Observed and Experiential Integration (OEI)
You can think of OEI as a psychological emergency room treatment. In medical emergencies, the priorities are to stop the bleeding, start breathing and stabilize fractures. Other specialists then enter the picture to extend and complete recovery. OEI reduces fight, flight, freeze, and numbing responses to enable higher-level brain functioning to occur.
What differentiates OEI from other forms of therapy?
Talk therapy alone cannot heal the wounds left by a traumatic experience. While problem-solving techniques may give temporary relief, they more often than not fall short of healing trauma wounds. The original trauma event(s) bypass higher processing centres of the brain and it is for this reason that logic-minded approaches fail. For this reason, most people report greater improvement through experience-based approaches such as OEI, as they work a non-verbal, awareness of your body, emotional level.
What exactly does OEI do?
OEI engages the processing of psychological trauma through a re-imagining/recall of a specific intense experience. Through activating such memories a person will likely experience vague physical (e.g. upset stomach, shortness of breath, dry throat, numbing sensation etc) and perceptual symptoms (tingling or numb sensation within the body, drowsiness, sweating, blurred vision, altered emotional state to name a few) to intense panic symptoms (e.g. hyperventilating, abnormally high heart rate, dizziness or 'feeling fain' or light headed etc).
We see the world one eye at a time.
In brief, through a series of “switching” (covering one eye while holding an intense trauma memory, aka the “target”) from eye-to-eye, enables the brain to re-integrate the fragmented trauma experience. A target is a specific memory during the trauma event that was most disturbing to you. This “stirred up” or “stuck” feeling is a result of the limbic freeze response (read more here) – the sensation occurring as a result of your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems being engaged (think of this as having your foot on the brake of your car, whilst hitting the gas with the other).
Holding this target in mind, under the guidance of an OEI therapist helps the trauma sufferer reprocess the original trauma event. Moving towards reintegration, the person then begins to experience a reduction in their trauma symptoms. Ultimately, once this hemispheric integration process occurs, memories of the trauma are no longer associated with an intensely emotional experience. This re-experiencing is analogous to seeing a lion (the original traumatic memory) in the living room, to the lion in the zoo (once hemispheric integration has occurred).