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Split Second Unlearning Theory (SSUT)

Danny Greeves Split Second Unlearning Theory

Split Second Unlearning Theory (SSUT) is a groundbreaking approach to improving mental health and emotional wellbeing. In order to understand how the theory works, we need to understand the mechanisms that lead to emotional dis-ease.

Psychological distress is an uneasiness in the mind and a deregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – a major neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and many other functions. The consequences of this mental uneasiness and deregulation of the HPA axis is emotional distress, commonly referred to simply as ‘stress’. This mechanism underpins many emotional issues such as anxiety, low self-esteem and overwhelm.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another therapy with eye movement discuss in another article. But the beneficial effects of the treatment are suggested to be because of the disruption of mental images within the ‘visuospatial sketchpad of working memory’. In simple terms, this sketchpad can be thought of as your ‘minds eye’. When someone has experienced a trauma, the brain encodes the experience depending on a number of factors, which in turn means some people create more intrusive images than others. Mental imagery has long been associated with conditions such as anxiety.

Split Second Unlearning Theory (SSUT) combines psychological and neurological models to offer a new perspective on resolving common mental health conditions and traumatic experiences. It shows us how any traumatic experience is linked with a specific physiological response (bodily sensations), and how any time an individual encounters a reminder of that experience (consciously or unconsciously) the same response gets triggered again. These subsequent experiences can be thought of as echo’s of the original, a scaled down, diluted version of the original event. As time passes, these low-level reminders trigger to consistent activation of the stress response; the cumulative effects of this lead to mental health conditions and a wide range of other chronic health conditions. The ability to neutralise and integrate these traumatic events allows the stress response to disengage and reduce the load on the person’s nervous system.

When someone experiences a trauma, there is a reflexive, unconscious ‘fight or flight’ response. This can be crucial and potentially life saving in the face of certain dangers. The ‘freeze’ response is when the fight or flight response is not available and an immobilisation sets in. Much like in the wild when an animal of prey make collapse and feign death in the hope that the predator moves on because it does not want to eat unhealthy/dangerous food sources. In modern life, traumatic or stress-inducing events can be things such as a divorce, the death of a loved one, verbal or physical abuse.

SSUT describes how the stress response to the traumatic event can be learned and this repeated. It is this consistent re-firing of the stress response which causes so many emotional challenges. One key element to the theory is that a person does not necessarily need to have specific details of the event in question. Through the careful guidance of the practitioner the theory can be applied in a content-free way. For example, the world’s leading authority in trauma Bessel Van Der Kolk describes how content too intensely emotional may be repressed or hidden from conscious awareness and expressed through bodily sensations, effectively stored in the body.

Following the experience, an Emotional Memory Image (EMI) is generated. An EMI is a multi-modal (visual, sound, feelings, smell, taste) representation of the experience – a snapshot picture of the event. This EMI then becomes stored on a subconscious ‘danger list’ that the mind continually scans the environment for. Anything in our internal or external environment which is similar to the original event triggers the presence of the EMI in the mind and once again initiates the stress response.

The stress of the event may enhance the memory – making it easier to recall – or it may impair the memory depending on the intensity of the emotion associated with the event. There has been extensive research that shows the hormones released during the stress response, namely cortisol, can impact memory formation and thus disrupt a clear memory of the event in the times after the event.

In terms of the psychotherapeutic interventions, the therapist can assist the client to access and neutralise the EMI, thus disengaging the stress response and helping the individual return to normal emotional processing. These interventions can be described as eye movement therapy, but is distinct from other approaches such as EMDR.

Therapy with eye movement using Split Second Unlearning Theory helps the client to access their own subconscious content, and guided by the therapy the client can ‘clear out’ emotional baggage from the past and create the environment where the person can go on to thrive.

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