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What is the Flash Technique?

woman with facial adornments; what is the flash technique
If you feel trapped in past, disturbing memories, Flash Technique may be right for you. Photo by J Meza Photography.

You may have never heard of the Flash Technique for trauma resolution, but it’s a new development in trauma treatment. The beauty of it is that it requires minimal exposure to the traumatic memory and so for overwhelming or embarrassing traumatic memories, it can be a gentler alternative to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This post talks about what it is, who invented it, and how it can help you process early traumatic memories.

Who invented the Flash Technique?

The Flash Technique is a therapeutic approach developed by Dr. Phil Manfield, a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Incidentally, he was my EMDR trainer way back in the early 2000’s at John F. Kennedy University). This technique was designed to help individuals process traumatic memories and reduce distress associated with them.

It involves a combination of elements from Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and other trauma therapies. As I stated above, it is effective yet gentler for you as the client because there is less involvement with the traumatic memory. In addition, it is a fun way to get to know your interests, passions, and hobbies in the process.

How does the Flash Technique Work?

In the Flash Technique, you as the client briefly hold a distressing image or memory in mind and rates how disturbing the memory is on a scale of 0-10. Then you tell me about a hobby, process (like making bread or raking the yard) that is fairly absorbing of your attention while you repeatedly tap your hands on your lap. This hobby or other focus is referred to as a positive, engaging focus (PEF). Periodically I ask you to flutter your eyelids a few times when I say “Flash!” This is thought to briefly expose you to the memory at a subconscious level.

We continue discussing the distracting, positive activity like this for a little while and then check briefly on the memory to see how disturbing it is. I might say “flash” in the middle of a sentence, which may seem rude but it’s just part of the therapy. Participants usually report that the imagine or memory feels more distant. It might feel less emotionally intense, or the image you had of the memory may seem dimmer or harder to access. You might notice that you care less about it happening. Then, assuming it is not completely neutral emotionally, you continue telling me about the process or hobby and we keep checking back until the distress level is 0.

The memory should be the earliest of its kind, to be most effective. For example, if your caregiver hit you throughout your childhood, we would target the first abusive memory you can think of, so we don’t have “feeder memories” that have not been processed interfering with the resolution of the current memory. In other words, we want to go with the earliest memories first. Again, you don’t have to describe the memory but just name it and how upset it makes you.

How is Flash Technique different from EMDR therapy?

Unlike EMDR therapy, there's no physical eye movement involved, but there is bilateral stimulation in the form of tapping your thighs as we talk. This technique aims to reprocess the traumatic memory and change its emotional charge, making it less distressing. Like EMDR therapy, the memory becomes neutral in a briefer amount of time than with other forms of trauma therapy.

The Flash Technique is part of a broader spectrum of trauma therapies and can be effective for some individuals, but its efficacy may vary from person to person. My clients often say that they like doing it because it helps them resolve traumatic memories without as emotional upset as other forms of therapy. Each person has their preferred way of resolving trauma, and this is just one way that I have found effective and enjoyable both for clients and as a practitioner.

Friends playing pool; what is flash technique?
Your positive, engaging focus (PEF) can be many different things, as long as it's different enough from the traumatic memory.

What training does Dr. Lisa have in Flash Technique?

I have received both basic and advanced training in Flash Technique and love using it, especially when it’s hard to think about the memory directly or verbalize it. It can also be used for complicated bereavement and other mental health symptoms. Additionally, there is an app you can download on your computer or other device (like cell phone or tablet) that walks you through the steps of the Flash Technique in case something really disturbing comes up in between sessions. I always love hacks that you can use outside of therapy sessions to empower yourself and to feel better, don’t you?

Are you ready to experience the Flash Technique?

You might think this sounds a bit strange, the way I’m describing it. Or you might think, “I would like to give that a try!” You might want to know a bit more before you try this technique. Whatever your stance, I would love to talk to you more about it and whether the Flash Technique might work for your disturbing symptoms or memories. Please give me a call at 661-233-6771.

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