|Much Ado About Nothing?
By Robert Mantell, C.M.C., C.M.Ht.
©2006 All Rights Reserved.
Since early this year, there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the development of a pill that seems to have the potential to minimize the emotional impact of traumatic memories. Such articles and news stories have appeared in a variety of media, including radio, television, newspaper and specialty magazines such as Popular Science magazine's May, 2006 issue. We assume the appearance of this information in so many different media outlets over the past four months or so suggests the belief on the part of the media of a significant degree of interest in this development among the general public.
But what do you suppose is the true basis of all this media interest? Do you suppose the media's interest lies truly in the idea that there could finally be a simple, relatively quick way to provide substantial, lasting relief to sufferers of post traumatic stress? Or could it merely be the fact that development of a pill to accomplish this feat is the only truly newsworthy element of this story?
HELLOOOOOO OUT THERE??...
At BrightLife Phobia and Anxiety Release Center, we couldn't help but notice with some incredulity the sudden onslaught of media publicity surrounding development of a pill that can supposedly cure post-traumatic stress. Why? Because we here at BrightLife have been routinely accomplishing for the past six years the very same result, entirely medication free, as that which these medical trials at McGill and Harvard Universities have only been hoping to create and verify with the use of a pill that is, a quick and relatively easy way to resolve ongoing emotional challenges resulting from earlier psychologically traumatic events in life.
The pill being studied at this point is, in fact, a medication that's been used for the past 25 years to treat hypertension, called propranolol, known more commonly to the general public by its more consumer-friendly trade name, Inderal. And there's no doubt that the research performed thus far does support what the investigators are hoping to be able to prove.
Yet we are uncomfortable with the entire process because, once again, the traditional mental and physical health community seems to be heading blindly into another (we're sure) well-intentioned effort to medicate people into emotional and/or psychological well-being, and they seem to think nothing of the long-standing pattern of attempting to achieve emotional relief in this way.
A PHYSICAL SOLUTION TO A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM?
You see, in this day and age of drug- and medication-happy corporate interests ("Have a problem? Take this little purple pill!"), we believe it hardly serves the greater good to introduce yet another medication designed to resolve what we believe are primarily emotional problems, not physical ones. We believe that to do so is far from the most efficient and certainly far from the most emotionally healing or ecological way of treating people with these kinds of issues.
We believe that the constellation of debilitating symptoms otherwise known as post-traumatic stress disorder is, in fact, a highly reasonable psychological reaction to life events that are perceived by the individual as traumatic. And although there certainly may be tangible physiological markers that make themselves apparent in such circumstances, to attempt to use a primarily physiological intervention to resolve what is almost certainly a psychological problem seems inherently flawed. This is because the physiological markers associated with post-traumatic stress (i.e. stress hormones released by the amygdala, and later the hippocampus) are only the aftereffect of, or the visible outward manifestation of, the presence of psychological trauma. And although current drug trials seem to show that propranolol does effectively block the effects of these stress hormones, like most medical interventions intended to lessen the symptoms of psychological problems, this seems to be simply another case of attempting to shut the barn doors after the cows have already left the barn.
We believe it's far more healing, far more healthy, and far more potentially lasting and effective a strategy to treat the psychological root cause of the physiological markers of PTSD, rather than simply the resulting symptoms, as so many drug companies appear to be perfectly satisfied to do.
THE AYES HAVE IT
We are not the only ones who have this concern. A quick Google search of the phrase "A pill to erase bad memories" will unleash a torrent of forums, blogs and other online publications in which the vast majority of participants voice significant concern with the tendency of the large pharmaceutical companies to want to "cure" everything with a pill.
Buspar, Celexa, Adivan, Effexor, Inositol, Klonopin, Lexipro, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Xanax, Zoloft, Zyprexa these are but a few of the scores of big-money medications pushed by the large biotech corporate interests, all of which are promoted to be possible "cures" for people's emotional ills, especially anxiety and depression. It's a proven fact that most if not all of these pop culture medications have the potential for serious side effects, and almost all of these medications are physiologically addictive, often causing the patient to decide they have no choice but to remain on these medications indefinitely. If you've ever known anyone who had been taking any one of these medications for any length of time, and who then attempted to wean themselves off the meds, you know how wrenching an experience that can be; often, the withdrawal symptoms mimic the very emotional and/or physiological symptoms that drove the person to seek medical or psychological help in the first place.
A PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH TO A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM
By contrast, when we work with clients who have experienced a psychologically traumatic experience, we employ a proprietary set of accelerated personal change techniques we call Imagination Creation. Collectively, these techniques assist clients to effectively separate the memory of past events from the emotional trauma associated with those events. The result is that, while our clients will still know full well (on a more or less intellectual level) what actually happened in these earlier events, they are now able to recall, revisit and even freely discuss these events, completely liberated of the emotional charge previously associated with those memories. This allows our clients to process, review and learn whatever there is to be learned from what happened that may possibly be positive and empowering for them, rather than remaining a prisoner of their past, forever tied to the unbidden fear formerly associated with the memory.
What's the theory underlying this very successful approach?
Well, given the reports of people who suffer from the various symptoms of PTSD flashbacks, crying spells, wakefulness, nightmares and the like we can assume that specific earlier events in a person's life are what precipitated the presence of PTSD symptoms when they do occur. Yet, because such events are totally over now, we believe we can also say with certainty that it is no longer the original setting events that are themselves directly responsible for the person's ongoing symptoms.
Why? Because the events themselves are long gone. They are forever in the past they no longer exist. Therefore, it could not possibly be the original events themselves that are responsible for the person's present-day symptoms of PTSD.
Instead, we believe that the origin of post-traumatic stress symptoms lies in how the particular event was encoded (or "recorded", if you will) at the time it occurred, within a person's neurology. Thus, it is the person's present-day mental record of the event that is responsible for current symptomology, not the event itself, now long gone. It follows, then, that if we can assist a person to change (or literally reconstruct) their memories of what happened, they can no longer respond to it emotionally the same way anymore. Once you alter a person's mental record of a particular event, it cannot reconstruct itself. The reconstruction lasts forever. The person is therefore permanently "cured" of his or her PTSD symptoms.
This is actually a very simple process, and can often be completed in as little as ten minutes. It's even possible to do this work with people right over the phone.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE?
So why all the hoopla about a medication that appears to show so much "promise" as a cure for post-traumatic stress? You got me. I'm sure it's well-intentioned, but to place so much emphasis and attention on something that appears to simply be "more of the same" as though it represents some sort of long-awaited breakthrough for PTSD sufferers unfairly ignores the powerfully effective, entirely medication-free alternatives that have been available to PTSD sufferers for some years now.
Where's the newsworthy story in that?