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Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy - Developed by Shirley Jean Schmidt
DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS MEETING STRATEGY CLIENT HANDOUT
Written by Shirley Jean Schmidt (Reprinted with permission - 2004)
Children grow and develop in stages. Each developmental stage involves a set of needs which should be met by parents or caretakers. The degree to which childhood needs were not adequately met at a given developmental stage, is the same degree to which a person may be stuck in that stage. When a person is stuck in childhood there’s always a risk of something retriggering a child part of self. For example, a person may feel like an adult one minute – then something upsetting happens and suddenly they’re seeing the world through the eyes of a sad, angry, or fearful child. The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) is a psychotherapy approach which helps child parts get unstuck from the past, so they can grow to meet their full potential now.
The DNMS was synthesized by psychotherapist Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA, LPC from a number of well-known therapies, such as ego state therapy, inner child work, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR therapy). It is based on what is known about how a child’s brain develops within a healthy family.
What are Ego States?
The brain is made up of individual cells called neurons, which can cluster into neural networks. Neural networks can be simple or complex. A state of mind is the total pattern of activation in the brain at a particular moment including perceptual bias, emotional tone and regulation, memory process, mental models, and behavioral response patterns. A state of mind can become engrained in a single neural network when it is experienced repeatedly or when the mind cannot organize itself effectively in response to an experience.
An ego state or part of self is an engrained state of mind with a point of view. Everyone has parts of self. It is normal and usually beneficial. For example, the part of self that plays gently with a child should be different from the part of self that plays competitive football. Feeling ambivalent about something is an example of experiencing parts of self. For example one part of self may want to do something (like take drugs, get married, go to school) while another part doesn’t.
A point of view held by an ego state is meaningful in the context of when and how that part of self came into being. It is possible for a person to have ego states with sharply contrasting views of the world. For example, a child who spends a lot of time individually with two divorced parents, one who is warm, rational, and loving, and one who is neglectful and abusive, will form different parts of self in their respective care. The time spent with the loving parent will cultivate an ego state with a positive sense of self, relationships, and the world, and time spent with the neglectful abusive parent will cultivate an ego state with a negative sense of self, relationships, and the world.
A single overwhelming event or trauma can form several ego states. For example, one ego state might hold the physical trauma, one the emotional trauma, another the episodic story. An environment that is consistently wounding can also form multiple ego states. For example, a child who is neglected and not getting her needs for attention and love met, might develop an ego state that longs to get needs met, one that guards against having any needs, one that does not trust anyone, and one that is angry her needs are not being met.
Parts of self can interact with other parts of self in a cooperative or combative manner. Parts of self can be grownup, normal and happy, or childish and unhappy, and everything in between. The more conflict there is between ego states, the more unhappy a person will be. Sometimes internal conflicts lead to physical complaints, like gastrointestinal problems, chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, lowered immunity, and other psychosomatic disorders.
What is the DNMS?
The DNMS is a therapy for getting parts of self unstuck from the past. It involves using three internal Resource parts of self (a Nurturing Adult Self, a Protective Adult Self, and a Core Self) to meet the needs of wounded child parts now. These resources can provide the necessary corrective emotional experience that child parts require in order to get unstuck from the past. This needs meeting work helps child parts feel safe and securely attached to competent caretakers now, so they can safely shift attention from the past (which has seemed like the present) to real present time. Once a child part is totally unstuck from the past, he or she will no longer overreact to disturbing events. In other words, when a disturbing event happens, it will be experienced by adult parts of self, and handled in a rational appropriate fashion. A disturbing event will not evoke irrational, child-like fears and beliefs in any child part that has healed.
Who or What are the Three Resources?
Two of the Resources are a Nurturing Adult Self and a Protective Adult Self. There are many skills and traits a competent adult should have to be a good-enough caretaker. Most people have these skills but not everyone has them consolidated into a sense of self readily available for this work. A DNMS therapist will use a guided meditation to help a person connect to 24 adult skills and traits, such as compassion, empathy, understanding, patience, courage, protectiveness, etc. It doesn’t matter if a person doesn’t manifest these skills all the time. If a skill was expressed even once, it’s in the brain somewhere, and the meditation will bring it forward. The meditations help consolidate these skills to form these two caring adult Resource ego states. The other Resource is a Core Self (or Spiritual Core Self). Again, a simple guided meditation is used to help a person connect to their core self.
