PTSD and Your Brain

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In today’s video we will look at why some traumatic memories remain vivid after the threat has passed. I am Lisa Taylor-Austin, licensed psychotherapist and expert witness.

Some research suggests that trauma memories might not fade over time to the same extent as other personal memories. In a prospective longitudinal study comparing positive and traumatic autobiographical memories, Porter and Peace (2007) reported that while ratings of vividness, overall quality and sensory components declined for positive memories, these ratings remained nearly unchanged for memories of traumatic events.

Only a few studies have investigated the phenomenological characteristics of very distant trauma memories. Hiskey, Luckie, Davies, and Brewin (2008) reported that elderly people with intrusive memories from a distant traumatic event experienced these memories as intense and with vivid sensory components. Also, in a study with individuals who reported traumatic experiences during World War II, the vividness of trauma memories and centrality of the event was associated with post traumatic stress reactions decades after the traumatic experience (Berntsen & Rubin, 2006). This suggests that the degree to which an event is vividly recalled and construed as central to identity and life story might be factors that contribute to maintaining post traumatic stress reactions in the very long term.

A new brain imaging study reveals traumatic memories utilize different neural pathways than normal memories, providing empirical evidence they function as vivid fragments of a present ordeal rather than processed recollections of the past. Researchers say the findings help explain why traumatic memories stubbornly persist and involuntarily intrude as flashbacks and night terrors characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Daniela Schiller of Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine stated: “The brain doesn’t look like it’s in a state of memory; it looks like it is a state of present experience,” . The research team conducted MRI scans of PTSD patients as they listened to pre-recorded audio of their own traumatic memories.

In contrast to ordinary autobiographical memories, traumatic memories failed to activate the hippocampus – the area responsible for memory consolidation that places recollections into context. Instead, trauma activated the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), a region governing introspection normally disengaged during memory recall.

All of this speaks to why those with PTSD feel as though they are still living in the moment of the abuse. They are in a constant state of hypervigilence and feeling anxious, on edge and on guard.Often there is a Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares

  • Avoiding people, places, or thoughts that remind you of the trauma
  • Changes in your mood and thinking including feeling distant from other people and having overwhelming negative emotions
  • Feeling on edge and becoming irritable, easily frightened, or having difficulty concentrating or sleeping

One modality to treat PTSD is EMDR. As an EMDR therapist, I see many of my clients helped by this type of treatment, when all other treatments have failed them. There are over 500 academic studies showing its effectiveness, at least 40 randomized controlled studies, the gold standard of research, not to mention at least 12 RCS or response to challenge with children. EMDR is not for everyone and a person needs to be evaluated for appropriateness of treatment, however it is a worthwhile treatment you may want to look into if you suspect you may have PTSD or if you have been already diagnosed. As a side note CPTSD is real but is not a diagnosis in the United States. It is recognized in countries that use the ICD11 to diagnose. Here in the USA we use the DSM5-TR to diagnose and only PTSD is the official diagnosis, at the time this video is being made. CPTSD often develops over sustained, repeated or multiple forms of traumatic events, we see this in the intimate partners of narcissists, those with antisocial personality disorder and other severe diagnoses. We also see it in clients who live in communities with violence and gang activity.

EMDR is helpful to those who have PTSD and CPTSD, and is one to consider if you are struggling.

If you seek emdr therapy from me personally please reach out at my website the link is below. If this video was helpful to you or may be helpful to someone you know please share it.

Thank you for watching and stay tuned for more on this topic.