“I remember but I don’t feel upset”: How energy psychology facilitates memory reconsolidation

(by Sarah Murphy, LPC) One of the best things about being an energy psychology practitioner is seeing that look of wonder in our clients’ eyes when their traumatic memories are no longer traumatic.

“I remember it, but I don’t feel upset about it,” they say.

It’s the kind of experience that makes this profession so rewarding.

I remember one instance in particular. A client was working on a childhood trauma. He was in tears ― lots of them ― before we even started working. When I asked him to rate his distress on a scale of 0-10, he said it was 100. He looked as if he were telling the truth.

We began working. If you practice one of the meridian-based forms of energy psychology (like Thought Field Therapy and Emotional Freedom Techniques), you know the drill. We tapped, and down the rating went: 10 to 6, 6 to 3, 3 to 0 or 1. At the end of the hour, and the end of the story, we arrived at a wide-eyed, “How-did-this-happen, I-remember-but-I-don’t-feel-upset, it’s-a-ZERO!!”

Memory reconsolidation

How did this happen? A part of the answer, at least, has to do with memory reconsolidation.

Neuroscientists used to think that once something was encoded into long –term memory, it was there for good. The emotions associated with a memory were permanent. Or so it seemed.

In the late 1990’s, researchers began studying memory reconsolidation. It turns out, thank goodness, that memories are changeable. When memories are activated ―when we remember― the memory becomes labile. This means that every time we access a memory, that memory can be changed, or reconsolidated. When a memory is reconsolidated, the uncomfortable emotions associated with it can be erased.

The concept of memory reconsolidation has been popularized by Bruce Ecker (see his 2015 article), with an emphasis on the role of disrupted expectations as key factor. Pairing an emotional memory with discrepant information is a key component of all therapy for anxiety, yet most anxiety therapies offer at best, “extinction”.

And extinction is really a misnomer. Like the salivation response of Pavlov’s dogs, after “extinction”, so too with extinction-oriented therapy: anxiety-provoking memories, and their flood of feelings, can come back unbidden at any time.

Memory reconsolidation is something different: an elimination of the anxiety associated with a previously disturbing memory. Discrepant emotional information alone cannot explain the memory reconsolidation process.

The mechanisms and conditions of memory reconsolidation are complex and subtle, as Kindt explains, but the startling and rapid effects of acupoint tapping suggest that energy psychology may contribute a crucial component.

Tapping on acupoints can bring about a shift in physiology, so that activation of the memory no longer evokes the previous pattern of bodily feedback. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio (2000) argues, emotions are the brain’s interpretation of the body’s state; if the body’s state is calm then the emotion has gone. The memory will reconsolidate with this changed information. You can read more of Damasio’s research here, or check out his book here.

Memory reconsolidation and energy psychology

Memory reconsolidation offers a powerful tool to help overcome these issues and can facilitate transformational change. It is helpful to understand how it happens. Researchers have identified three key ingredients:

  1. Vividly remember
  2. Change the internal physiology 
  3. Repeat

In his 2015 article, David Feinstein explained energy psychology tapping in terms of memory reconsolidation. His article is worth a read; the link is here.

Meridian tapping is soothing, rhythmic, and relaxing. Studies show that tapping on meridian points changes body chemistry and brain activity:

  • A recent study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed deactivation in limbic regions following tapping.
  • A 2009 study, using electroencephalogram (EEG), demonstrated healthy changes in brainwave patterns after trauma treatment with energy psychology.
  • A 2012 study showed energy psychology reduces levels of salivary cortisol.

When we do energy psychology tapping, we ask our clients to activate the memory. While they do that, they are tapping on meridian points. Our clients are simultaneously activating a troubling memory and calming their internal physiology.

Energy psychology is a good way to facilitate memory reconsolidation; memory reconsolidation is a good model to explain how energy psychology works. No matter how you look at it, energy psychology helps our clients heal old wounds and feel better about themselves.

Author

Sarah Murphy, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and coach with more than 12 years of clinical experience. She is an ACEP member. Sarah specializes in energy psychology, including EFT, as well as mindfulness and hypnotherapy. In her therapy practice, Transformative Therapy, she works with individuals seeking to find peace within themselves, people who have serious medical diagnoses, and couples who want to resolve conflict and live in harmony. Sarah’s personal motto is that we are here to create a more peaceful world, one more-peaceful person at a time. Learn more at www.transformative-therapy.com

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