Traumatic memories: bridging the gap between functional neuroimaging and psychotherapy

Objective: Neuroimaging studies have highlighted important issues related to structural and functional brain changes found in sufferers of psychological trauma that may influence their ability to synthesize, categorize, and integrate traumatic memories.Methods: Literature review and critical analysis and synthesis.

Results: Traumatic memories are diagnostic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD), and the dual representation theory posits separate memory systems subserving vivid re-experiencing (non-hippocampally dependent) versus declarative autobiographical memories of trauma (hippocampally dependent). But the psychopathological signs of trauma are not static over time, nor is the expression of traumatic memories. Multiple memory systems are activated simultaneously and in parallel on various occasions. Neural circuitry interaction is a crucial aspect in the development of a psychotherapeutic approach that may favour an integrative translation of the sensory fragments of the traumatic memory into a declarative memory system.

Conclusion: The relationship between neuroimaging findings and psychological approaches is discussed for greater efficacy in the treatment of psychologically traumatized patients.

Key words: multiple memory systems, neuroimaging, neuroscience, psychotherapy, traumatic memory.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2008; 42:478488.

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