Unlocking The Emotional Brain

Unlocking The Emotional Brain

Is Memory Reconsolidation the Key to Transformation?

By Bruce Ecker

July/August 2013

Nearly 90 years since F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his classic The Great Gatsby,the new film version has given renewed currency to the novel’s famous final line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” What’s afforded this passage such staying power is not only its haunting poetry, but the worldview it expresses—however hard we may try to reinvent ourselves, we’re doomed to remain captives of our pasts. Another celebrated author, William Faulkner, put it this way: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Eugene O’Neill penned these words: “There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.”

Throughout its history, many in the field of psychotherapy have been similarly pessimistic about people’s ability to liberate themselves from the past. It can even be argued that most modern cognitive-behavioral approaches are based on the assumption that, at best, therapists can only incrementally create new emotional and behavioral habits that work around—but don’t actually transform—the deep-seated emotional programming that causes clients’ most visceral distress. This way of thinking, however, doesn’t reflect our current understanding of how memory functions, nor do the therapeutic approaches that aim simply to manage or circumvent entrenched emotions, beliefs, and behaviors rooted in painful past experiences.

While most neuroscientists once believed that implicit memories, avoidance reactions,…

Already have an account linked to your magazine subscription? Log in now to continue reading this article.

(Need help? Click here or contact us to ask a question.)

Not currently a subscriber? Subscribe Today to read the rest of this article!

Read 353499 times
Comments - (existing users please login first)
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Sunday, August 25, 2013 7:00:50 PM | posted by Paul Brennan
Interesting article, but I am a little skeptical because there have been many previous claims with regard to finding a memory "delete key" - for example engrams. Does the science really justify the optimism expressed here? I hope so....

Friday, August 9, 2013 7:05:49 PM | posted by Joe Broome
Can you delete my previous post and post this spell checked and double checked copy? I am a little embarrassed that I didn't look close enough the first time ;)

I am a psychotherapist trained in Lifespan Integration therapy (a body based right brained approach) and this thoughtful article brings relevance and credibility to this emerging paradigm shift. Thank you! I have experienced (as a client / therapist in training) several of the other forms of the therapies referenced in this article and I have to say, in my experience, they blow more traditional forms of cognitive therapy out of the water. In my practice people are reaching their goals much more rapidly with Lifespan Integration and are able to heal wounds that previous years of traditional cognitive talk therapy couldn’t touch. I am not saying that cognitive therapies don't have their place, rather they are one half of the change equation and these newer, body based (right brained) therapies appear to be the other. I am thrilled that the science is catching up with what so many therapists are discovering spontaneously.

Monday, August 5, 2013 4:18:07 AM | posted by Dr.A sridhara
Memory is a critical factor in therapy sessions.

Monday, July 29, 2013 12:26:32 PM | posted by Courtney Armstrong LPC
Thank you to Bruce, Robin, and Laurel for this excellent article and your valuable book "Unlocking the Emotional Brain." Memory reconsolidation is one of the most exciting discoveries in neuroscience and therapists need to know about this!

I started following the research on memory reconsolidation a few years ago and making people aware of it in my workshops. You have taken complex research and put it into a very accessible form that therapists can follow and use. I also appreciate that you recognize there are several therapeutic methods that can get people there, as long as they stay within the "time window" and create a "mismatch" EXPERIENCE. It can't just be an intellectual reframe, they have to FEEL the mismatch for the emotional brain to fully get it.

Much gratitude to you three and other Coherence Therapy colleagues!