How Best To Deal With a Traumatic Memory?



The conventional therapeutic wisdom is to have the client relive their trauma/s to the point of becoming desensitised.  Not an appealing prospect to most trauma victims. Clinicians in routine practice are similarly not too impressed  about delivering trauma-focussed interventions. Given the likely scale of psychological casualties from the war in Ukraine, treatment that is readily acceptable to clients and easy to disseminate is at a premium.


In my book ‘Personalising Trauma Treatment:Reframing and Reimagining’ available on next week, I suggest that the key focus should be on what the client takes the memory to mean about today. Speaking to a client yesterday  about his upset at an upcoming anniversary of an explosion he was involved in, we looked at why he should let that particular day be spoilt by the memory, when he hadn’t allowed recent days to be ‘spoilt’. There is no need for him to re-live the trauma.

In this book I challenge a) the idea that traumatic memories are any different to ordinary autobiographical memory b) that traumatic memories have a unique neural basis and c) that arrested information processing lies at the heart of post-trauma debility.

In my self-help book Moving On After trauma 2nd Edition published on June 13th 2024 I suggest 12 rules:

  1. Begin building a bridge between yourself now and the person you were before the trauma. Start by doing a little of what you did before. Constucting gradually as wide a ranging an investment portfolio as you can manage.
  2. Expected that building the bridge, like all forms of construction, will be steps forward and one backwards. It will need daily commitment.
  3. Don’t block the memories of the trauma, the harder you push them away the more they spring back.
  4. Put the traumatic memories in their place by questioning their relevance to today’s plans.
  5. Don’t get hooked by what could have happened. That is just a horror video which spoils today, with dark imaginings.
  6. Expect that the traumatic memory will knock at the door of your mind daily. But it is only asking about its’ relevance to today. Calmly answer this visitor.
  7. Go by what you would bet £5 on happening today, not by how vivid the traumatic memory is and how upsetting you find it.
  8. Remember that guilt is about deliberately doing something wrong. Trauma related guilt is bogus, it arises from either believing you should have looked into your crystal ball before the trauma or that you actually had the time to have done something differently. Feeling guilty and being guilty are not the same.
  9. Refuse to see flashbacks/nightmares as credible forecasts of what is going to happen today. Being constantly on the edge of your seat is about the past not the future.
  10. Give people the time of day. Expect to feel disconnected from others as you are looking at your world through war-zone glasses. Try on the pre-trauma glasses, they are more reliable. The view through them is based on a lifetimes experience rather than on a single drama.
  11. Refuse to take your alarm going off as evidence of danger- it’s just a ‘dodgy alarm’. Tripped easily by anything not exactly as you would want it, reminders or any unusual but not abnormal bodily sensation/s.
  12. Refuse to look at yourself and your personal world through the window of the trauma. Don’t make the trauma, pain or disability central.

Dr Mike Scott

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