People may not be able to get out of their pain for long after an emotional injury, but a researcher in Montreal, Canada, says he has found a way to “edit” people’s memories with psychotherapy and beta-receptor-blocking drugs to eliminate the emotional trauma of a break-up.
Alan Brune spent 15 years studying post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), people who fought in wars or experienced terrorist attacks, and victims of crime.
Much of his research has focused on what he calls the development of “recuring therapy”. This is an innovative treatment that can help eliminate the emotional pain of traumatic memories.
One of the priorities in his work is the humble drug Propranolol, a type B sympathetic nerve blocker that has been used for years to treat common diseases such as high blood pressure and migraines, but current research suggests it has a wider range of uses.
This memory re-cure treatment involves taking propranolol about an hour before psychotherapy, and the patient is then asked to write down his or her traumatic experience in detail and read it out loud.
“A lot of times when you think about a memory, if there’s something new to learn, it unlocks it, and then you can update it and it’ll be restocked,” the Canadian clinical psychologist told the BBC.
But Brune points out that the memory after re-cure treatment doesn’t go away, it’s just that it’s no longer sad.
In human memory, the core factual part is stored in the hippocampus of the brain, while the emotional part of the memory is stored in the amygdala. “Imagine you’re making a movie in an old-fashioned way, and your images and sounds are on two different tracks,” he said. “
When a person recalls his or her traumatic experience, he or she repeats two tracks. Propranolol helps lock in one of the things – the emotional part of the memory – to suppress its re-cure and suppress its pain.
Under the drug, memory will be re-stored in the brain in a new version of a relatively less emotional color. Bruine’s research shows that about 70 percent of patients find relief after several recuring treatments.
After some success in treating PTSD, Brune said he wants to expand the scope of the treatment. In 2015, he and his student, Michelle Lonergan, turned to those who had been injured and betrayed in love.
He points out that a bad break-up can also be painful, and that the emotional shock people feel may be similar to those who have experienced other major traumas.
What they found was that many people who were injured, like PTSD patients, were released after memory re-cure therapy, and some people improved even after one treatment.
After five treatments, they read aloud memories of their betrayal, feeling “like reading a novel, exactly like someone else’s story.” “This treatment is a way to simulate the workings of ordinary memories, and we’ll gradually forget and turn the page, ” he said.
Brune also hopes that the vision of memory re-cure therapy will once again be expanded to study phobias, addictions and complex depression problems.