Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) was developed for use in the treatment of trauma and attachment-related issues. A noninvasive and multidimensional approach to treating complex trauma resulting from abuse or neglect-related attachment concerns, DNMS aims to address the unmet needs and psychological wounds of people seeking treatment. This comprehensive, strengths-based, person-centered approach may be used to address a wide range of concerns.
History and Development
Developed by licensed professional counselor Shirley Jean Schmidt, DNMS is an ego state therapy that evolved from Francine Shapiro's Adaptive Information Processing model, which also provided the theoretical foundation for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. DNMS was also influenced by developmental psychology, attachment theory, inner-child work, and neuroscience.
This approach provides an alternative to the standard trauma-treatment model, which consists of three stages and assumes that desensitization to past trauma will lead to desired changes in a person's emotions and behaviors. This model is in fact beneficial to many people in treatment, but not all people are helped by it. Schmidt suggested that those who could not identify a specific trauma, as well as those who had already desensitized to their traumas but experienced only a small amount of growth, might experience insecurity and unhappiness due to attachment needs that were not met rather than a specific instance of trauma. Thus, she developed DNMS in an effort to emphasize equally the negative experiences an individual had and the positive experiences an individual did not have. Therapists who provide various types of talking therapies may find DNMS to allow for deeper processing of trauma, while therapists who follow the three-stage trauma-treatment model may find this approach allows trauma to be addressed and processed in a more gentle way.
Schmidt eventually founded the Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy Institute and has trained hundreds of mental health professionals in DNMS since 2002. She has published a number of articles and patented the TheraTapper™, a tactile stimulation device used in both DNMS and EMDR, and in 2009, she published The Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy: An Ego State Therapy for Healing Adults With Childhood Trauma and Attachment Wounds.
This approach to trauma treatment is grounded in the idea that individuals who grow up receiving devaluing messages from caregivers and not having their needs met may leave certain "parts of self" in childhood. There may not be one specific instance of trauma (or unmet safety needs), but rather, a consistent pattern of attachment and other needs going unmet. Individuals may experience "recordings" of any devaluing messages absorbed in childhood, such as "You're worthless." These maladaptive introjects are the focus of DNMS. According to the theory behind the approach, the continuous playback of these messages may prevent individuals from achieving developmental milestones or being able to handle traumatic or difficult events in effective ways.
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Separating these introjects from the past typically leads to decreases in the behaviors and emotions an individual sought help for. Though treatment is not specifically directed at the trauma memories, healing frequently occurs as a side effect of maladaptive introjects being rewritten to reflect more helpful messages.
DNMS protocols are supported by:
- Abraham Maslow's theory that unmet childhood needs can lead to fixation of certain developmental stages
- Erik Erikson's idea that unmet needs can develop into counterproductive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
- Bradshaw's theory that attending to a person's inner child can heal past wounds
The concept of neural integration, or the idea that wounded parts of self separate from Resource parts of self, impacting the typical formation of neural pathways, holds that DNMS can address this disconnect and have a positive impact on these pathways.
How Does DNMS Work?
Designed to reframe ingrained, maladaptive messages from negative childhood experiences, DNMS works to achieve this by helping people in therapy tap into what are known as Resource parts of self—Core Self, Nurturing Adult Self, and Protective Adult Self—in order to calm unwanted responses. These Resources are utilized in the process of addressing unmet needs and healing trauma and pain. According to DNMS therapists, all people have the capacity to use inner Resources, and each Resource can play a part in attending to developmental needs that were not met in childhood.
Parts of self that have sustained trauma or become wounded from abuse or neglect can contribute to a person's becoming "stuck" in the past. Therapists work to help people disrupt the maladaptive messages and responses to the traumatic memories and rewrite them in order to become desensitized to trauma. Therapists support people through the process of using inner Resources to defuse the trauma response and disengage from the past.
Structured treatment techniques are used to help people achieve treatment goals and address the effects of unmet needs.
- Resource development helps people draw on their inner Resources
- Switching the dominance is meant to defuse maladaptive introjects in order to improve the ways people tackle day-to-day struggles
- Conference room identifies and defuses targeted theme of introjects (such as abandonment or enmeshment)
- Needs meeting consists of the Resource team's joining with wounded parts of self to address unmet needs and help people separate from certain ego states and past issues
- Techniques for overcoming processing blocks are drawn from all protocols above
Alternating Bilateral Stimulation (ABS), a technique used with both DNMS and EMDR therapy, includes eye movement, alternating bilateral tactile stimulation (touch), and alternating bilateral auditory stimulation (sound). There are some similarities between the two approaches, but in DNMS, this technique attempts to strengthen neural pathways between isolated parts and positive adaptive parts, while in EMDR it attempts to desensitize traumatic memories and process them much in the same way REM sleep processes memories.
How Can DNMS Help?
Though this approach is primarily used to treat concerns that developed as a result of childhood emotional pain, it has also been proven effective in addressing wounds sustained in adulthood. Many have reported improved self-esteem; reduced impact of trauma; improved cognitive processing; decreases in problematic behavior, thoughts, and feelings; reductions in internal conflict and negative interjections; and some level of healing of childhood attachment wounds.
Though further research is needed, one study conducted by the founder of DNMS indicates the approach may be successful at treating dissociation symptoms, such as those seen in individuals diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.
People experiencing any of the following concerns—many of which are linked to abuse, neglect, or unmet needs in childhood—may also find DNMS to be an effective approach:
- Panic attacks
- Social phobia
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Interpersonal relationship issues
- Obsessions and compulsions
- Borderline personality
Limitations and Concerns
DNMS, a relatively new approach to therapy, requires more study in order establish it as an evidence-based treatment. Schmidt has published two peer-reviewed articles on DNMS, but the results, though promising, are largely anecdotal and lack control group comparison. Thus, more research on the efficacy of this model is likely to be useful.
- About the developer. (2015) Retrieved from http://www.dnmsinstitute.com/developer
- Schmidt, S. J. (2009). The developmental needs meeting strategy: an ego state therapy for healing adults with childhood trauma and attachment wounds. San Antonio, TX: DNMS Institute LLC.
- Schmidt, S. J. (2007). The developmental needs meeting strategy: Eight case studies. Traumatology, 13(1), 27-48. Retrieved from http://www.shirleyjeanschmidt.com/doc/casestudiesarticle.pdf
- Schmidt, S. J. (2004). Developmental needs meeting strategy: A new treatment approach applied to dissociative identity disorder. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. Retrieved from http://www.shirleyjeanschmidt.com/doc/didarticle.pdf
- Schmidt, S. J. (n.d.). The developmental needs meeting strategy: What it is and how it works. Retrieved from http://www.dnmsinstitute.com/therapy/wp-content/docs/aboutdnms.pdf
- The developmental needs meeting strategy (DNMS). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dnmsinstitute.com/home