Health & Medical Mental Health

Changing The Unchangeable Past - Psychotherapy Mediates Memory

Psychotherapy is about remembering in a new way.
The roots of the word "memory" go back to ancient times.
Before it reached the Latin root memor which we can recognize easily, it had its roots in the Sanskrit words smarti , meaning "memory", or smara, meaning "love".
It also draws on ancient Greek word words, meaning "witness" and "care".
Psychoanalytic theorist Donnel Stern (2003) suggests that our experience of the world is so complex, and our perspectives on what we experience are typically so limited by our previous experience and individual perspectives that most of our remembered experience is not nearly as objective as we imagine.
Not only is most of our memory of past events subjectively slanted, due to the limits and constraints of attention and cognition, the vast majority of our experience has never really been formulated in a coherent way at all.
Most dramatic autobiographical events are eventually experienced as having both positive and negative aspects, large and small.
The passage of time and experience of a multitude of consequences are central to the process of understanding the real nature of an event and its consequences.
The full consequences of an event are impossible to assess in the immediate aftermath because the information is not all in.
Caught up in the press of life, we often don't stop to consider the history of life events that fully.
Since we do not integrate them as we go, in retrospective review the scene becomes clouded by the effects of delay, intervening behaviors and the confusion of multi-determinacy which make relationships of event to consequence uncertain.
Meaning making is the development of understanding of connections If we see meaning making as the development of an understanding of the connections, it becomes clear why cognitive behavioral therapy with its insistence on the analysis of antecedent, behavior and consequence is effective.
The beneficial effect of all talk therapy is that the events and feelings from different times and places swim together.
Perhaps not all will arrive on one day, but common association to the time and space of the therapist's office will mediate them so that they come into close enough relationship for connections to be discovered.
Disparate events and attitudes are brought together and considered passionately or dispassionately...
but often for the first time, together.
The therapeutic relationship provides support and encouragement for this labor of understanding and the therapist lends his own efforts and training to the task of seeing connections and patterns.
This is what the prized and often romanticized therapeutic goal of "insight" consists of.
Clients very often come into therapy saying, "What's the point of looking back.
I cannot change what has happened!" But they often discover, to their surprise...
and in moving and life changing ways...
that the past is not absolute and locked in place.
Psychological researchers Baglov and Singer (2004) have documented the health and ego developmental benefits of conscious work towards integrating significant autobiographical memories and giving them meaning.
They describe meaning making as the process of enabling self-defining memories to affect the self, by linking them to self-knowledge.
This gives cognitive, emotional and motivational value to the memory, and allows it to powerfully reinforce important personal goals.
In therapy, we "re-view" our memories in the ancient spirit of the word.
We "bear witness" to our past in an atmosphere of compassion and we integrate feelings and events from different periods, so as to create a new, more nuanced vision of our past.
It is in this way that psychotherapy functions to change the "unchangeable" past References: Baglov, P.
& Singer, J.
( 2004).
Four Dimensions of Self-Defining Memories (Specificity, Meaning,Content and Affect) and Their Relationship to Self-Restraint, Distress, and Repressive Defensiveness.
Journal of Personality, 72(3) pp.
Stern, D.
Unformulated Experience, The Analytic Press, New Jersey

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