Into Flowing Waters: Lifespan Integration Therapy
Updated: May 21
Lifespan integration is a new form of therapy, approximately twenty years old, that was developed initially 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 counseling 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 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. In the past twenty years, over one thousand therapists have been trained around the world (including myself). Though research studies on LI are only recently being conducted and therefore are limited in number, the anecdotal reports from LI practitioners seem to indicate that it is an effective therapy for working with trauma clients with less risk of re-traumatization than other cognitive-based therapies. Specifically, Pace found that using LI allowed her clients to engage in therapy without reverting to dissociative states brought on by trauma.
As well, 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!!)
As an addition, I personally have witnessed changes in the clients I have worked with who have undergone this form of therapy - I have noticed a movement away from a chaotic and/or rigid disposition in the world, towards a more flexible and thoughtful demeanour, which lasts and goes with them into many relationships and environments. As the image above indicates, they have moved into the river of integration. I have also noticed improvements in my own life personally as I have undergone the same therapy.
Of course, the reports of these outcomes are anecdotal. Up until recently the reports of LI's efficacy have been primarily anecdotal from Pace, Thorpe, and some of the hundreds of clinicians who have been employing this modality with clients. However, within the last twelve years, a number of studies have been undertaken with a variety of populations.
Some of the populations studied include adopted children, third culture kids, women with anorexia, women with anxiety, victims of sexual abuse, those suffering from PTSD because of sexual abuse, adults with attachment/developmental trauma, children with trauma histories, individuals with Munchhausen by proxy disorder, and clients presenting with anxiety and depression. 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, the best place to learn about it, or to find a practitioner who can do this work with you, is by going to the Lifespan Integration website.
Of course, I am also in the process of being trained myself and I am happy to offer the protocols that I have been trained in for clients who are interested.
Please note that this blog article is basically written by a friend and soon to be clinical counselor, Leah Kostamo, who is currently doing research on LI.