Could a psychological treatment induce false memories?

Could a psychological treatment induce false memories?

A widely used treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might interfere with the patient’s memory. We are talking about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).  During EMDR, a patient is asked to retrieve a traumatic memory and simultaneously perform eye movements. As a result, the traumatic memory will become less vivid and emotional and therefore less traumatic. However, the potential side effects on memory are unknown.

During treatment, a therapist needs to identify the most distressing part of the memory. To achieve this, therapists (in the Netherlands) tell their patients that memory works like a video camera and that they could stop the movie at the most distressing scene. However, this instruction is a psychological myth. You might think that there is no harm in using this myth in treatment if it helps the patient’s recovery, but human memory is malleable, and this unsubstantiated instruction might elicit false memories.            

A false memory is a memory of an event that never occurred. Research provides multiple examples showing how easily participants can be led to report about whole events or details of events that are purely fictive. Up to date, it is unknown what the memory effect of the metaphorical video instruction is. We aimed to examine the effect of this metaphorical instruction on memory, so stay tuned to our results!

EMDR is widely used and accepted without the slightest doubt of its potential side effects. It’s a patient’s right to be informed with correct information, so therapists #knowyourfacts!

–    Group 4

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