Memory Reconsolidation, Emotional Arousal and the Process of Change in Psychotherapy: New Insights from Brain Science

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140 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Since Freud clinicians have understood that disturbing memories contribute to psychopathology and that new emotional experiences contribute to therapeutic change. Yet, controversy remains about what is truly essential to bring about psychotherapeutic change. Mounting evidence from empirical studies suggests that emotional arousal is a key ingredient in therapeutic change in many modalities. In addition, memory seems to play an important role but there is a lack of consensus on the role of understanding what happened in the past in bringing about therapeutic change. The core idea of this paper is that therapeutic change in a variety of modalities, including behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, emotion-focused and psychodynamic psychotherapy, results from the updating of prior emotional memories through a process of reconsolidation that incorporates new emotional experiences. The authors present an integrative memory model with three interactive components - autobiographical (event) memories, semantic structures, and emotional responses - supported by emerging evidence from cognitive neuroscience on implicit and explicit emotion, implicit and explicit memory, emotion-memory interactions, memory reconsolidation, and the relationship between autobiographical and semantic memory. We propose that the essential ingredients of therapeutic change include: 1) reactivating old memories; 2) engaging in new emotional experiences that are incorporated into these reactivated memories via the process of reconsolidation; and 3) reinforcing the integrative memory structure by practicing a new way of behaving and experiencing the world in a variety of contexts. The implications of this new neurobiologically-grounded synthesis for research, clinical practice and teaching are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Volume754
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2014

Fingerprint

psychotherapy
Arousal
Psychotherapy
brain
Brain
science
Emotions
Episodic Memory
emotion
Semantics
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
Processes of Change
Emotion
Therapeutics
semantics
Cognitive Therapy
experience
Psychopathology
psychopathology
neurosciences

Keywords

  • Change Processes
  • Implicit Processes
  • Keywords Emotion
  • Memory
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychotherapy
  • Reconsolidation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

Cite this

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abstract = "Since Freud clinicians have understood that disturbing memories contribute to psychopathology and that new emotional experiences contribute to therapeutic change. Yet, controversy remains about what is truly essential to bring about psychotherapeutic change. Mounting evidence from empirical studies suggests that emotional arousal is a key ingredient in therapeutic change in many modalities. In addition, memory seems to play an important role but there is a lack of consensus on the role of understanding what happened in the past in bringing about therapeutic change. The core idea of this paper is that therapeutic change in a variety of modalities, including behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, emotion-focused and psychodynamic psychotherapy, results from the updating of prior emotional memories through a process of reconsolidation that incorporates new emotional experiences. The authors present an integrative memory model with three interactive components - autobiographical (event) memories, semantic structures, and emotional responses - supported by emerging evidence from cognitive neuroscience on implicit and explicit emotion, implicit and explicit memory, emotion-memory interactions, memory reconsolidation, and the relationship between autobiographical and semantic memory. We propose that the essential ingredients of therapeutic change include: 1) reactivating old memories; 2) engaging in new emotional experiences that are incorporated into these reactivated memories via the process of reconsolidation; and 3) reinforcing the integrative memory structure by practicing a new way of behaving and experiencing the world in a variety of contexts. The implications of this new neurobiologically-grounded synthesis for research, clinical practice and teaching are discussed.",
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