What’s in a name?
Why is this therapy called “Observed & Experiential Integration”?
Let’s examine each word in the name, from multiple perspectives…
In experiential therapies clients are asked to shift focus to “notice” thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. This typically requires a shift from the midbrain to the medial prefrontal cortices, neuropsychologically.
In OEI clients actually observe changes in cognitions, emotions, and physical sensations, depending on which eye they cover. In that way, they cannot discount the duality of experience, and discover that one of the “observations” is a distortion. This leads to “mentalizing” (standing back and reflecting on the disparate experiences from a higher-order self). For clients with a great deal of emotional lability, this is an entirely new experience.
As clients continue to switch (alternately cover and uncover each eye), they usually observe integration (dissolving of distortion, accuracy of experience).
Another reason that “Observed” is in the name of this therapy is that the therapist is constantly observing and noting tiny shifts in the facial expressions (emotional states), eye movements (halts, hesitations, skips) and body postures of clients. In response to these subtle changes, the therapist adjusts the pace and direction of what we call “switching”, “sweeping” and “glitch massaging”. The astute therapist is also maintaining attunement with the client, reflecting back what is seen in the client’s face (verbally), and mirroring (responding nonverbally) to these shifts.
A final reason the word “Observed” is in the name of this therapy pertains to what clients are doing. As therapy progresses, clients are asked to “Observe” their own perceptions, emotions, and body states. These reflections are primarily visual in nature (noting apparent proximity & appearance of the observed person) but also somatic & affective.
As clients continue to switch (alternately cover and uncover each eye), they usually observe integration (equalization of experience) with each eye open.
The core purpose of experiential therapy is to increase client awareness regarding human experience (in contrast to dissociation or unaware existence). In humanistic-existential therapy (Bugental), clients are asked to recall events associated with deep emotions (fear, sadness, anger, and/or shame) and “stay with” (rather than dissociate from) those intense states until they achieve insight and the intensity dissipates.
In gestalt therapy (Perls), clients and therapists process “unfinished business” and reclaim disowned aspects of self. In the process, subtle intensity & conflict markers are observed and brought to awareness, with resulting insight.
In focusing (Gendlin), clients are urged to attend to subtle affective, somatic, perceptual, and cognitive states and notice subtle, almost imperceptible, changes.
In OEI (Cook & Bradshaw), clients attend to, and report on, both subtle and intense experiences they have in therapy (i.e., during application of the five sets of OEI techniques: “switching”, “sweeping”, glitch massaging”, “glitch holding”, and “releasing”).
As OEI progresses, clients integrate dissociated traumatic material that was previously beyond their awareness. In addition, clients with dissociative disorders integrate alternate personalities (“alters”).
Many times during each session, client’s integrate (combine, equalize, or dissipate) disturbing emotions, cognitions, somatic sensations, and visual perceptions. As a result, they become less “stuck” and less “stirred up” (triggered) in their lives.
Some observers have said that OEI is like a combination of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), Educational Kinesiology (‘Brain Gym’), and Gendlin’s Focusing. Others have noted a similarity to Dual Brain Psychology (Schiffer). It is important to recognize that OEI is none of these other therapies, but in fact has developed into an entirely new and different psychotherapy. Readers interested in how OEI differs from these other therapies are encouraged to send questions to [email protected]