Rewriting traumatic memories

ILLUSTRATION: Christine Daniloff/MIT

Did you know memories can be rewritten?

There’s a method of treating post-traumatic stress disorder that attempts to erase or dampen the stressful feelings associated with a traumatic memory. Mental health professionals use a few techniques to do this.

With one, they distract their patient’s mind with another task while the patient attempts to bring to mind the traumatic memory. With another, they give the patient an anxiety medication before asking him or her to recall the memory. In both techniques, the brain’s experience with the traumatic memory is rewritten toward more neutral feelings.

A new study shows this process really is about rewriting a memory instead of suppressing it. Working with mice — first giving them traumatic memories and then therapy to overcome those memories — scientists were able to see that the neurons involved in recalling the initial traumatic memory were the exact same ones involved in recalling a new, not-so-traumatic version.

This discovery is a big deal for people trying to understand how memory and therapy work. It could lead to better treatment for people suffering from PTSD.

It’s a really interesting study. Read more about it here!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. If you would like to discuss the information in this blog further with her, please call 208-918-0958. She sees adolescents and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

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