Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network Model
An integrative theory of psychology as it pertains to both normal development and the impact of complex trauma on individuals throughout the lifespan. This theory underlies the practice of the AIR Network model for working with Complex PTSD and Dissociation, with interconnected considerations of neurology, development, dignity and competence, resilience, vulnerability, and intersectionality.
Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network Model: An Overview
Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network therapy is a neuro-developmental, competency-based model of therapy developed over the past 25 years by Dawn McClelland Phd, LP, Patti Miller MA LP and Phyllis Solon PsyD, LP. The Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network model is primarily oriented towards giving people the freedom to engage fully with themselves and in relationships with others. People traumatized across multiple dimensions; familial, cultural, societal, and historical are seen in the context of their strengths and vulnerabilities, embedded in systems of oppression and control as well as privilege and resource. Stepping out of harmful relationships and systems of power and control into paradigms of integrity, dignity, and freedom, defined by individuals and communities, puts whole people at the center of their stories. Understanding neurology, development, dignity, resilience, and vulnerability inherent in all human beings facilitates stepping free from trauma to find one’s center, supporting life giving actions in line with values. The advanced resourcing and interventions taught are consistent with strengthening a person’s multi-directional attention which underlies the ability to manage neuro-dissociative states, regulate emotionally and physically, reduce c-ptsd symptoms and build compassionate relationships internally and externally.
Clients who live with complex neuro-dissociative states, a developmental-neurological organization of experience, have additional relational and therapeutic needs than those who have trauma histories without more complex types of dissociation. When working with these more complexly organized clients, Adaptive Internal Relational Networks, need to be built and solidified over time. Interactive Present Awareness/Most Resourced Self is a critical piece of the Adaptive Internal Relational Network that must be developed for healing to occur. Most of the AIR Resourcing Strategies initially focus on building clients’ abilities to develop and present awareness where there is at least a neutral noticing. Overtime these internal relationships move towards more cooperation and caring and building eventually towards acceptance and non-judgement, which allow them to also connect both internally and externally without violating themselves or others. The relational framework holds the truth that adults can be both connected and separate from others at the same time through Relational Autonomy and Relational Cohesion, which is built initially internally.
The Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network model is grounded in the position that therapy must be informed by in depth knowledge of developmental neurology, normal developmental processes, resilience/strengths and risk/vulnerability, memory and information processing, patterning and programming. The use of AIR Network Resourcing strategies facilitates the expansion of neural networks esperaste from terror and fear conditioning created in the context of early trauma. Neurological research shows that there are fewer and slower connections in the fear extinguishing feedback loop between the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala for those who have developmental trauma. Through AIR Network resourcing, connections are strengthened in orbital and medial prefrontal fibers increasing clients’ abilities to manage automatic fear and numbing responses which were crucial for survival in horrifying conditions of neglect and abuse.
We have developed very specific AIR Resourcing Strategy sequences that meet the needs of our clients who have more complex symptoms and neuro-dissociative states. We are very deliberate about containing traumatic memory while working to bring dissociated aspects of self or P/parts into relationship with the Interactive Present Awareness/Most Resourced Self . This present orientation includes the ability to hold multiple perspectives. AIR Network Resourcing Strategies help clients to define themselves separate from the memories, conditioning and programming that they have experienced. This phase of therapy can take many years depending on the severity of symptoms the degree of neuro-dissociative states and the complexity of the organization of the Core Survival Networks. Next, clients can decide with us in the context of the therapy if they want or need to process memories. The Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network Model supports effective and competency based traumatic memory processing through a number of different memory processing therapies like EMDR and Sensori-Motor Psychotherapy after the Internal relational Networks have been established and strengthened.
An understanding of developmental neurology and information processing theory is critical to an understanding of the Adaptive Internal Relational Network Model. Subcortical areas including the brainstem and limbic structures, and the somatosensory and motor areas of the brain encode information first, both developmentally and in times of danger. Information moves from those areas to the neocortical and left hemispheric language processing areas of the brain. This normal and adaptive process allows people to work through critical or traumatic incidents that happen to every person at some time. Intense, complex or repeated traumas can interrupt this adaptive process such that trauma patterns and reactive or Core Survival Networks get encoded and solidified over time.
Trauma affects how networks of somatic experience, emotion, thought and perception are formed and neurologically embedded. For all people, regardless of trauma, neural networks form in a developmental sequence and are impacted by environmental and relational experiences and resources. Human competence, potential and neuroplasticity are all foundational assumptions of the Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network Model. The Core Survival Networks that our clients present with are completely adaptive for the time and place that they were created. What makes them currently problematic is that these Core Survival Networks, in present reality, are no longer working to meet the legitimate needs of clients. Still operating within a past framework due to how trauma memories get encoded and stored, these old, Core Survival Networks “feel” necessary to clients and therefore remain running and active. This type of neurological ‘bottom up’ activation gets triggered when clients feel unsafe or are activated by internal or external triggers to traumatic memories. Our therapeutic stance is that no one is trying to do anything wrong. We believe that clients are doing the best that they can given how they see their situation or perceive their available resources.
Miller and Solon 2023 with influences from original writing from Miller, Solon and McClelland 2015