The Importance of Activation In Trauma Removal – What, Why and How

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Memory reconsolidation not only removes trauma response but also erases emotional learning.

The formula for triggering this brain mechanism is: Activate + Mismatch + Repeat.

When this formula is followed, it triggers memory reconsolidation, rewriting the old brain pathway and getting rid of the trauma response. This leads to permanent change.

In this video, I discuss the Activate part and answer three key questions:

  • what do we activate,
  • why do we activate,
  • how do we activate.

What

First, let’s talk about what we activate. As therapists and coaches, it’s important to understand that the client’s problem makes sense. We don’t see it as disordered, irrational, or maladaptive.

Instead, we acknowledge that it exists for a good reason. Our job is to figure out why it makes sense. The brain is a prediction machine, so we aim to identify the underlying prediction or emotional learning that activates the nervous system and causes uncomfortable feelings in the body, panic attacks, or a reluctance to move forward. Essentially, we want to activate the underlying prediction that keeps the problem alive.

Why

Moving on to why we activate, it’s crucial to let the brain know which specific brain pathway we’re addressing. Without this activation, the brain can’t differentiate among the many brain pathways or determine where to put new information. This leaves the trauma response untouched and can lead to relapse or the ongoing persistence of the problem.

Therefore, we need to enable the brain to recognize the relevant brain pathway and overwrite it. To illustrate, think of a spreadsheet where you want to replace a number in a specific cell. If you don’t click on that cell, the information will end up somewhere else, not where you intended. Similarly, activating the relevant brain pathway alerts the brain to focus on that specific area for change.

How

Finally, let’s talk about how we activate. While the full details are beyond the scope of this video, one way is to connect to a scene, either from the past or a recent experience, that represents the problem and triggers the underlying prediction.

There are other approaches, but I’ll keep it brief for now. The key point for today is to note that the activation doesn’t have to be intense. Just like clicking on a cell in a spreadsheet, you don’t need to hit the mouse with a hammer. A gentle activation will suffice. This is particularly important when working with clients who have a low tolerance window, as a strong activation can be triggering.

Summary

To summarise, the formula for memory reconsolidation is Activate + Mismatch + Repeat.

When it comes to activation, we activate the prediction that keeps the problem going. This activation is necessary to inform the brain which brain pathway we’re targeting, similar to clicking on a specific cell in a spreadsheet.

The activation doesn’t have to be high or intense; a gentle connection is enough.

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