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Despite the seemingly boundless human predilection to inflict suffering and trauma on others, we are also capable of surviving, adapting to, and eventually transforming traumatic experiences. Seasoned therapists utilize this innate capacity for resilience and healing to support their work with those suffering from the aftermath of life-threatening and overwhelming events. These incidents include (but are by no means limited to) war, assault, molestation, abuse, accidents, invasive medical procedures, natural disasters, and witnessing a serious injury or sudden death of a loved one. All of these “shocks” to the organism can alter a person’s biological, psychological, and social equilibrium to such a degree that the memory of one particular event comes to taint, and dominate, all other experiences, spoiling an appreciation of the present moment. The resulting tyranny of the past interferes with the ability to focus effectively on both new and familiar situations. When people pay selective attention to the riveting reminders of their past, sleep becomes the enemy and life becomes colorless.
Perhaps nowhere in the field of trauma is there more confusion than with the role of traumatic memory in both pathology and healing. Indeed, research studies conducted by different laboratories frequently appear to contradict one another. In addition, clinicians and academics rarely communicate with each other—a very unfortunate state of affairs. Most importantly, traumatic memory differs fundamentally from other types of memory, creating the potential for great confusion and the misapplication of therapeutic techniques.
While this book is geared toward therapists who work with their clients’ traumatic memories, it is also written for individuals trying to make sense of their own haunting memories and who long to know how they might come to an enduring peace with them. It is also for those avid readers who are simply interested in the scientific and clinical study of how memory plays out in the governance of their lives, its great ambiguities, its perplexing uncertainties, and what it takes to make sense of it all.
We begin this exploration with an understanding that memory exists in many forms—forms that fundamentally differ in both structure and function. At the same time, these distinct memory systems (involving different parts of the brain) must operate cooperatively to promote effective functioning and well-being. This book is about how we can learn to befriend our hauntings and liberate ourselves from their tyranny.
Most contemporary psychotherapies live in the long shadow cast by Freud and his descendants, or have been guided by various cognitive behavioral approaches. However, these avenues of alleviating human suffering are of limited value in work with trauma and its underlying memory imprints. While both of these therapeutic traditions do address certain dysfunctions related to trauma, they are unable to reach its primal core. They do not sufficiently address the essential body and brain mechanisms that are impacted by trauma. Alas, this leaves the most basic human need and drive for healing largely unmet.
Trauma shocks the brain, stuns the mind, and freezes the body. It overwhelms its unfortunate victims and hurls them adrift in a raging sea of torment, helplessness, and despair. For a therapist, to witness such desperation in one’s clients is to feel a compelling call to effectively relieve such suffering. Increasingly, therapists are being drawn to work with traumatic memories as various techniques (and their offshoots) are becoming widely known, taught, and practiced. These various approaches have arrived on the scene in this approximate chronological order: mesmerism, hypnosis, analysis, exposure, Somatic Experiencing (SE), eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), and various “energy psychologies” (e.g., point tapping).
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