Emerging research suggests a therapy technique that blocks the consolidation of traumatic memories could protect against the long-term psychological and physiological effects of trauma.In a new study, UK researchers examined whether “updating”-a verbal therapy currently only used for patients with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)- could be applied more widely to victims of trauma before PTSD develops, during a period known as the ‘consolidation window’. As published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study is the first to investigate the expanded use of ‘updating’ therapy as a preventative agent. The consolidation window is thought to last around six hours after a traumatic event, and is when fear memories are established and strengthened. The study is relevant because the experience of significant trauma is a relatively common event.
Indeed, many millions of people experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, as well as the thousands of people regularly exposed to trauma in their line of work-including those in the emergency services, the military and journalists in conflict zones.In the study, the researchers looked at two cognitive behavioral techniques used to treat PTSD.The first was ‘updating’, where traumatic memories are re-written with factual information, bringing the meaning of trauma in line with what actually happened and the consequences for those involved. The second strategy evaluated was ‘exposure therapy’- a technique used for anxiety which involves presenting the original object of fear for long enough to decrease the intensity of an emotional reaction. In the study, 115 participants watched a series of six film clips containing real-life footage of humans and animals in distress, a procedure regularly used to investigate causal factors in the development of PTSD.