Recovering Memories through Therapy
Did that happen? Is it real? I am overwhelmed by a feeling?
When people come into therapy you are accepting an invitation of the unknown. I respect this courage and commitment to healing. Often, during the first consultation you’ll come with an intentional concern or dilemma. It’s important to stay open this may not be the only thing we uncover, learn or heal. Unfamiliar or unknown memories often are introduced during the process of therapy.
Recovering and Forgetting Memories
There are many reasons people forget. We gradually forget the things we don't call to mind frequently. We also tend to forget mundane, everyday events. Trauma can also be forgotten.
It leaves the question: What is memory? What can you do if you uncover a memory?
Memory is very murky territory; we have a great deal left to learn about how it works at all, let alone when dealing with the potential of a traumatic event or “repressed memory.”
There is potential for memory recovery and recall during traditional therapy, DreamWork, Breathwork and even psychedelic experiences; however, I think it is unfortunately also the case that false memories can also be generated just as easily. There are different ideas you and I can formulate. There could be a symbolic, metaphorical experience from the flooding of unconscious material during a dream or in a therapy session, which they now incorrectly perceive to be not a story to interpret but an actual, genuine thing that happened to you.
When you’re recovering a memory. It’s your truth. Fact or Fiction
I have worked with several people who have experienced a phenomenon of recovered memories. This can come directly in session, between sessions, during intense dreams or other experiences; and they often come out of nowhere. What we’ve done together is try to understand the somatic (emotional, physical and mental) experiences that arise alongside the memory, as well as any felt sense that arises when staying with the ambiguity of “is this real or not”. I veer away from approaching it in a factual or non-factual way because really, there is no way to know. If I offer any psycho education (lessons) at all, it is to touch on the fact that these narratives often work in the memory centers of the brain so it is normal to remember. As with any trauma, I believe one of the most healing elements of treatment is your ability to reclaim self-agency. Only YOU get to decide whether it’s a fact or not, and you get to decide what to do with it. I will guide you.
Why is it controversial?
Various mental health professionals think the brain can repress memories and offer therapy to help people recover hidden memories. Others agree repression could theoretically be achievable, even though there’s no concrete proof.
But the majority of practicing therapists, psychologists, researchers, and other experts in the field question the whole concept of repressed memories. Even Sigmund Freud later discovered many of the things his clients “remembered” during psychoanalysis sessions weren’t real memories. Ultimately, as a client it is your truth and I ask that you have the courage to look at it.
Repressed memory therapy can also have some serious unintended consequences, namely false memories. These are memories created through suggestion and coaching.
They can have a negative impact on both the person experiencing them and anyone who might be implicated in them, such as a family member suspected of abuse based on a false memory.
What is recovering memory therapy?
Despite the controversy surrounding repressed memories, some people offer repressed memory therapy. It’s designed to access and recover repressed memories in an effort to relieve unexplained symptoms.
I often use hypnosis, guided imagery, or age regression techniques to help people access memories. Moreover, I advocate for the practice of psychedelic therapy, working actively with your dreams in concert with a consistent therapy practice.
Some specific approaches include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Somatic Transformation Therapy
Internal Family Systems Therapy
To learn more about which approach may work for you or to discuss this topic more, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule online at healingsoulsllc.com/services
Dr. Ryan Westrum, PhD, LMFT