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  • Writer's pictureLeah Kostamo

Lifespan Integration Therapy - a gentle treatment for trauma

Lifespan integration (LI) is a newer form of therapy, approximately twenty-five years old, developed by Peggy Pace, a therapist who specialized in working with clients with complex trauma. Pace tells of finding some success with EMDR in treating trauma clients and also some success using Jungian Active Imagination in assessing a client's inner child to help treat childhood trauma.

Neither approach, however, ultimately yielded the results Pace hoped for. With Active Imagination, clients would have breakthroughs in the counselling office, connecting compassionately with a younger self, but when they got back into the ‘real world’ and were emotionally triggered, they would continue to react in childish ways they found distressing and discouraging. Likewise, with EMDR, Pace found that it worked well for clients with single incident traumas, especially if the traumatic event occurred in the previous five years, but in her experience, clients with complex developmental trauma, like early childhood attachment trauma, often did not receive long-lasting benefit from EMDR.

Pace fell upon something integral to Lifespan integration theory during one particular session when doing Active Imagination with a client. The client was a 40-year-old highly educated woman who, while revisiting a traumatic memory, became stuck in a state of nervous system overwhelm. The client was well outside her window of tolerance.

When Pace asked the client how old she was, the client responded in a high-pitched, fearful voice, “I am six years old.” The woman was clearly feeling emotionally overwhelmed and in a state of hyperarousal, as if the trauma she had experienced all those years ago was actually happening in the present moment. The emotional regulation abilities and cognitions of her normal 40-year-old self were unavailable to her in that moment.

In order to bring her client out of this state, Pace had the insight to ask the woman to remember being seven years old, then eight, nine, ten, and so forth, up to her present age. By the time she got to forty, the woman was restored to her window of tolerance and felt she was her appropriate age. She left the session feeling calm and capable.

Since that illuminating session, Pace and her colleagues have developed LI therapy to include a number of different protocols for everything from PTSD to attachment trauma. Pace found that using the various LI protocols allowed her clients to engage in therapy without reverting to dissociative states brought on by trauma.

Cathy Thorpe, one of the most experienced Lifespan Integration therapists working today, outlines a few of the outcomes she has witnessed with her LI clients:

  • the reduction of distress when remembering a traumatic event;

  • the resolution of somatically held procedural memories;

  • the regulation of emotional affect in everyday life;

  • positive effects on relationships;

  • the resolution of presenting problems like anxiety and depression;

  • increased coherence and recall of one's life events;

  • and, positive changes in areas of life that seem unrelated to the presenting problem.

(that’s quite a list!!)

I personally have witnessed changes in clients using LI. They have told me that they are more emotionally regulated and less triggered. Anxiety has lessened. They feel less like a child and more like the adults they are. They feel more hopeful and able to tackle the challenges in their lives.

Of course, the reports of these outcomes are anecdotal, and thus shouldn't be taken as empirical evidence. However, within the last twelve years, a number of studies on LI's efficacy have been undertaken with a variety of populations.

Some of the populations studied include

  • adopted children

  • individuals with anxiety and/or depression

  • victims of sexual abuse/assault

  • those suffering from PTSD

  • adults with attachment/developmental trauma

  • children with trauma histories

  • 'third culture' kids

  • women with anorexia

In each of these studies, participants showed a lessening of various trauma symptoms after participation in Lifespan Integration Therapy.

If you are interested in learning more about this form of therapy, please ask! I've completed all four levels of LI trainings and am excited to offer this therapeutic appraoch. You can also check out the Lifespan Integration website.


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