Mental illness can be treated by changing memories

Harold Mandel's picture

The idea of treating mental illness by working with people to change their perceptions of their memories has surfaced as being possible. This approach to treating mental illness offers a noteworthy alternative to drug therapy, which is generally dangerous, for states of mind which may be disturbed and could possibly help anyone.

Memories are not necessarily fixed

Researchers have noted that processes of formation of memory and storage are very complex and extremely dynamic. Memories are not necessarily fixed and can instead be changed long after they are stored in our minds reported Biological Psychiatry. It has been observed that apparently stable memories may re-enter an unstable state when they go through a process of retrieval. These memories must be re-stabilized during a process which is known as reconsolidation.

Memories become susceptible to modifications again during the process of reconsolidation. This offers an opportunity to update apparently stable memories. Although initial demonstrations of memory reconsolidation were primarily from animal studies, evidence has been accumulating for memory reconsolidation in people. Memory modifications during reconsolidation for the treatment of mental disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and drug addiction becomes possible with an understanding of this process.


Dysfunctional memories are seen in mental illness

Dysfunctional memories are seen in mental illnesses such as post traumatic stress disorder and addictions reports Elsevier in a discussion of this study. In people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder memories of traumas are observed to intrude vividly upon consciousness therefore resulting in distress. With addiction it has been observed that memories of drug use influence reactions to drug associated cues and motivate compulsive use of drugs.

Memories may actually be plastic

The concept of possibly being able to change dysfunctional memories is compelling. Many people like to think our memories are reliable and permanent. However, memories may actually be plastic and capable of being changed. The process by which memories are modified is called memory reconsolidation.

Dr. Lars Schwabe of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany says that memory reconsolidation probably represents one of the most exciting phenomena in cognitive neuroscience today. This approach assumes that memories may be modified once they are retrieved. We are therefore offered a fantastic opportunity to change seemingly troubling unwanted memories.

This research offers an exciting opportunity to work towards a trend away from depending on what are generally dangerous drugs to treat what is perceived of as mental illness. In view of the fact that diagnoses of mental illness in themselves lack biological markers and therefore are uncertain it makes sense to stress natural interventions which could help people whether or not they actually suffer from mental illness. We all have some bad memories which may undermine our optimal functioning at times and therefore it's a good idea to consider safe and effective natural ways to change these negative memories into more positive ones.


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