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'Pill from the former': scientists have found a way to rewrite painful memories


Source: Air force

The breakup with a loved one will be easier to cope with if the memories are “edited” with the help of special therapy, says Canadian researcher Alain Brunet, writes Air force.

A still from the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", the heroes of which have the memory of each other erased. Photo: YouTube / Cristian Nicolae

For 15 years, he studied post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans, victims of terrorist attacks and victims of crime.

A significant part of his research was devoted to the development of rehabilitation therapy, which is designed to help a person get rid of emotional pain associated with heavy memories.

As the basis of his research, he took the most common pharmaceutical drug - propranolol. It is a beta-blocker that has long been used to treat certain ailments, such as hypertension and migraines. But current research shows that it can be applied more widely.

The recovery method involves taking propranolol about an hour before the treatment session, during which the patient is asked to describe in detail his injury on a piece of paper, and then read it out loud.

“Often, when you turn to a memory, learning something new, the blockage is removed from that memory. Then you can update it, and the memory will be saved again, ”- said the Canadian psychologist in an interview with the BBC.

Thanks to the recovery process, it becomes possible to influence the especially emotional parts of this memory.

“We put into practice the understanding of how memories are formed, how to unlock them, update them and save them again. In fact, we use this knowledge from neuroscience to treat patients, ”says Brunet.

His scientific research is often compared to the sci-fi movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where memories of each other are erased from a separated couple, although Brunet notes that after restorative therapy, memories do not disappear, they only stop hurting.

Memories - their neutral, factual elements - are stored in the hippocampus, and the associated emotions are stored in the amygdala.

“Imagine you are shooting a film the old fashioned way, that is, when the image and sound are recorded on two separate channels,” he said.

When a person returns to traumatic memories, both channels are turned on. Propranolol helps target one channel - the emotional aspect of memory - by inhibiting their recovery and suppressing pain.

If the memory is restored under the influence of the drug, it will then be “stored” by the brain in a new, less emotional version.

According to Brunet's research, about 70% of patients felt better after several recovery sessions.

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In studying the method, he collaborated with other researchers on post-traumatic stress disorder, including Harvard University expert Roger Pitman.

He recently launched a psychotherapy program in France after the attacks in Paris and Nice, and trained about 200 doctors who treated victims, eyewitnesses and rescuers. More than 400 people received assistance under the program.

After successful results in the treatment of post-traumatic disorders, Brunet decided to expand the scope of his method.

In 2015, together with his former student Michelle Lonergan, he turned to solving the problem of “broken heart” and suffering from betrayal.

“If you look at the ancient Greek tragedies - what are they about? Basically they are all about betrayal, ”he says. “This is one of the basic elements of human life.”

A one-way break in romantic relationships brings extreme pain, Brune notes, and the emotional reaction is similar to that observed in victims of a terrorist attack or war.

For the study, patients were selected who did not just go through a "love failure": they were people who became a victim of adultery, as well as suddenly abandoned by a partner in whose love they were sure.

They didn't have the strength to cope on their own. “These were people who couldn't just turn the page and move on,” says Brunet.

“They heard these advice all the time, and it didn’t help. But [friends] at least pointed out the problem correctly. "

Фото: Depositphotos

The patients seemed to be stuck in their Groundhog Day - but if the character of Bill Murray in the 1993 comedy lived the same day over and over again on February 2, then Dr.

Brunet and Lonergan found that the victims of the collapse of the love relationship, as well as the survivors of PTSD, felt relief, sometimes after the very first therapeutic session.

After five sessions, when they read aloud the description of the betrayal they had experienced, they felt “as if it were written by someone else - you read it like a novel”.

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“This therapy improves the normal functioning of the memory mechanism: gradually, step by step, it allows you to forget the experience and turn the page,” explains the doctor.

His laboratory in Montreal is just now recruiting 60 subjects who have undergone partner infidelity or some other form of cheating from their lover / s to test a new rehabilitation therapy.

Alain Brunet hopes that the scope of restorative therapy can be expanded and treated phobias, drug and psychological addiction, complicated grief, and in principle - “any stress, the source of which was an emotional experience.”

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