The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) is a therapy approach synthesized by Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA, a licensed professional counselor in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. Its development was informed by number of well-known therapies and disciplines, such as neuroscience, developmental psychology, ego state therapy, inner-child work, and EMDR. It is based on what is known about how a child’s brain develops within a healthy family.
The Basis for the DMNS
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 correlates to the degree to which a person may be stuck in that stage. When stuck in childhood there is 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 are seeing the world through the eyes of a sad, angry, or fearful child. This can account for behaviors, beliefs, or emotions that we have now, that we do not like and do not want.
Getting Stuck: Unmet Developmental Needs
Children become stuck when they cannot make sense of highly significant disturbing or confusing experiences. This is obvious in the case of outright abuse or neglect by a highly dysfunctional parent. For example, a child who was assaulted during her father’s violent outbursts may carry a fear of men into adulthood. In less obvious ways, children can become stuck when well-meaning, caring parents are simply not sufficiently equipped to meet certain needs. This can happen if the child’s needs are particularly complex or obscure, if a parent has parenting skill deficits, if a parent has emotional baggage from the past that compromises good parenting, if the overall family or environmental situation is very stressful, or if any combination of these is true. Children who expect their loving, caring parents to meet their needs well are confused when their needs are ignored, misunderstood, or trivialized instead. When this happens often enough, or around significant issues, the child will get stuck in those experiences. When there is a good match between a child’s needs and a caregiver’s parenting skill, the child will grow up feeling secure. When the match is not so good, however well-intentioned the parent, a child will accumulate emotional baggage. The bigger the mismatch, the more baggage accumulates.
What are Ego States?
The brain is composed of billions of individual cells, called neurons. These neurons form simple and complex neural networks which hold specific information about the behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and body sensations associated with specific experiences. Complex neural networks can become engrained when positive experiences occur repeatedly (such as praise or encouragement), when negative experiences occur repeatedly (such as neglect or verbal abuse), or when highly traumatic experiences occur.
These types of complex neural networks can take on different points of view, like sub-personalities. For example, a neural network formed experiencing praise and encouragement may have an “I’m worthwhile” point of view, while a neighboring neural network formed experiencing verbal abuse may have an “I’m worthless” point of view. Likewise, a neural network holding a highly traumatizing experience may have an “I’m not safe” point of view.
An engrained neural network with a point of view is an ego state, or a part of self. It is very normal to have parts of self – everyone has them. People experience parts of self when they feel ambivalent. Perhaps you can recall a time when one part of you wanted to tell a lie while another part wanted to tell the truth, one part wanted to get drunk while another wanted to stay sober, one part wanted to eat smart while another wanted to eat junk, or one part wanted to give generously while another wanted to be miserly.
Ego states can develop in reaction to both positive and negative experiences. Ego states formed by positive/affirming experiences live in the present. Ego states formed by negative/ wounding experiences, such as trauma, abuse, neglect, or unmet developmental needs, are stuck in the past. Some ego states are large, such as the part of self that includes all the behaviors and experiences of a person’s occupation, and some are small, such as one holding the experience of a single event at age three. Ego states are dynamic and change over time – usually becoming more engrained (for better or worse), as new events are interpreted based on past experience and bias.
Parts of self can interact with other parts of self, in a cooperative or combative manner. Because ego states can have different points of view, they can have competing agendas. That can lead to internal conflicts or double binds. You may be aware of internal battles about something you should or should not do, or should or should not believe.
The DNMS can help wounded ego states have the corrective emotional experiences necessary to get unstuck from the past and come forward to live comfortably in the present. It can also help resolve conflicts between ego states. All this can lead to positive changes in emotions, beliefs, and behaviors.
What is the DNMS?
The DNMS is a therapy for getting parts of self totally unstuck from the past. There are DNMS protocols for identifying child ego states that are stuck in the past because of unmet developmental needs, and protocols for helping those ego states get their developmental needs met now. Needs are met by three Resource ego states, a Nurturing Adult Self, a Protective Adult Self, and a Spiritual Core Self. These Resources assume a competent caregiver role. In communication with wounded child parts, the Resources are able to meet basic needs like love, attention, connection, validation, protection, and more advanced needs, like guidance, correction, and information about the world. In addition, the Resources help child parts process through strong emotions, like fear, anger, and grief. They also bond with child parts to help them feel securely attached to loving caretakers now. The DNMS provides for attachment and attunement needs, builds self-esteem, desensitizes developmental traumas, furnishes a powerful container for processing strong emotions, integrates dissociated parts of self, and can be used as an effective tool for affect regulation.
