Listen in to hear Jen, Melissa and Bridger discuss state change vs. trait change, a rather confusing topic in EMDR therapy.

If you haven’t already, check out our previous episode here!

State Change vs. Trait Change can be sometimes difficult to differentiate.

  • State change: shifting or changing the current state of being. Ex: currently in a state of feeling anxious, overwhelmed, etc. and shifting to a different one through resourcing.
  • Trait change: longer lasting shifts in perception, perspective and personality. These are bigger shifts completed through reprocessing. 
  • Personality trait instead of personality “state.”

The goal of the terminology of state change and trait change:

State change:

  • Goal 1: The ability to change state reliably portrays how well a client is resourced. 
  • Goal 2: Great way to build rapport with a client by them feeling the state changes in their nervous system. This is very supportive to the work of EMDR.
  • Goal 3: This is a way to increase a client’s affective tolerance. When they have a reliable state change experience, they realize that they can visit harder material and trust we have the tools to regulate. 
  • Goal 4: Helps us change states if we get out of their window of tolerance. 
  • Goal 5: To move towards a trait change
  • Symptomicological vs. characterological change
    • Symptomicolgical being state change
    • Characterological begin trait change

What creates states? And is this a result of traits?

  • Neuro anatomy tells us we have innumerable neurons, and traits are symbolized by the way the neurons are wired and connected together. 
  • “The roads through the city.”
  • To change the trait, we’d have to “build a new road”
  • States are like the traffic on the road. If I want a state change, we change the road but a trait change requires a whole new highway to be built. 
  • Story follows state follows story- this creates the trait. 
  • When we are doing trait change, we are changing the story follows state follows story.
  • Story is one of the ways we can do state change.  
  • Story to influence state is a top-down approach and gives minimal relief and is not very effective.

What is it like to intersubjectively introduce state change vs. trait change to clients?

  • It’s very relieving to clients.
  • It’s also sometimes difficult for the client to imagine this experience. 

How to create a trait change?

  • EMDR reprocessing (back door) finding the deepest roots of the memories and how do we reprocess this? Through enough reprocessing, we will begin to see trait change.
    • New information about themselves and the past experience. They see the situation differently. 
    • Destroying the old highway and building an entirely new one. 
  • Self-regulation vs. coregulation 
    • Trait change- the system will not create a new way of being, interpersonally, if it is not safe to do so.
    • When inviting change to the trait, it must be interpersonally experienced and felt in the system. 
    • A version of co regulation that is experienced in EMDR that involves the client referencing past coregulatory experiences that we create a link to- if they have them. 
    • It is the pairing of the internalized resources (if they have them) that creates a trait change. 
    • This is why it’s so important for internal templating and coregulation resources to be present.
    • Some systems cannot receive coregulation because of trauma in the past; shame and fear become dominant. 

The pairing of Ego State and EMDR within the context of availability of a coregulatory figure.

  • Very powerful pairing for trait change.
  • Offering a protective figure in session and the client spirals and becomes activated because they cannot accept that figure. 
  • A dysregulatory system will become very activated because of their experience of interpersonal trauma. 
  • Ego state becomes such a helpful tool with the installment of a nurturing figure. Conflicting parts create a strong push/pull. 
  • There are emotional parts that come forward that are trait-specific and invade on the ANP. There are also story state-dependent parts that are purely affect and overwhelm the person’s ability to explain with left hemispheric language of what’s happening in the body. 
  • This is happening all within the safety of a therapist.
  • However, some clients never really had a true coregulatory figure. 
    • These are oftentimes more traumatized people.
    • They will need a combination of EMDR, internalized coregulation and integrated sense of self. 
    • The experience of reprocessing one traumatic incident or short memory is still a trait change but is different than disintegration from trauma in early life. 

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