AIR Network Relational Framework
Clients are forming a primary relationship with self where they can practice both Relational Autonomy, being separate from others, and Relational Cohesion, being in connection with others and themselves. This is similar to therapeutic work with children and adolescents where the therapist's job is to help develop and strengthen the parent child bond. Work with adults who have experienced complex trauma focuses on the internal relationship and serves as a resource for clients as they build Adaptive Internal Relational Networks between their internal parts. Those parts exist on a continuum from fully separate to overlapping parts and developmental vulnerabilities that sometimes restrict access to current age related resources. Clients do not need to “trust” us in order to do this work. Often it is a relief to them, as they may not have the capacity or the desire to do so.
Words such as resistant or non-compliant are not a part of the Adaptive Internal Relational Network conceptualization. Rather, all of the ways that clients use their internal sense of what is happening are viewed as dignity, strengths and resources. The focus remains on their need to form consistency and/or trust with themselves and their insides, whether they have fully dissociated parts or not. Over time, what client’s come to trust is their experience of themselves in relationship with the person in the room in the present. The Interactive Present Awareness/Most Resourced Self, through a combination of orbital-prefrontal "top down thinking” processes and limbic "bottom up" processes, engages with parts on the inside to calm while staying connected to the outside in the present. This work strengthens neurological wiring between the medial prefrontal cortex and the limbic system to calm deep distress felt in the present though stored as traumatic memory "in the past". This brain bridge is compromised when people are repeatedly traumatized, particularly through complex developmental trauma.
In the normal developmental process children learn to understand the intentions of others within the primary attachment relationship. The mirror neuron system enables people to experience the world through observing others which is one of the cornerstones of empathy in relationship. In the context of trauma, children come to expect the world to be a scary, dangerous and or unpredictable place. The use of fear and sexual arousal in the context of early caregiver relationships creates a context for future relationships where there are "crossed wires" between care and arousal/fear. At times, perpetrators consciously and intentionally use these processes to set up internal systems of self-doubt, second guessing, and shame so that the adult is in control through physiological arousal, reinforced through patterning and programming. In the normal course of development, children are not able to discern adult frames so these experiences become their sense of self. All people have Core Survival Networks in order to develop in a world that can be dangerous at times for anyone. In the context of complex trauma and programming, the Core Survival Networks become trauma responses that can be triggered by many different circumstances. Programming is designed to hijack a person’s core values so that there is confusion about interactions and choices. This creates internal traps of conscience where people feel like they are betraying their core sense of themselves in the world.
Clients can often understand this theoretically but do not know how to change it due to the bottom up, automatic nature of traumatic activation. It is important for both client and therapist to understand that they cannot talk themselves into these needed changes and that no amount of power struggle, internally or externally, will ever accomplish the desired outcome. Many clients who live with complex neuro-dissociative states have protector Parts that are programmed to see change as dangerous. Thus, any therapeutic change is interpreted as life threatening. This “trauma logic” needs to be skillfully addressed, always maintaining dignity in the therapeutic context on an ongoing basis for clients to be successful. Internal identification of trauma logic patterns without judgment over time allows clients to build caring, compassionate connections between P/parts within Adaptive Internal Relational Networks.
Within this model, the therapeutic relationship does not act as the regulator of the limbic and brainstem activation. It is a “natural” thing to want to help clients regulate, and we still will help with this, but traumatic bonding in the therapeutic relationship, which is common with clients who have trauma histories, often impedes their abilities to form Adaptive Internal Relational Networks and create an internal locus of control. Traditional theories of working with trauma have been based around concepts of parent-infant attachment and creating a therapeutic relationship that mirrors the care, trust and safety that children need to develop healthy relationships. To this end, therapists have traditionally worked to attune to and help clients regulate in the hopes of helping them to develop this capacity. Current research indicates that an adult brain has developed beyond the capacity to have needs met completely from the outside. Creating a container of holding and safety on the outside helps to balance primitive brainstem structures to a certain extent, but also can recreate the conditions of programming and reinforce trauma neurology. Thus, clients continue to rely on external structures and systems to help regulate and keep them safe. The Adaptive Internal Relational (AIR) Network model works with the real needs for attachment, attunement, help and trust from the framework of the Interactive Present Awareness/Most Resourced Self . Once a child or adolescent is in a safe external environment, their Most Resourced Self can connect to adult external supports in age appropriate ways. Adults can get support, encouragement, love and connection from other adults while meeting the needs of their younger aspects of self internally.
The extensive amount of time it can take to make needed changes can feel overwhelming and discouraging for both clients and therapists. We consistently focus on building and resourcing Adaptive Internal Relational Networks, creating new possibilities of internal relationship where there is both Relational Cohesion between the parts and Relational Autonomy. Through the internal process of building neurological bridges, parts learn to connect and help each other and decisions are made through the Interactive Present Awareness/Most Resourced Self, functionally located in the orbital prefrontal cortex. These connection and decision processes, built through AIR Networking Resourcing Strategies, develop stronger abilities to regulate emotional, sensory and somatic arousal in the subcortical, brainstem, limbic structures, and somatosensory areas of the brain. Coming back to this focus over and over again within a dignity and competency-based stance allows clients the freedom to build the internal structures that will serve them in their lives and relationships beyond the therapeutic context.
Miller and Solon 2023 with pieces of original writing from Miller, Solon and McClelland 2015