Zo, vhere vere ve?

Sun 16 Oct 2005 07:18 PM

I've been reading Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box, a popularized discussion of significant experiments in 20th-century psychology. The book is best when it presents facts and background, and worst when it tries to pose philosophical questions. One chapter is about Elizabeth Loftus' work to debunk repressed memories. Loftus points out that there is no plausibly mechanism whereby repressed memories would be stored in the brain.

Slater believes in a repressed memories nonetheless, and mentions Van der Kolk with approval. Der Kolk's view is that "the body keeps score." Anything that is too traumatic to be remembered is stored nonnarratively, to return later as muscle aches or panic attacks. The solution to such problematic, visceral memories is to recover them narratively. Fess up to the traumatic event, and the aches will go away.

So this has me thinking: Suppose that der Kolk is right, that there are separate centers of episodic and visceral memory, and that eliminating bad visceral memories is just a matter of thinking through the story of the traumatic event. There is nothing in such an approach that requires the story you think through to be true. Since there is no episodic memory of the event to compare to the recollection, your body has no way of checking.

I suggest the obvious therapeutic approach: Tell yourself a story about any bad visceral memories that your body has stored up. The beauty is that any story will do, as along as you meditate on it and process it through the narrative parts of your brain. I dub this innovation Bogus Scenario Therapy. A session might go like this:

Me: [In a silly mock-Austrian accent, because it enhances the therapeutic value of balderdash.] Zo, you haff been havink these panik attacks. Tell me about ze aliens from your memories.

Patient: [Lying back on a couch, like in a New Yorker cartoon.] What aliens?

Me: Ze traumatic ones. Ze ones from your memory. Vork mit me.

Patient: Oh. They were grey, I guess.

Me: Excellent. And zeir heads? Big or zmall?

Patient: ...um... big.

Me: [writing down 'big' in my notebook.] Vider zan zeir shoulders?

Patient: ...yes.

Me: And their arms: articulated like a humans?or did zey bend backvards?

Patient: [more confident now.] Backwards.

Me: And vat sounds did zey make?

And so it would go, with me billing hourly for little games of make believe. There would be money in it, if only I could keep a straight face.


from: ron

Mon 17 Oct 2005 04:09 AM

As the "alien abduction" "therapists" have sadly but actually been doing more or less for years, I guess.

Dunno if you've seen it, but there was a bunch of recent coverage of the idea of using Loftus' artificial insertion of memories technique to create false traumatic memories of strawberry ice cream to get you to eat less. Here's a non-wacky bit on it: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1757.