So far, the ability to erase unpleasant memories–like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–is only in movies, but research shows that we may be one step closer. The power to lessen the negativity of difficult memories could be the key to overcoming trauma–and there are treatments that do that, but none that fully erase the memory of fear so far.
A recent study may have found a way to wipe memories from the brain, though. This could show us the possibility of a future where we have the power to weaken or strengthen certain memories while leaving other important or useful ones unchanged.
Overcoming trauma by understanding our relationship with sound
Think about it. Many of those struggling with PTSD have sound triggers. One example is an engine backfiring getting mistaken as a gunshot for those who have been in war-torn areas.
They’ve used mice to conduct experiments on whether they can manipulate memories through understanding sound and fear pathways.
They studied the mice’s brains to look into the connection between the part of the brain that processes a specific sound and the area related to emotional memories–the amygdala.
The researchers took the mice and played them two sounds: one high-pitched, one low-pitched. For the high-pitched tone, the mice would receive a shock to their feet. Later, when they would play the high-pitched sound alone, the mice would become afraid.
They found that there were different pathways in the brains of the mice for the low-pitched tone vs the high-pitched tone. The “high-pitch” pathway had a significantly stronger connection.
To conduct “fear extinction,” they played the high-pitched tones without the shock over and over until the mice had lost their fear of the sound–for the moment. The pathway remained stronger than the others, suggesting that the fear will eventually return.
“Fear extinction” is the basis of exposure therapy for overcoming trauma, but these findings show that it doesn’t actually eradicate the pathway connection, which means a relapse is possible.
But the research team used another technique called optogenetics and found promising results.
A long way from erasing memories
Optogenetics involves inserting a virus into specific neurons of the brain in order to introduce genes which produce proteins that respond to light–allowing researchers to control those neurons. In this study, they inserted the virus into the neurons associated with the “high-pitch” pathways.
They exposed the neurons to low-frequency light which weakened the connection between the neurons and the result were mice that weren’t afraid of the sound anymore. Not just temporarily, but for good.
While this is promising work, it’s been agreed that we’re not advanced enough in the research yet to even begin trying to test this on humans. What it has given us is a deeper understanding of a common practice for overcoming trauma and the possibility of a future in trauma treatment.
If your child is struggling with overcoming trauma, it’s critical to reach out to a professional for guidance.
Solstice is here for your daughter
Solstice is a groundbreaking residential treatment center for girls, ages 14 to 18. Our girls and assigned female at birth often grapple with depression, anxiety, overcoming trauma, ADHD, and other emotional or behavioral problems when they come to us. Dealing with these issues can get confusing and overwhelming fast–but we’re here to help guide you.
Through a unique combination of therapeutic programs based upon both traditional and holistic mental health treatment, we treat our clients with age and gender specific techniques. We strive to empower teenage people with the ability to believe in themselves and provide the tools and motivation required to instill these beliefs for life.
For more information about overcoming trauma at Solstice, please contact us at (866) 278-3345.