The Brain's Rules for Change

The Brain's Rules for Change

Translating cutting-edge neuroscience into practice

By Bruce Ecker

January/February 2010

What we clinicians have learned in recent years about the intricacies of the brain's implicit memory systems has certainly helped us better recognize the linkage between distressing or traumatic experiences and many of the previously puzzling symptoms clients bring to our offices. But now brain science is beginning to offer more specific and powerful guidance about clinical methods that can help free clients from the emotional distress and problematic behaviors triggered by disturbing implicit memories.

These days, more and more therapists have moved from simply talking about emotional issues and the past to using experiential approaches based on the recognition that implicit memory is living memory. But once a client has achieved direct access to the raw living memory of difficult or traumatic experiences, how do we know what to do next to resolve those memories? And what does "resolving" such memories actually mean? Most clinicians are all too aware that implicit memory often maintains an emotional chokehold, even after it's become conscious. Yet sometimes we do see our clients experience a deep, liberating, lasting shift, after which their behavior changes and their mood vastly improves. The only problem is that we often don't know why or how this shift happened.

In the late 1980s, my clinical collaborator, Laurel Hulley, and I began a close study of cases in which clients experienced such deep emotional breakthroughs. Over time, we noticed…

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