Understanding the Basics of the Model
As I mentioned in the first article in this series entitled My Personal Life Model Story, I have been on an emotional healing journey for many decades. Along the way, I have experienced certain levels of clarity and growth through a variety of methods, but it wasn’t until I came across the Life Model in 2014 that a fullness of understanding and release from my inner struggles was realized. Since that time, I have been learning all that I can about the model, applying it to my own life and teaching it to my friends, colleagues, clients and anyone else who will listen! In my daily gratitude exercises, it is common for me to journal about my deep appreciation for this model and the authors who created it. I can say in all honesty that applying the Life Model concepts has been the most transformative experience of my life thus far. This is the second article in a series of five that will focus on the Life Model in order to touch the surface of the concepts. The first article focused on my personal experience with the model, this article will outline the basics of the model and the final articles will discuss the Life Model as a model for personal growth (article #3), relational growth (article #4), and spiritual growth (article #5). As you read these articles and begin to see this model through my lens, my hope is that my excitement would be contagious and that you would start a Life Model journey of your own!
What is the Life Model?
The Life Model is an idealized concept of human maturation and transformation across the lifespan (2). Beginning in 1987, a group of therapists at a small counseling practice in Southern California studied why some people were being helped by psychological treatment while others were not. This therapy group developed The Life Model as a conceptualization of what should have happened in each of our lives in order to have developed correctly. Doing so allows us to better understand what went wrong and therefore know better how to heal our malfunctions (2). This model was then presented in the first Life Model book: Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You. There are three concepts that the Life Model uses to promote healing for those seeking it: Multi Generational Community, Immanuel Awareness, and Relational Brain Skills.
A hallmark of the Life Model is the emphasis on human maturity development. The Life Model defines maturity as “reaching one’s God-given potential” (1). To expound on the maturity concept, “it means maximizing our skills and talents, and using them effectively, while growing into the full capability of our individual designs” (1). Neurological development, as outlined in each Life Model stage, involves transitioning through infancy, childhood, adulthood, parenthood, and eldership. Brain transformation is hierarchical, meaning that we must fully obtain the appropriate skills at each stage of development in order to completely pass to the next level of maturity (1). An interesting concept concerning this topic is that a person can physically grow older yet be stuck in a lower-level stage of psychological maturity. Wilder and colleagues comment on this concept by saying that “as a whole, our American culture does poorly in the area of maturation, and sadly enough, the majority of our population probably operates at the infant or child level of maturity. This reality becomes evident when you look at our broken marriages, abused and neglected children, high levels of violence, substance abuse, and sexual addiction problems” (1).
The Life Model’s psychological maturation understanding is complementary versus contradictory to Erik Erickson’s stages of development (a well known psychological maturity model). In fact, the Life Model combined two of Erikson’s stages into one stage and simplified the language so that it is applicable across cultures and languages (1). Not only are the names and ages of Erikson’s stages simplified, but Dr. Jim Wilder (one of the founding fathers of the Life Model, whom I describe more in depth later) included enhanced, researched-based concepts which enable individuals to understand themselves and transform into the person they were meant to be.
When I quote Dr. Wilder’s team on the aforementioned topic, my clients often ask what causes this developmental stuckness. “Unfinished trauma recovery and the lack of life-giving relationships (1)” are the main culprits in maturity stagnation. The resulting maturity gaps impact life satisfaction in every way. A huge dilemma is presented here because these gaps are not necessarily simple to fill. However, it is possible to make up for the lack of healthy relationships and heal past traumas – how amazing it is for my clients to hear this good news! Someone can actually fill in the gaps left from a less-than-optimal infant and childhood experience. The Life Model shows us how.
The Development of the Life Model
For readers like me, it would probably help to have more insight as to how this theory got started. I will outline the origins of the Life Model below, beginning with a little 1970s coffee joint called The Shepherd’s House in Van Nuys, California. Though blossoming out of humble beginnings, The Shepherd’s House grew into a flourishing counseling practice in Pasadena, California by the 1980s and 1990s (4). During the existence of the Shepherd’s House, President George Bush Senior declared the 1990s the decade of the brain. During that decade, the first studies on a living brain were performed and much of the information we now know about the human brain is resultant from those studies. Dr Allan Schore, a professor at UCLA, headed up much of the translation of this research in order that fellow researchers and helping professionals could access the information. Dr. Jim Wilder, a psychologist at The Shepherd’s House built on the neuroscientific discoveries of Allan Schore as well as the past discoveries of John Bowlby (attachment researcher from the early 1900s), to develop a wide range of types of teaching/training/curriculum that is now considered the Life Model (2).
Dr. Wilder originally developed the curriculum with other therapists at the Shepherd’s House and is now the head neurotheologian of Life Model Works (the rebranded name of Shepherd’s House). The curriculum writers for the Life Model now include professionals from a variety of disciplines in addition to psychology. The Life Model is a powerful resource not just for therapists and therapy practices, but it is also used with churches, business, addiction recovery centers, individuals, marriages and families, neighborhoods, and missions organizations. The Life Model is a diverse model that applies to all humans independent of cultural differences, so the Life Model curriculum is being utilized in a variety of countries and has been translated into many different languages.
The Life Model has become a central focus of both my personal and professional life. As I mentioned above, I often find myself giving sincere thanks for the impact this model has had on my personal growth as well as the development of stronger relationships in my life. I also credit the Life Model as one of the primary reasons for the level of impact that I have on the healing and growth of my clients. I am beyond excited to continue this series of articles which will attempt to unpack the gift that this model is to the world! Please join me on this journey. It will not disappoint.
P.S. If you would like more information on the Life Model, here is a list of some of my favorite resources:
Life Model Curriculum Resource Guide
Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You by Dr Jim Wilder and colleagues (This is a good place to start for overall understanding. There is a chapter dedicated to the concept of maturity.)
Joyful Journey by Dr Jim Wilder and colleagues (This book offers a great for understanding how to live in Immanuel presence and experiential practice of healing the brain with Jesus)
Joy Starts Here by Dr Jim Wilder and colleagues (This book focuses on joyful belonging and includes a lot of information in regard to attachment in relationships.)
Transforming Fellowship by Chris Coursey (This book breaks down the 19 brain relational skills that are near extinction in our society and includes a chapter on maturity.)
The Pandora Problem by Dr Jim Wilder (This book focuses on healing narcissism with group belonging.)
The Complete Guide to Living with Men by Dr Jim WIlder (This book is out of print, but it is a gem. If you can get a hold of a copy, you will learn so much about maturity, growth and development.)
Joy Stream – Life Model Podcasts https://joystream.lifemodelworks.org (This is an audio teaching library on a wide range of neurotheology information including maturity growth.)
1. Friesen, J.G., Wilder, E. J., Bierling, A. M., Koepcke, R.. Poole, M. (2013). Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House Inc
2. (2022, June). Dr. E James Wilder. Retrieved from: https://lifemodelworks.org/jim-wilder/
3. Mouer, Monica. Psychological Maturity: Part 1. Defining Psychological Maturity. https://www.familytransformation.com/2021/06/05/psychological-maturity-part-1-defining-psychological-maturity/
4. Khouri, Ed. (2022, June). Meet the Crew Behind Thriving. Retrieved from: http://thrivingrecovery.org/thriving/AboutUsSH.html
5. Martini, Jim. (2021, May). Life Model Works: Our Dream. Retrieved from: https://lifemodelworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/LMW_Dream_Document.pdf