Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Helper and healer, I cheer - Small waifs in the woodland wet - Strays I find in it, wounds I bind in it - Bidding them all forget!
~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Ch. 7)

Consciousness is often described as a stream, like time is described as a river. In which case, memories would be those things floating about in it like debris and psychotherapy rather like trawling.

But is this what consciousness is? And is remembering necessary to healing?

My work with EMDR has allowed me to observe (in a kind of time-lapsed photography way) the relationship between memory and healing. In EMDR, “reprocessing” is remarkably quick, catalysed by using bilateral stimulation (originally, in the form of bilateral eye movements). The therapist asks the subject to recall a traumatic memory while simultaneously calling attention elsewhere. At some point, the intensity of the traumatic experience subsides and the memory slips into the background, to the “back of the mind” so-to-speak. The subject becomes a dispassionate observer of the experience as its hold simply lets go, drifting back to its natural place in long-term memory.

It is remarkable that EMDR can effectively loosen the hold of a past trauma that may have torturted someone for years.

My hypothesis is that EMDR works because it facilitates moving a memory from the front to the back of the mind, a shift that was arrested because of a trauma interfering with forgetting. It is a process I find similar to meditative practices (and this can include anything from formal sitting to swimming or chanting). The key seems to lie in the activation of dual attention.

If this hypothesis is correct, consciousness would be more like a double-edged sword than a babbling brook, and memories-- whose eclosion into awareness can be as sweet as longing, or as intrusive as lightning-- would have as much saliency as present experience. Though fore-grounded by recall, their natural place is in the background, forgotten.

4 comments :

  1. If this memory is now in the back of the mind, can it be brought back in full force if triggered by something?

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  2. I don't think so; that was my point. Memories are qualitatively different from what is experienced now. They cannot be brought back full force. If a past experience "returns" due to a trigger, it was never really in the back of the mind. More likely, it was always under the surface of now.

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  3. Thank you, Patricia

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  4. You peer through the looking glass with all your time to discover the secrets of being, completely oblivious to the reality that goes on around you. Turn your head for a moment and discover the love and beauty that surrounds you. It's just not that complicated.

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