Memory-training as treatment for depression and PTSD

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Depression and PTSD: To feel overwhelmed by memories

Earlier this year, I was updated on the latest new in the treatment of depression and PTSD. I use EMDR a lot, but this was an interesting addition to the therapeutic tools available. Empirical research show that people who remember specifics, like the color on your shoes when you were 8, or how an animal looked at the zoo, have happier life. For depression this “steals” meaning, if you can`t see earlies experiences, its also hard to imagine a future. When not depressed, most people will create emotional picture of what they dream of: Like how you will look in a wedding dress, the people who would come, and you might even dream up your husband to be. What would life be without memories connected to emotions?

Autobiographical memory and emotional disorder

To remember other incidents in specific detail might protect from PTSD

Autobiographical memory refers to our recollection of events in our past. Disturbed patterns of autobiographical memory, particularly for emotional events, are a cardinal feature of affective disorders. These difficulties range from intrusive flashbacks of traumatic events such as war, accidents, or interpersonal violence, in sufferers of PTSD, to ruminations upon general negative autobiographical themes such as failure and worthlessness in depression.

Such patterns not only define the mental lives of patients but drive the onset and maintenance of their problems. Consequently, clinical interventions that can target and reverse these maladaptive memory processes have enormous potential. One of our key research goals is therefore to elucidate the nature of autobiographical recollection in depression and PTSD, and to use these insights to refine and develop novel memory-focused treatments. Below are a couple of examples from this work.

Memory Specificity Training (MEST)

What are we investigating?

Patients with depression and PTSD find it relatively difficult to bring to mind specific, detailed auotbiographical memories of discrete emotional past events. Researc has shown that access to such memories is important in everyday mental life for problem-solving, social communication, emotional processing of distressing experiences, and future planning. Unsurprisingly then, reduced access to specific autobiographical memories disrupts day-to-day cognitive fucntioning and therefore plays a significant role in maintaining depression and in the onset of PTSD (Williams et al., 2007).

What are we doing?

Treatment of PTSD will evoke memories, but if you try to bury them, you also bury other things that might help you and make you stronger!

These research findings suggest an elegantly simple clinical treatment for depression and PTSD  – training patients to become more specific in their emotional autobiographical recollection. Memory Specificity Training (MEST) is a 4-session group clinical intervention with precisely this aim. Patients undergoing MEST simply practice retrieving emotional and neutral specific memories to a variety of cues, both in session and at home.

What have we found?

We have conducted two clinical treatment trials of MEST. One for individuals with depression (Neshat-Doost et al., 2012) and one for individuals with PTSD. We found that MEST was successful in both cases in markedly reducing pateints’ symptoms and that the level of symptom improvement was directly related to how good they had become at retrieving specific memories.

Why is this important?

These findings are important for a number of resons. Firstly, the underline the importance for mental health of how we recollect autobiograhical memories. Secondly, MESt is a very straightforward treatment that is easy to deliver, and thus suitable for less experienced therapists, and cost-effective due to its group format. It is also suitbale for a rnage of clinical settings; for example our clinical trial with patients with PTSD was carried out in a shelter for refugees in a war zone.

Here is a interesting profile from pinterest with personal information about PTSD:

4 thoughts on “Memory-training as treatment for depression and PTSD

    sharonstyles said:
    April 28, 2013 at 12:37

    Thank you for sharing this and for writing a really informative blog -I look forward to reading more

    positivagirl said:
    April 29, 2013 at 15:18

    Aside from EMDR which had (some) effect – I did it over 18 months, really intense with a fantastic therapist (a doctor with a PHD), more than 25 years experience working with PTSD (she was from South Africa)….

    You know, and this is true. The MOST effective therapy i experienced for PTSD, was meeting a charismatic sociopath who mirrored me. Reflected me back to me…. it was absolutely perfect.

    It has been quite some journey – for example it is only March/APril 2013 that I have a connection to the outside world. I have just noticed that there was a change of Government 3 years ago. I had no connection to anything at all, for 3 years. It was only in Feb 13, that i started to write about something which wasn’t just what happened.

    It took years for my cognitive processing to work. EMDR worked, in that it worked on the ‘triggers’…. or at least helped. it helped with the body wound memory, but I was so far gone… I had lost ME…..

    Only the charismatic sociopath managed to do that, because he sold me back myself!! ….. for a price! 🙂

    mirrorgirl responded:
    April 29, 2013 at 15:29

    Interesting that you were helped by a “sociopath”, I got a bit curious about that part, since you normally don`t think about them as helpers. I also find that EMDR helps so much with triggers, but the relationship with the clients will also be really important!

    I hope you feel good now! It`s a real inspiration to read about someone who came out of something healed!

    Thank you so much for the comment, and keep taking care of yourself!

    basebaby said:
    May 8, 2013 at 14:11

    Reblogged this on basebabyblogger.

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