The Three Resources
The DNMS helps people get unstuck from the past by using Resource parts of self to meet the needs of child parts now. These Resources can provide the wounded child ego states the necessary corrective emotional experiences required to heal old wounds. This needs meeting work helps child parts feel safe and securely attached to competent caretakers, so they can safely shift attention from the past to present time. One of these three Resources is a Spiritual Core Self. A guided meditation is used to help connect to a Spiritual Core. The other two Resources are a Nurturing Adult Self and a Protective Adult Self. There are many skills and traits a competent adult need to be a good-enough parent. Most people already have these skills but they are not always consolidated into a sense of self readily available for this work. Again, a guided meditation is used to get clients securely connected to adult skills and traits they already have, such as compassion, empathy, understanding, caring, courage, protectiveness, etc. It won’t matter if a person does not manifest these skills all the time. If a skill is applied even once, it is in the brain somewhere, and the meditation finds it. The skills are mobilized to form the Nurturing and Protective Adult Resources.
Now here is the best part – together these three Resources form a wonderful container called a Healing Circle. Wounded child parts are invited inside the circle, and asked what they need most now. The Resources are able to meet that need. Then they are asked what else is needed and the Resources meet that need too. The Resources will keep meeting needs until all the needs have been met. Child parts can form a real relationship with the Resources – a relationship that can be very powerful and healing.
How Does the DNMS Work?
When developing children get their emotional needs met by parents, their brains develop special neural pathways linking emotional centers to thinking centers of the brain. These neural pathways allow a child to grow into an adult who can self-sooth and feel secure, even when bad things happen. If these neural pathways did not adequately form in the brain when a person was little, the DNMS can help. It appears to be able to create these neural pathways now, so a person can become the healthy secure person they would have been if needs had been adequately met in childhood.
With the DNMS, child parts that have been waiting years to get their needs met, finally get the under-standing, acknowledgement, and validation they need and deserve. As needs are met they will become less attached to the fears and concerns of the past and more present in the here and now.
Maladaptive Introjects and Reactive Parts
The DNMS differentiates two classes of ego states – introjects and reactive parts. Introjects are the parts of self that mimic significant role models’ verbal and non-verbal messages. Children mimic their parents. When they mimic parents who are kind, supportive, and loving, they thrive. When they mimic parents who are unkind, neglectful, abusive, enmeshing, or simply unable to meet developmental needs, they encounter problems. Maladaptive introjects are wounded child parts who mimic unskillful parents. Reactive parts are child parts that form in reaction to unskillful parents. While the problem behaviors, beliefs, and/or emotions that people seek therapy to fix are often those of upset reactive parts, it is the maladaptive introjects, mimicking in adulthood the unskillful parents of childhood, which perpetuate those problems.
Alternating Bilateral Stimulation (ABS)
Alternating bilateral stimulation (ABS), as a therapy tool, was first used in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy – a therapy for desensitizing trauma. During EMDR, clients are asked to think about a painful trauma while moving their eyes rapidly back and forth. The eye movements seem to help the part of the brain stuck in the trauma talk to parts of the brain that know the trauma is over. Clients are able to desensitize certain types of traumas very quickly with EMDR eye movements. Eventually someone figured out that alternating bilateral tactile or auditory stimulation could be used during EMDR instead of eye movements. It was observed that the eye movements could also help to strengthen positive beliefs about self. ABS is used throughout the DNMS to strengthen all positive experiences, such as the good feelings that arise when connecting to Resources.
What Can DNMS be Used to Treat?
No official research can yet be cited to answer this question. However, many DNMS clinicians are finding it helpful for treating depression, anxiety, complex PTSD, panic disorder, social phobias, substance abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, obsessions/compulsions, borderline personality disorder, sexual addiction, relationship problems, dissociative disorders, and complicated grief. The DNMS helps resolve symptoms that originated with unmet childhood needs If a depression, for example, were solely due to an organic disorder, DNMS would probably not 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.
About the DNMS Developer
Shirley Jean Schmidt, MA is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in San Antonio, TX and author of The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy: An Ego State Therapy for Healing Childhood Wounds ( www.DNMSinstitute.com ). She has trained hundreds of clinicians in the DNMS model at regional, national, and international workshops and conferences since 2002. She is an EMDRIA-Approved consultant for EMDR therapy. She is a member, and past president of the San Antonio Trauma & Dissociation Professional Study Group. She’s published many articles about EMDR, ego state therapy, pain management, and DNMS. Many are posted on her web site, www.shirleyjeanschmidt.com. The latest article, titled Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy: A New Treatment Approach Applied to Dissociative Identity Disorder, was published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation.
Trudy has over 20 years experience working with individuals, couples, and families. In addition to clinical work, Trudy provides community crisis intervention services, consultation, workshops and seminars to churches, businesses, schools, and community groups/organizations, on various topics related to relationship issues, personal growth, trauma, parenting and recovery.
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