Therapeutic Reconsolidation Process (TRP)

Neuroscience discoveries over the past 2 decades have provided a new understanding of how memory is maintained and updated. Called memory reconsolidation, this understanding, when applied, results in the relearning of troubling emotions.

When several widely-used, experiential helping techniques are boiled down to their active ingredients, a common pathway for triggering change can be identified. Based on memory reconsolidation, it is called TRP.

There are self-administered, self-help versions of TRP helping techniques.

A buddy system is described as a way to add support to self-administered TRP exercises.

One of these, the Rewind Technique (RT), uses a visual strategy, rapidly rewinding mind’s-eye images of a disturbing event to cause the troubling emotion to be relearned.

Another of these tools is based on matching/entraining a sound frequency to a mind’s-eye image of a disturbing event, then changing the frequency, triggering the relearning of the troubling emotion (screenshots below).

Both tools depend on memory reconsolidation as applied using TRP.

Since memory reconsolidation depends on picturing and reactivating memories of an AE, a self-administered, imagery tool is available to identify these.

Additional self-help exercises are available to support and strengthen these tools through managing stress levels.

These topics are expanded below and an extensive reference list is appended documenting sources and additional readings.  

Common Change Pathway

Based on neuroscience discoveries in the late 90’s and early aughts, we have a new understanding of the role that memory plays in emotional and behavioral disturbances. It describes how memory of emotion-laden events and trauma forms, consolidates, stores and, when subjected to new learning, reconsolidates. This understanding provides a blueprint for change, useful for helping a wide-range of problems. Memory reconsolidation explains how many techniques work, identifying common, active ingredients. Further, the framework allows us to integrate techniques, mix and match strategies, extend them to resolve a growing list of challenges people face. Let’s dig a little deeper into this common pathway and how it works.

Ultimately, reconsolidation is a method used by the brain to relearn, to update previous learning (Ecker et al., 2015c). Emotional learning is at the heart of how we view the world we encounter. Early on, we face experiences in our interaction with family and significant people. These consolidate, store in our long-term memory, allowing us to recall and re-use learning experiences based on these encounters. As a result, these often-unconscious, organizing frameworks, or schema, powerfully shape our subsequent perceptions and interactions.

The good news is that the brain, once considered hardwired and immutable by the end of childhood, is now seen as neuroplastic, changeable. Presented with new learning at any time in life, it can revise memory in line with new experiences. Memory reconsolidation is a key component of this process. When applied to maladaptive emotions and behaviors, clinical researchers have named this a “therapeutic reconsolidation process” (TRP).

If a memory serving as a foundation for an organizing framework or schema is reactivated and coupled with a similar but mismatching experience, it triggers relearning. Reactivated memory becomes labile for 4-6 hours before it reconsolidates, returns to long-term storage. During that window, TRP rewrites memory-generated schema, thereby changing associated emotions and behaviors. This understanding of TRP is based on Coherence Therapy’s (CT) comprehensive change model developed by Ecker and associates (Ecker et al, 2012; Ecker et al. 2013; Ecker, 2015a; Ecker, 2018, Ecker, 2020). 

First and foremost, the key to successfully updating this (or any) targeted learning, replacing it with new learning, is to trigger reconsolidation rather than an old behaviorist standby, extinction. TRP is activated when memory of an activating event (AE) is recalled, followed by a mismatching experience similar yet altered from the original. While triggering TRP requires reactivating an AE, it does not require re-experiencing the AE’s associated emotions. However, emotional re-experiencing often occurs when an AE has caused distressing conditions like PTSD or a phobia and can be used to help identify the AE (Ecker, 2015a; Ecker, 2015b).

A mismatched experience initiated without first reactivating the original memory does not result in reconsolidation. It triggers extinction: a second memory is created that doesn’t overwrite the first, instead paralleling and competing with it. Extinction blunts associated emotions and behaviors, but they remain in the long run. Alternately, reconsolidation erases symptoms, delivering enduring outcomes.

Some symptom presentations (SX) can readily identify a key AE on which emotional learning is based, like exposure to a traumatic or phobia-inducing event. This type of memory is explicit and identified at the outset. However, other SX do not readily reveal their underlying (implicit) event. This is often the case for negative self-appraisal, long-standing maladaptive behavior. While these may seem tied to a single AE, often they are connected to additional underlying events, what the Kohut Self Psychology, other psychoanalytic theorists, label as empathic failures (Kohut. 1971, 1977, 1984; Baker & Baker, 1987). These are experienced in early relationships with parents and caregivers, while a cohesive sense of self is forming, skewing or halting healthy development. They are not immediately conscious, resulting in emotional learning more difficult to identify.

So, while the term AE may refer to a single antecedent event, it can also refer to multiple events. For example, a parent/caregiver-child relationship pattern experienced as empathic failure, which is then targeted as part of TRP.

Where an AE is explicit, the change strategy can proceed quickly through CT’s preparatory steps (1) “SX identification,” (2) “retrieval of target schema” and (3) “identification of disconfirming knowledge.” Where an AE is implicit, preparatory steps require advanced uncovering strategies to bring the key memory to awareness. This takes more time, use of additional techniques, even facilitation by a professional helper. Once surfaced, erasure of the targeted emotional learning via reconsolidation and checking on results can follow (Ecker, 2018, p 28, Table 3).

Adapted from Ecker, 2018, p 28, Table 3

As mentioned, CT defines TRP as the common factor and active ingredient for transformational change. TRP can be found in one form or another in many experiential therapy models (Ecker, 2018) like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and a helping strategy adapted from NLP, RT. TRP as an integrative framework (phases described in the table above) allows for mixing and matching between helping models, as long as the critical components are all present and delivered. Ecker identifies these three critical components: reactivation, mismatch and counter-learning, naming the needed process “empirically confirmed process of erasure” or ECPE (Ecker, 2018). Helping strategies, however they are mixed and matched, need to include all three of these. Let’s take a look at TRP when an AE is readily identifiable (explicit), using RT and sound techniques to destabilize a traumatic memory followed by emotional relearning.

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References

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Adams, S. and Allan, S. (2019), “Human givens rewind trauma treatment: description and conceptualisation”, Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp. 98-111.

Adams, S., Allan, S., Andrews, W. et al. Four practice-based preliminary studies on Human Givens Rewind treatment for posttraumatic stress in Great Britain [version 2; peer review: 1 approved, 1 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2022, 9:1252 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.25779.2).

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Astill Wright, L., Barawi, K., Simon, N., Lewis, C., Muss, D., Roberts, N. P., Kitchiner, N. J., & Bisson, J. I. (2021b). The reconsolidation using rewind study (RETURN): trial protocol. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1), 1844439. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1844439.

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