A client covers and uncovers her eyes one at a time as she follows the sweeping movement of her therapist's finger. Soon emotions crest on her brow and she begins to shake and sob. What looks like a neurological eye exam is a powerful new alternative therapy, steadily gaining in popularity thanks to researchers at Trinity Western University. Results with One Eye Integration (OEI), currently in its clinical trials, support the adage: "the eyes really are the windows to the soul."
OEI was originally discovered by Vancouver psychotherapist Audrey Cook and co-developed with her business partner, psychologist Dr. Rick Bradshaw, who is also an Associate Professor of Counselling Psychology at TWU. The two therapists have been using OEI to identify and unlock traumatic memories stored in areas of the brain that are seldom touched through traditional psychotherapy or hypnotic techniques.
Bradshaw describes painful memories metaphorically as, "pieces of shrapnel or bullets left embedded in the body. They don't disappear when scars appear, but continue to affect your body many years later."
Unlike talk therapy, where the focus is on having patients talk out their symptoms and feelings, OEI is based on neurobiological science. "The eyes are the only direct exposure of the brain to the outside world. We store experiences in our brains, through our eyes. Often traumatic memories are stored deep in the mid-brain involving areas such as the Amygdala (emotional centre), Thalamus (sensory processor), Hippocampus (memory processor) and Anterior Cingulate (worry centre). These areas typically can't be unlocked or tapped easily through talking," says Bradshaw.
During an OEI session, Bradshaw will track the eye movements of a client, watching for tiny responses referred to as "glitches". At the point where the eye halts - a "glitch" - Bradshaw will ask the client to describe what s/he is experiencing physically and emotionally.
"What I think is happening with our glitch work is that we are recognizing the same halts and skips in eye movement that occurred during initial traumas, and then guiding the eyes through movements that approximate the original movement sequences, allowing the brain to release or resolve the original traumatic incident. In a way, I believe we are recapitulating the eye movement at the time of the trauma," says Bradshaw.
Just like the images of the initial experience that travelled in through the eyes, down the optical pathways and into the brain, the same pathway is followed when a traumatic memory or visual image is recalled, but the direction is reversed.
The success of OEI lies in its ability to deal with these long-hidden memories and traumas. Throughout sessions, clients are encouraged to override appropriate social norms and behaviors, allowing themselves to express emotions and memories more primitively. In some instances, patients have had intense physical responses, and the results are startling. Bradshaw recalls a woman who was choked unconscious by a relative on several occasions as a child. "As we connected with the event visually using OEI, the marks on her neck showed the hand-prints of her abuser."
Bradshaw cites other phenomenal OEI success stories. He recalls a man who was struck unconscious with a crowbar by intruders in his home. He suffered loss of clear speech and sensation in one portion of his leg. Through OEI with Bradshaw, the patient regained clear speech and sensation in his leg.
Bradshaw describes OEI as a "psychological emergency room procedure". "Everyone has incidents that were overwhelming or disturbing to the point where they become stuck. Traumas that we experience earlier in life build foundations for problems later. It's important, as soon as possible after an initial trauma, to reduce the fight, flight, and freeze responses that can occur by getting to the centre of the stored traumatic memory. We do this using OEI."
In certain cases, Bradshaw combines OEI with other therapies such as massage, gestalt, play therapy, neurofeedback, and couples counselling.
Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 41undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 17 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.
Last Updated: 2009-03-03