Removing traumatic memories from the brain

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.

5 thoughts on “Removing traumatic memories from the brain

  1. Angela March 7, 2017 / 5:34 am

    John, what do you think of the need to work with dissociative parts for those who were chronically abused as children? Would welcome your comments. Thanks..


    • drjohneaton March 7, 2017 / 7:46 am

      Hi Angela. Not all child-abuse survivors have dissociated ‘parts’ but where this does occur I think it is necessary to carry out some re-integrative work and I have done so myself on a few occasions. Kind regards JOHN


      • Angela March 7, 2017 / 8:23 pm

        Thanks John. What sort of reintegrative work do you do? Is it like the work that Sandra Paulsen “looking through the eyes of trauma and dissociation” and Suzette Boon et al “Coping with trauma related dissociation” do where different child parts are worked with? I have had a lot of emdr and think it’s great, but still have some problems. I find the dissociation work to be difficult and kind of weird, frankly. Do you have the same approach as these authors or have you another way of handling the residual problems? I had reverse therapy a few years ago, which was helpful, but then I realised that childhood trauma seemed to stopping me from being able to successfully respond to the messages my body sent. So I improved but not nearly enough. CPTSD was set off very badly by a new “attack” from my family just over a year ago and so I had and am still having emdr – which I think is marvellous. Any suggestions for the ongoing dissociation. Mindfulness. body awareness activities and listening to recordings of brain patterns are all good.


  2. drjohneaton March 9, 2017 / 8:48 am

    Hi Angela. A lot depends on the type and degree of dissociation although my preferred approach is to communicate to each part, establish it’s intentions and purposes and persuade him/her to reintegrate on the basis that those intentions and purposes will be satisfied.

    I am very glad to hear that EMDR is working for you and I hope that this resolves the problem for you.

    Kind regards JOHN


    • Angela March 9, 2017 / 9:27 am

      Thanks John. The type of dissociation is ddnos. I


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