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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

How to Integrate Traumatic Memories

handholdingThe following information is provided to help therapists and counselors assist their clients in processing through the exercise of integrating uncomforted memories.  The content of this article is based on the work and research of Dr. Bonnie Badenoch, the compassionate therapist.  For more information on her great work, I would highly recommend her awesome book, The Brain-Savvy Therapist Workbook.

What goes unseen and uncomforted remains isolated in our brains; i.e., these memories are in an unintegrated state.  When people experience negative or traumatic events in their lives, they do not necessarily have anyone near who can offer them comfort.  These traumatic memories remain stored in an “unintegrated” neural-net state.  The following exercise can help clients unblock these neural nets by “rewriting” the experience within the presence of a comforting relationship – both with the therapist and with the inner self.

  1. Create a nonjudgmental space.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Identify a nonjudgmental and compassionate inner observer.
  4. Relax into this nonjudgmental space with your inner compassionate observer.
  5. Open your mind to any troubling experiences you have had within the past week.
  6. Wait with kindness and curiosity to bring these experiences to mind.
  7. Once the thoughts arrive, focus on bodily sensations that are brought up.
  8. Ask yourself to think of a time in your earlier life when you felt these same feelings.
  9. Wait patiently for your inner self to bring these earlier memories to the surface of your mind.
  10. As you mentally observe your memory, slowly move toward it with warmth and respect; allow yourself to merge with the feelings and sensations.
  11. Stay with the experience, with your caring and compassionate inner observer.  Have your inner compassionate companion “hold” the experience with his/her presence.
  12. Mindfully follow the memory as it unfolds.  If the process becomes too painful, open your eyes.  Otherwise, stay with the memory and allow the implicit messages that it brings of discomfort to be realigned to the present experience of comfort and containment.
  13. Consciously remind yourself to bring this memory to present time.
  14. As you experience this “disconfirming” experience, that is, as you replace the uncomforted memory with this new, confirming and comforting experience, the neural wiring in your brain will be replaced, thus, unblocking the negative memories and integrating them in the present, healthier state of being.
  15. Repeat the process of comforting this unpleasant memory throughout the week by visualizing the new experience of safe presence within.
  16. As you process through this, use your journal to draw the implicit feelings and thoughts that come up, and consciously bring the implicit memories into the explicit present.

This exercise is not a one-time experience, but is best served by repeating it over and over in therapy, until each unintegrated memory is processed through in the therapeutic relationship.

 

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How to Integrate Traumatic Memories


APA Reference
Stines, S. (2016). How to Integrate Traumatic Memories. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 18, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2016/08/how-to-integrate-traumatic-memories/