledge of meditation would become part of that new therapy,
I thank you for your patience dear reader as I outline my journey to develop a new therapy that helps dissolve trauma. We are close to the end of where it came from. In the mid-1990’s I went to a lecture by Michael White, a psychotherapist from Australia. He worked with families and young children. In his lecture, he talked about externalizing problems. “The problem itself is externalized so that the person is not the problem. Instead, the problem is the problem. This objectification and externalization of the problem challenge those individualizing techniques of scientific classification and other more general dividing practices.” (52, Selected Papers)
When working with children’s fears, Mr. White referred to them as Monsters outside of the child that needed to be controlled. He would have the parent get a secure box for the child to put pictures of the monsters in, would help the child tie the box up to keep the monsters in, and would then hang the box outside. That way the fears the child had at night were no longer in the child’s bedroom. When Mr. White checked back with the family after two weeks, he found the child was sleeping well and the fears were gone. More details can be found in Mr. White’s article Fear Busting & Monster Taming – An Approach to the Fears of Young Children. (107- 113, Selected Papers) This made a lot of sense to me and would be incorporated into my work as well.
In 1997 I took the second level of EMDR training in Cambridge Mass. EMRD had evolved between 1993 and 1997. For one thing, the process had been slowed down and more time was taken to give the client resources to help tolerate the EMDR process. I guess I was not the only one who had run into issues with it. The other change was that bilateral stimulation had grown from using only bilateral eye movements to also using bilateral touch and/or sound. For me, that meant that clients could have their eyes closed and still get benefits from the bilateral stimulation. Dr. David Grand would eventually bring the bilateral sound to a much higher level using music instead of clicks or beeps.
Probably the most significant information I received in the second-level EMDR workshop happened while we were on break. Several of us clinicians were standing around waiting to go back to class. There was a child therapist from Rhode Island there. She was very excited. She mentioned she noticed when her young clients scribbled with the enthusiasm they seemed to feel better when they were done. She realized that they were doing bilateral stimulation as they thought about the problem that was bothering them. This insight on her part became a major component of my protocol for young children. I wish I knew her name so I could credit her properly.
At this point in the history of this journey, I started using all the pieces of the puzzle I have described so far. In 1999 I had an article published in a special edition EMDRIA newsletter for children and adolescents edited by Dr. Ricky Greenwald. It was called “Slaying the Monsters” and it described a technique that helped young children release trauma. This was an amazing collection of articles of other clinicians that were taking EMDR to the next level, just as I had been. In 2000, I attended an EMDRIA Conference in Canada with other EMDR practitioners. Dr. Francine Sharpiro was the Key Note speaker. She gave an amazing speech, calling on us all to take what she had started and continue to develop it. Dr. Sharpiro actually had the audience in tears with the hope of helping so many clients who had been traumatized.
There was a group of us who had taken the plane from Boston and now we were about to head home as we sat in the airport. We were all a little high after the conference. I tend to be pretty quiet, but I felt my guru, Dr. Sharpiro, had invited me to continue the work I had started. I remember being a little giddy. And as luck would have it, the plane was delayed two hours. I started talking enthusiastically about the way I was now using EMDR both with children and adults. The other clinicians seemed interested. One of them, Starr Potts, suggested I do a workshop for them so they too could learn about my techniques. I said I had no idea how to go about doing that. She said she did event planning on the side. So we agreed to work together to set up a one-day workshop to start to let other therapists add my work to their toolboxes. All the teaching of yoga and energy healing was about to come in handy.
Now dear reader, we have reached the end of my journey of discovery for now. I had all the puzzle pieces I needed to develop a therapeutic technique to help clients heal gently, quickly, and permanently. The rest of this book will be about the two techniques that arose from these bits and pieces. At first I called the one for helping young children, Slaying the Monsters, then just Slaying the Monster, and finally External Gentle Reprocessing. The healing technique for teens and older I originally called Gentle EMDR, but because this is not an accepted EMDR protocol, I changed the name to Internal Gentle Reprocessing. Both techniques together are now referred to as Gentle Reprocessing or just Gentle for short. The following chapters will give the reader insight into how Gentle Reprocessing works and some of its results.
A Gentle Approach to Psychotherapy With DIDs
Many present psychotherapy techniques ask clients to look at the complete traumatic event which includes the event itself, the emotions this event brings out, where these emotions are stored in the body, and the negative cognitions that were instilled when the event happened. This is a lot to face all at once and can lead to retraumatization in some cases. With DIDs, they have the option to switch to another part, if the therapy becomes overwhelming and they very often do the switch.
