Do you have a troublesome or traumatic memory? Or so-called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome – PTSD?
A common belief is that once you have one of these ‘memories’ then you are stuck with it for life and little can be done about it.
New research confirms that this is not true. if you interfere with the way in which people access these memories you can neutralize them. This is the basis for the EMDR technique which disrupts access to traumatic memories by asking subjects to keep their eyes on a moving finger while trying to recall the trauma at the same time. I must have used this technique countless times and have never yet seen it fail.
One reason for this is that when we recall traumas we don’t actually recall what happened. Instead we remember what happened to us the last time we thought about what happened. Which is that we got anxious. There is a difference.
So if we disrupt the way in which we regather our thoughts about the memory then we break down our access to the memory itself, and to any anxiety we have attached to it.
This was what Thomas Agren from the University of Uppsala has demonstrated. Two groups were given electric shocks when shown an image, resulting in an artificial fear of the picture. However, when one group tried to recall the memory they were shown the original picture over and over again, thus stopping them from recalling the memory they had formed of the picture. In that group their anxiety was erased while in the other group the anxiety was retained. MRI scans confirmed that the image no longer activated neurons in the amygdala.
Yet more proof that therapy for trauma can be simple as well as brief.