In April, I traveled to the Czech Republic to train therapists there to help their clients who suffer from phobias and traumas.
The training was hosted by Mirka Stepankova and Michaela Siruckova, plus two therapists and trainers with a practice in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.
This was my third invitation and training event there. The first was on treating addictions, the second on assessing memories and changing the memories when necessary, the third and the one I am writing this article about was on treating phobias and trauma.
Those people with phobias and traumas, along with other negative memories of events from childhood and adulthood, are more likely to have other health problems of all types and are prone to multiple relapses with their health problems. I have found this to be true in my counseling practice over four decades.
In the past four years I have researched this with Teresa Herzog, a professor at Francis Marion University in the psychology department, and five of her students. We researched the connection between early childhood memories and addiction, to include food. The research was titled “An Exploration of the FACE Screening Measure: Negative First Memories Among Non-users, Substance Users, and Substance Abusers.”
In this research, we found that substance abusers who were college students and also adults in recovery who were still suffering from life stressors and issues have a higher percentage of negative first memories. In other words, those in recovery from substance use for months and years still felt miserable even though they were abstaining from substances in their recovery because these core memories still existed in their original form.
In the Francis Marion University research, 73 undergraduate university students were in the community sample (53 women and 20 men). Out of the treatment sample (n= 7; 6 women and 1 man), we found that 60% of the substance abusers, compared to 0% of casual users, had negative childhood memories. Even more significant, only 10% of the substance abusers had positive childhood memories.
This validated other research I completed with Matt Bram while working at McLeod Behavioral Health in 2004. This research was completed with the help of the University of South Carolina Counseling Department with Dr. Linda Leach. In the McLeod/USC research, it was found that 90% of the substance abusers and 91% of the substance abusers in long-term recovery had negative first memories.
The users, casual users and nonusers in both studies had 27% and 26.8% positive memories – basically identical. The research I am sharing with you isn’t the point of this article. The point is that those with negative memories of fear, pain, sadness and other negative feelings or stressful memories of any type are more likely to have beliefs that influence their lives in stressful ways.
Those with trauma in their lives, phobias and prevailing negative feelings and beliefs, are prone for illnesses that are coupled with relapse time and time again. They might relapse with diabetes, weight problems, addictions and all types of illnesses.
I first noticed this in the 1980s, and in 1988 I first began to collect all of the early memories of the addicted clients I was working with and began looking closely at them. As soon as I had collected 50 early childhood memories, I found that 84% of these clients had negative first memories either in the feeling or the content of the memory.
More recently, V.J. Felitti, MD, and colleagues have been involved in numerous studies, one with 17,337 adults, looking at adverse childhood experience (ACE), and they see the need to change these core beliefs that are influenced by the negative childhood experiences.
The issue is that without help, these core negative feelings and beliefs about life, people and self will cause us medical and psychological problems throughout our lives if left untreated. The negative beliefs that often rule a person’s life might sound something like these: “People can’t be trusted,” “people are mean,” “when things are going well for me, something terrifying will happen,” “when I am having fun with my friends, I will embarrass myself,” “when I take action, I will fail,” “when I work hard, someone else will get the credit.”
Beliefs like these cause us stress in our work, home and relationships often on an unconscious level. Many people never acknowledge or share these terribly agonizing personal beliefs to themselves or others. People decided as children to hold on to these beliefs for a positive reason or intention, but as adults, these beliefs might no longer work in their lives.
During the Brno training, there were two of the trainees who came to help their clients and also to help themselves. One had a phobia about spiders, and the other had suffered a trauma in her life. The trauma was one that she did not discuss openly with the training group, and yet it was successfully dealt with in the demonstration. A person does not need to go into the trauma memory to be successful with a therapeutic intervention.
The good news is that there are professional counselors, psychologists and social workers in the state who can assist people in altering the impact of such negative traumatic memories, causing the feelings around such memories to be altered significantly and at times even change the memories themselves.
The question to ask the professionals: “Are you trained in dealing with phobias and trauma, or do you do memory change work?” Those with the training will be the appropriate professionals for these particular needs.
Jim Holder maintains a private practice in Florence and continues to do training at a national and international level. He can be reached at 843-621-0791.