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The AIP model is an integrative framework that can be used to enhance case conceptualisation and guide the choice of clinical interventions of many therapies, in particular psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. The memory consolidation theory that underpins the AIP model can be used to understand a client's presenting symptoms across modalities.

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What is the AIP Model?

The Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model describes the way that memories are stored in the brain, and posits that new information is assimilated into pre-existing memory networks to form our perception of the world around us. This is the lens that we see the world through. The AIP model  was developed by Dr Francine Shapiro as a framework for eye-movement desensitisation and re-processing (EMDR) therapy in the 1990s as a framework to explain and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Over time it has been realised that this model accounts for the pathogenesis of a wide range of psychological presentations and can be used to enhance any trauma-informed practice.

AIP theory of memory consolidation

The AIP model states that when the brain is calm, it can process and integrate sensory with related information in the memory networks, allowing us to make sense of our experience. These networks form the lens that we see the world through and impact our behaviour because current situations are automatically linked to the associated information from previous experience stored in the networks.


 

 

 

AIP and trauma

When the brain is stressed, and the nervous system becomes dysregulated this impairs the brain’s ability to process information. The sensory information (eg. the image, thought, feeling, sensation etc.) is stored in a ‘raw’ unprocessed format that is not assimilated into the main memory networks. These memories retain their sensory content because they are not connected up to the main memory networks that use the cortex where language is used to store memories, rather than it being processed and stored as a narrative memory.

 

For example, When we think about traumatic memories often they feel very ‘first person’ and we think about the memory we experience the emotions and somatic sensations as if we are back there re-experiencing the trauma. We should be able to think about stressful events and have a narrative story about what happened e.g. 'that happened it was awful, but it's over and I am safe now'. There is a clear separation between the trauma in the past and the safety of the present, because information from the event has been fully processed and integrated with the main network.

The limbic system's traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through in the past. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited.

For example, Childhood events may have been encoded with a survival response and retain the sense of danger around others. These past events retain their power and impact adult relationships because the sensory information has not been sufficiently assimilated in to the adaptive memory networks. The AIP model views negative behaviours as the result of dysfunctionally held information in the memory networks. For example, the negative self-belief ‘I’m not good enough’ is understood to be a symptom of unprocessed earlier life experiences that contain that somatic affect and perspective.

How can the AIP model enhance psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy?

From an AIP perspective, psychedelic substances can facilitate the integration of dissociated memory networks that have been encoded in a maladaptive manner due to dysregulation of the brain under stress. The somatic and emotional releases experienced in the psychedelic space are the dissociated traumatic material being re-processed. The AIP model can be used to help clients to explore and integrate psychedelic experience in therapy following psychedelic treatments.

Watch this space for more info about the AIP including training, supervision and community events!

For example, burning your hand on a hot stove, encodes an association between 'stoves' and 'danger' in the memory networks. The same thing happens in terms of relationships. For example, a conflict with a playmate in childhood caused by a "me first" stance is resolved by "we can share". This information is then encoded into the memory networks under the themes of interpersonal relationships and informs conflict resolution capacities later in life.
 

 

 

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Further reading:

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk

 

References

Buchanan TW. Retrieval of emotional memories. Psychol Bull. 2007 Sep;133(5):761-79.
 

EMDR Europe Website- https://emdr-europe.org/about/the-aip-model/

Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. Guilford Publications.

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