Thursday, February 19, 2009

Healing PTSD: Wiping the Slate Clean

There’s been a big buzz this week, many articles popping up about the memory busting side effect of Propanolol, a beta-blocker blood pressure medication that seems able to inhibit the reconsolidation of memories. Read this terrific Mail Online piece, or this condensed Reuters article for full accounts of the recently released study results and a small bit of info on the implications of this idea.

The crux of the reporting:

"A widely available blood pressure pill could one day help people erase bad memories, perhaps treating some anxiety disorders and phobias, according to a Dutch study published on Sunday.

The generic beta-blocker Propranolol significantly weakened people's fearful memories of spiders among a group of healthy volunteers who took it, said Merel Kindt, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, who led the study.

"We could show that the fear response went away, which suggests the memory was weakened," Kindt said in a telephone interview."

Huh. Basically, what’s being proposed is that:

"The findings published in the journal Nature Neuroscience are important because the drug may offer another way to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems related to bad memories."

I don’t know – is manufacturing a small bogus fear of spiders really indicative of, say, the traumatic memories we all experienced and live with the residual feeling of every day? I might put more faith in this study if the subjects had actually been locked in a room with a couple tarantula first.

What bothers me is the identity issue this whole idea raises, as highlighted in the Mail article:

"Dr Daniel Sokol, a lecturer in medical ethics at St George's, University of London, said: 'Removing bad memories is not like removing a wart or a mole. It will change our personal identity since who we are is linked to our memories."

Exactly! Our experiences make us who we are; if we cannot remember what experiences brought us to where we are today, how are we to view ourselves? How are we to move forward into tomorrow? How are we to have a firm grasp on our identities if we cannot remember how we experiences led us to form them?

The whole idea of erasure is a little freaky to me. Anyone else feel this way? Would you want to take a pill and have the past just evaporate?

Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

(photo: uberllama)


pamelalee said...

I agree with you. Today,as I live past the trauma and well into my new beautiful life, I would not want to forget the memories.
How could I then understand when someone else has been through the same thing?
How could I know how that event shaped my life in a positive manner not just the ugliness of the events?
Would I be willing to give of my time and energy to help others prevent the same thing happening to them, if I didn't remember how it happened to me?
MOST IMPORTANTLY,Would I put myself or my children and loved ones into the same position of it happening over and over again, if I didn't remember to learn new ways of living my life?
Take away all of my bad memories...NEVER!

Michele Rosenthal said...

Pam --

Wow, you're good! You've taken the whole idea even beyond where I was thinking of just my own self....

We need more people like you in the world. :)

Anonymous said...

I read the article in the press and thought the concept was a seriously bad idea on so many grounds.

Not least of which is that the way to deal with memories like this is to just wave them away with a magic wand without in any way addressing the underlying issues - not least of which is that memories are a symptom and it's only by addressing the underlying causes that the issues will be resolved.

I have some unpretty memories in my head and I cannot get away from the fact that pretty or not they form part of the foundation of who I am today.

There is a curse in the west of wanting to make the difficult parts of life disappear. Such an attitude reduces our ability to deal with ordinary life let alone the tough stuff.

Anonymous said...

As a result of working through this stuff (and continuing to do so) I've ended up with a much more can-do attitude and a much greater willingness to be comfortable with discomfort whilst working towards a goal.

I've also learnt how memories and emotional references to memories shape who we are in a most fundamental way. I've learnt that in many ways I choose how I want to remember things and in doing so I choose who I am.

I think in many ways the last thing that is needed is for PTSD to be reduced down to "take two of these and all the bad things in life will disappear".

Michele Rosenthal said...

Ha! Bravo, Mike!!

You are so right and that's just the way I feel. The point of healing traumatic experiences is moving beyond them with strength and direction, not shying away from them so that they ultimately hold all the power whether we remember them or not. We are made powerless by events, and this proposed drug continues to leave us powerless -- and then memoryless as well!

I can't believe researchers and the clinical community doesn't see the disadvantages here. What they are proposing would produce a bunch of altered, weakened identities, which will not heal but compromise trauma survivors. Since identity is already a big issue for trauma survivors, this proposal seems like it would further deepen that problem rather than support and restore it.

Of course, considering how many PTSD experiencers there are, it would be a big boost for the drug company. I wonder who funded the study....

pamelalee said...

After reading everything said here. I'm really proud of US. Instead of being weak from trauma, I believe the words said here by everyone have proven our strength. We are not victims, but strong people who choose the way we want to live our lives. No one, no matter what, can make our choices. Especially for money as Michele mentioned.

Mike H said " I've learnt that in many ways I choose how I want to remember things and in doing so I choose who I am.
At some point in time Mike had a choice or many choices taken away from him. In his attitude...he took his choice back. GOOD FOR MIKE!!!

We come out and stand up and say "no matter what has happened to me, I like who I am. I am sure I can make a difference and I will not go unheard and afraid because of an event. I will remember it. I will rise above it and I will help others do the same. What strength there is in that. It is the strength of choice.