Would You (And Should You) Take A Pill To Erase Bad Memories?

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  • These are the thoughts of life coach Sloan Sheridan-Williams.

    ‘Having read about the US study, at Virginia Commonwealth University, which suggests that there is hope of a drug that could erase negative memories of traumatic events to help patients tackle their unhelpful feelings such as phobias, eating disorders and even PTSD I had the following thoughts.

    Emotions are universal. Having studied Facial Action Coding which is helpful in therapy sessions, I find emotions (both positive and negative) key to helping an individual move forward with their life. Fulfilment is constantly moving forward in pursuit of contentment and achieving your goals. Stagnation is the key component to a lot of depression or unhelpful behaviours. As such I would suggest eradicating memories and thus emotions could be a slippery slope for misuse and/or result in unhelpful behaviours continuing.

    Once we reach adulthood with a level of personal responsibility, we are all a product of our decisions and although no one deserves to be subjected to a negative event, invariably one can become so much stronger for it, but it takes courage and time. We are always looking for a quick fix and this drug may be the answer, but at what long term cost. I am not talking about physiological side effects, which of course will come out over the next few years, but I am talking about the emotional side effects.

    People can be trained to repress emotions, some soldiers receive such training. They have an instinct to survive and their unhelpful emotions are suppressed in the field and often for many years after return.

    However, reports of PTSD from our servicemen are in high numbers some as long as 12 years after the event but most within the first 18 months of return. Contrast that to a civilian individual who takes this drug a few weeks after a traumatic event. How long will the drug last? Is there repeated administration? What happens months or years down the line when the patient wants to stop the drug? My first concern here is that emotions may come flooding back in full force and lead to a healing crisis perhaps worse than the original emotional response one was trying to avoid. My second concern is that without the negative emotion and subsequent feeling, how does the individual learn from it to move on and grow?

    If our experiences are what make us human, it is rather controversial to chemically alter one’s emotions to those feelings. This is more emotionally invasive than antidepressants which just help chemically rebalance an individual’s brain chemistry. We are altering the path of learning and growth which in turn makes an individual not only significant but if used correctly helps them bond and connect with others. Altering this is tampering with two of the fundamental emotional needs of an individual. If you take away negative emotions does that also take away pride, honour, strength and the exuberance of beating and conquering a fear without chemical help.

    For example, with some of my clients with phobias of flying or heights, we have undertaken my 6 step program which enables them to jump out of a plane for a tandem skydive at the end of it. The clients report back feeling powerful and elated, which helps them in other areas of their life. If you just pop a pill to take away a phobia although the client would be able to fly for travel, would they experience the exhilaration and pride of conquering their fear through other means? My initial thought would be no.

    It is my belief that negative emotions are action signals to change the way one is approaching situations and managing their expectations. Negative emotions are key to emotional growth. If you look at successful people in the media, they have been through hardships and they have developed skills through those times which make them who they are today.

    I am pro using such a drug when every other avenue has been exhausted but to have such a drug readily accessible in the way anti-depressants are would to me be a reckless use of what is no doubt a remarkable pharmacological finding.

    For more information on Sloan Sheridan-Williams please visit www.sloansw.com, follow Sloan on Twitter @sloansw_london and Facebook facebook.com/sloanswlondon.

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