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from 'NeuroPsychotherapist January, 2015 -Memory Reconsolidation Understood and Misunderstood

by Bruce Ecker
Coherence Psychology Institute

Misconception 8: To Induce Memory Reconsolidation and Erasure, Therapists Must Follow a Set Protocol Derived From Laboratory Studies

Memory reconsolidation research tells us that a well-defined sequence of experiences is required by the brain in order to destabilize a target learning and then unlearn and eliminate it: the target learning must first be reactivated into conscious awareness, then destabilized by a mismatching experience, then updated and re-encoded by new learning that nullifies it. That is a sequence of three experiences, but each is defined without reference to any particular procedure for bringing it about. Researchers and clinicians are free to devise any suitable means for creating those experiences, and the creative possibilities are unlimited. The brain does not care what concrete conditions or procedures induce those experiences. Hundreds of studies of reconsolidation have been published by neuroscientists as of this writing, and across them there is a great diversity of concrete procedures used.

Likewise, many clinical methods for guiding the critical sequence of experiences have been described by Ecker et al. (2012), who propose that the 3-step sequence is the core process shared by many different-seeming therapy systems that produce transformational change.

Thus, as noted earlier, memory reconsolidation serves as a new framework of psychotherapy integration, and within that framework, the many therapies of transformational change are seen as a broad range of methods for guiding the one core process, giving clinicians great versatility in how they do so. Current neuroscience is consistent with that picture, in the sense that reconsolidation is the brain’s only known process for eliminating (not merely suppressing) an established learned emotional response. Thus the view that a set protocol is dictated by the memory reconsolidation process could not be further from the reality.

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