Erasing a bad memory

Erasing a bad memory – should it be done or not – is it even possible?
From a therapeutic point of view, one of my first questions would be…for what reason do you want to erase a memory? It is important to understand that memories serve a purpose in that they are part of our experiences and they act as helpful reminders of how to deal with certain situations. 
In most cases, a memory provides a platform for learning, after all, there is a reason for the saying ‘we learn through experience’. For example, imagine that, as a child, you had skipped down backwards on the stairs, then you fell and broke your leg. You ended up in hospital and it was very painful. However, this particular memory, though painful, will serve as a reminder that you should not skip down the stairs backwards and you would be unlikely to do so again. Naturally, some memories are more intense and I am not discounting the strong effects they have on clients if left untreated. 

Nevertheless, as a therapist I do not erase memories no matter how painful they may appear to the client. Instead, I guide clients by taking the emotional content of a particular episode down to an acceptable level where clients are able to tolerate the memory. Through therapeutic techniques, clients can be helped by alleviating the stress and hurt they are getting from a memory. In this way, the impact on their daily lives will be minimised and clients can help themselves get past the mental block that a particular memory is holding over them. 

On the flip side, removing bad memories is definitely an area of interest for many different scientific studies. Researches from the University of California believe they have found a way to erase bad memories. In experiments carried out on rats they found that stimulating nerves in the brain with optical lasers could switch memories on and off.  Another study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Japan’s RIKEN Institute ‘Scientists have successfully manipulated the brains of mice to remember unhappy experiences in a positive way’, they believe that the research ‘could one day help develop drugs to treat people suffering from painful memories'(full article below). 

By Tina Elven

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