The Healing Circle
After a person has connected to each of their three Resources, the Resources are invited to come together to form a Healing Circle. The Healing Circle of Resources is a safe place and a supportive container. Troubled child parts of self are invited inside the circle and asked what they need most now. These resources are able to meet those needs now. Child parts can form real relationships with the Resources – relationships that can be very powerful and healing. Child parts, who have been waiting years to get their needs met, will finally get the understanding, acknowledgement, and validation they need and deserve. As their needs are met they will become less attached to the irrational fears and concerns of the past, and more present in the here and now.
How Does DNMS Work?
A healthy, supportive, nurturing relationship between parent and child has a direct impact on the development of the child’s orbital prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain). The neural pathways formed by this loving parent-child relationship are vital for the development of the child’s capacity for emotional self-regulation. The presence of these neural pathways ensures that the child will be able to explore the world, separate from parents, and mature in healthy ways. If these neural pathways are not formed, or not formed well enough, a child will grow up feeling insecure, and the development of normal behaviors (play, exploration, and social interactions) may be impaired. DNMS therapy may be constructing the neural pathways in wounded adults, that should have been formed in childhood. After DNMS, clients report feeling more integrated and whole, and better able to manage their emotions.
Strengthening Positive Feelings with Alternating Bilateral Stimulation
Alternating bilateral stimulation is used liberally throughout the DNMS to strengthen all positives. It is used to strengthen each Resource individually and collectively (the Healing Circle), and to strengthen all corrective emotional experiences provided to wounded child parts inside the Healing Circle.
Is DNMS a Form of EMDR?
This question is currently being debated. What is unmistakable is that DNMS is based on the same theoretical underpinnings as EMDR. It uses much the same language and accomplishes the same desensitization of trauma and reprocessing of old negative beliefs. Francine Shapiro’s 8-phase EMDR protocol has been proven effective by published clinical research. The 20-step DNMS protocol does not yet have published research to support its efficacy. EMDR assumes that adaptive resolution of many problems comes through trauma processing. DNMS assumes adaptive resolution is accomplished by meeting unmet childhood needs. EMDR is ideal for single-incident, adult-onset traumas, or childhood or adulthood traumas not related to unmet developmental needs. DNMS should be considered when a person has symptoms that are the result of being poorly parented (as opposed to being traumatized); suffered childhood neglect and/or has an attachment disorder; has not responded well to EMDR; doesn’t want to do EMDR; has ego strength too low for EMDR; or has a single-incident adult-onset trauma that did not clear with EMDR because it linked to unmet developmental needs.
What Can DNMS be Used to Treat?
No official research can be cited to answer this question. However, many DNMS clinicians are finding it helpful for treating depression, anxiety, social phobias, panic disorder, obsessions/compulsions, substance abuse, relationship problems, eating disorders, dissociative disorders, complex PTSD, borderline personality disorder, sexual addiction, sexual abuse, and complicated grief. The DNMS helps resolve symptoms that originated in a problematic childhood, where developmental needs were not met well. If a depression, for example, were solely due to an organic disorder, DNMS would probably not be much help.
How Long Does DNMS Therapy Take?
DNMS is not usually short-term therapy, but it does appear to be efficient, taking much less time than traditional talk therapy. The length of treatment depends on a person’s therapy goals, the number of unmet developmental needs, and availability of internal Resources. Some people have a lot of inner strengths, in spite of troubled childhoods. They will move along more quickly than people who have never felt confident. Some people have fear about doing therapy or fear of changes that will happen if they heal. Those fears can block progress until they are addressed and removed. Sometimes blocking beliefs and fears can be removed quickly and easily, but sometimes it takes awhile. DNMS therapists are trained to find and remove processing blocks.
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