Memory Reconsolidation Neuroscience
and Coherence Therapy
For nearly a century, ever since Pavlov's work, the available evidence seemed to imply that once an emotional reaction pattern is consolidated -- stored in the brain’s long-term, “implicit memory” circuits -- it is indelible, permanent for the lifetime of the individual.
Under the assumption of indelibility, the best one can do to get free of an ingrained "negative" reaction is to merely suppress and override it by counteracting it with a preferred "positive" response learned and built up to compete against the unwanted one. Common examples in psychotherapy are the learning of a relaxation technique to counteract anxiety or panic and the cultivation of new beliefs to counteract existing ones.
Counteracting in one form or another therefore became the approach of most therapies, such as the cognitive-behavioral, solution-focused and “positive” therapies now in widespread use.
It is well recognized, however, that an unwanted implicit memory circuit is still fully intact even when it is successfully blocked through counteractive and extinction-like methods. The old response can therefore flare up again, and so ongoing vulnerability to relapse is an inherent weakness of these approaches.
The clinical landscape changes fundamentally with neuroscientists' recent discovery of memory reconsolidation, a form of neuroplasticity that allows an emotional learning or schema stored in long-term implicit memory to be actually erased, not just overridden and suppressed by the learning a preferred response. For an overview of the research and explanation of reconsolidation, please refer to the readings in the column at right.
Coherence Therapy consists of the same process identified by neuroscientists for reconsolidation to occur. How is this fundamentally different from counteracting? If a therapy client is guided to actually dissolve the underlying emotional learning or schema generating his or her anxiety, for example, that anxiety would simply no longer arise. There is then nothing to counteract and no possibility of relapse. The anxiety ceases with no need for a counteractive process of teaching relaxation techniques or any other way of building up a non-anxious state.
That is the type of deep, lasting change that Coherence Therapy generates, as described in numerous publications (see bibliography»). The discovery of reconsolidation now provides a neurophysiological understanding of why such change can actually take place in a therapy session.
Many therapists produce such life-changing, transformational shifts from time to time. Coherence Therapy is designed to make that kind of profound change a regular occurrence in a therapist's practice.