Let’s look at an example of what a traumatic event might look like from this perspective. Say you did not get any brownies when you were a child. Everyone else at the table was given brownies, but you were told: “no brownies for you.” So this is a traumatic event. Now you might be angry about this and feel the anger in your fists. In addition, you may feel hurt and sad, sensing these feelings in your stomach and heart respectively. And the most damaging element of trauma is you start to have negative beliefs about yourself – “I am too fat. I am worthless. I am unlovable. There is something wrong with me.” Then you start to collect incidents that support these beliefs and feel worse and worse about yourself.
Gentle Reprocessing™ was developed to break these four elements of trauma down into manageable bites. It further uses metaphors in the form of guided imagery, drawing, and/or storytelling to help a client release the negative thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. Once this is done, the trauma becomes neutral and feels more like an old movie, it happened a long time ago or it happened to someone else.
There are two different approaches to Gentle Reprocessing – Internal and External. With Internal Gentle Reprocessing™a client uses guided imagery and bilateral stimulation to release the negative emotions and body sensations attached to the trauma. Once this is done, positive cognitions replace the negative ones. With External Gentle Reprocessing™, the client uses drawing, bilateral stimulation, storytelling, and positive cognitions to neutralize the negative parts of the trauma. This article is going to discuss External in more detail.
External Gentle Reprocessing or EGR was created after it was discovered that Internal Gentle Reprocessing (IGR) did not work well for very young children or fragile clients. Any client who could not tolerate touching their trauma even for a short time would be considered a fragile client. Fragile clients would include war veterans, energetically sensitive people, and DIDs, among others. This technique should not be used with ritually abused DIDs. It can have a detrimental effect.
With DIDs, as was already mentioned, when a part gets too close to trauma, they switch to another part where it is safer. This makes it very difficult to do any ‘therapy’ with the most troubled parts. It has been found that EGR is gentle enough to keep a part engaged long enough to release some of the trauma for these damaged parts. Once these parts start to heal, the whole system benefits. It must be emphasized, that EGR should not be used until the basic work, such as, establishing trust with the therapist and mapping the system has taken place. But once this is done, EGR has proven to an excellent tool to help clients really start to heal on a deep and meaningful level.
So how does External Gentle Reprocessing work? Clients are asked to draw a line down the center of a blank piece of paper. On one side they draw a picture of how they see themselves when they think of the traumatic event and on the other side, they draw the emotions and/or thoughts they have when they recall the event. Once this is done, the paper is cut in half on the line. The self-portrait is put aside and the negative thoughts and feelings are ‘erased’ with a black crayon or marker while positive cognitions are repeated. When the paper is totally blacked in, the clients tear or cut the paper into little pieces and throw it away. At this point, the clients are asked to tell an empowering story about how they defeated the negative ‘monster’ feelings using bilateral stimulation. When the story has been repeated several times, the first step of drawing is done again. This may seem to be a bit far-fetched. But the truth is it works. It seems to keep the clients occupied enough to allow the trauma to melt away when they are not looking. Usually, the second set of pictures are much more positive and the clients report feeling much less triggered by the event.
One example of the before and after self-portrait drawings of a DID client showed a little girl in bed with her teddy bear. It said, ”No eyes open”. She is very withdrawn. The second picture, in contrast, shows the same little girl, but she sees herself shaped like a big heart sitting in a tree feeling literally heart-centered. The tree was her place of power in the work she did. This client also reported she felt much better and the whole system seemed to benefit from this part starting to heal.
The difference between these two pictures is not an isolated incident. With many parts, it does take a while to do this process with all of them. This is not complete DID therapy but is designed for the clinician to use it as needed as she/he works with a DID client.
More information about Gentle can be found at www.GentleReprocessing.com If you are interested in your therapist doing this work with you, an online class can be found under workshops on the site.
Diane Spindler LMFT, LMHC, Founder, and Gentle Manager
Diane maintains a private practice in Central Massachusetts. She enjoys creating new and innovative ways to work with her clients, which led her to develop Gentle Reprocessing™. Diane has been teaching Gentle Reprocessing in workshops throughout New England, including Boston University, since 2001.
I would like to thank Sara (not her real name) for her wonderful drawings and for giving permission to use them and her stories in this article.