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There are many different things that can affect our memory, from when it happened to how much we were paying attention, and even to what was happening around us at the time. But of all the different things that can affect memory, a tragic and stressful event is one of the things that can have the strongest effect.
Posttraumatic stress disorder – or PTSD – happens to individuals who have difficulty bouncing back from tragic experiences such as witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event like an accident or natural disaster. Scientists have been exploring different ways to understand and treat individuals with PTSD, and one of the most promising treatments is cognitive processing therapy – or CPT for short. Cognitive processing therapy is a way that clinicians help people change the upsetting thoughts that people received through trauma. In a way, they are trying to change how their brain remembers and recalls those experiences.
But the problem is that most people that experience some sort of PTSD don’t have access to clinicians that can help. That’s why my PhD is exploring the creation of a new guided self-help version of cognitive processing therapy, which would expand the accessibility of cognitive processing therapy to the wider community. So let’s take a closer look at how memory is involved with PTSD so we can understand how cognitive processing therapy could work.
Traumatic experience can significantly affect one’s memory and how it’s stored. Memory plays a critical role in the development and maintenance of PTSD. In individuals with PTSD, traumatic memories can become disorganized, fragmented, and difficult to retrieve. Some individuals with PTSD may experience intrusive memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event, while others may actively avoid reminders of the trauma.
The emotional and physiological responses associated with traumatic memories can also become heightened and dysregulated, leading to symptoms such as hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, and irritability. Thus, the critical part of PTSD treatment is to process the memories and beliefs associated with the traumatic event. By modifying unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to the trauma, individuals can reduce the emotional distress associated with the memories and promote recovery from their traumatic experience.
It is important to know that our memory can be altered by external stimuli (thethings around us) because it can affect the accuracy and reliability of our memories. External stimuli, such as suggestion or misinformation, can influence our recall of past events and even create false memories.
That brings me to the Arludo game I’m paired with – Catburglary! Catburglary helps classrooms explore the different things that can affect your memory. In Catburglary, you are part of an investigation, navigating through different scenes and testing your memory.
Book in a session to explore the limits of your memory and the various factors that influence your ability to recall information. Are you prepared to put your memory to the test?
Written by Priya Sandanapitchai
Priyadharshany Sandanapitchai is a provisional psychologist and clinical psychology PhD candidate at Flinders University. She is interested in trauma and PTSD intervention. Her research is evaluating a new guided self-help program to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. This type of intervention could help more people access evidence based trauma treatment and suit the intervention to their level of need.