Posttraumatic stress disorder and positive memories: Clinical considerations

Ateka A Contractor, Lily A Brown, Stephanie V Caldas, Anne N Banducci, Daniel J Taylor, Cherie Armour, M Tracie Shea
Journal of Anxiety Disorders 2018, 58: 23-32
Encoding and retrieval difficulties, and avoidance of both traumatic and positive memories, are associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. However, most PTSD research and clinical work has solely examined the role of traumatic memories in the maintenance/resolution of PTSD symptoms. This review provides a comprehensive discussion of the literature on positive memories and PTSD. First, we review theories and evidence on the relations between trauma, PTSD, and memory processes (particularly positive memories). Next, we propose a conceptual model that integrates evidence from experimental and positive/memory-based intervention research and highlights hypothesized mechanisms underlying the potential effectiveness of targeting positive memories in PTSD interventions. Specifically, we discuss how targeting positive memories could (1) increase positive affect and reduce negative affect, (2) correct negative cognitions, (3) increase specificity of retrieving autobiographical memories, and (4) be effectively integrated/sequenced with and enhance the effects of trauma-focused interventions. Lastly, we suggest clinical research avenues for investigating the relations between positive memories and PTSD, to possibly alter the current PTSD intervention paradigm focused only on traumatic memories. Overall, our proposed model drawing from experimental and intervention research, and outlining potential effects of targeting positive memories to reduce PTSD severity, needs further empirical investigation.

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