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PTSD & Flashbacks: Right temporal lobe issues?

by CHWatch on November 16, 2010

Scan your brain for signs of PTSD
New technology is allowing us to better understand traumatic memory and flashback phenomena from a neuroscience perspective. In a recent study Minnesota researchers observed that patients with PTSD consistently show heightened activity on the right side of their brain, specifically in the temporal lobe area.
PTSD patients demonstrated this heightened activity performing a simple, objective task. None of the participants were asked to recall traumatic material during the study.
Previous studies have suggested the right hemisphere is involved in flashbacks. In the 1960′s Penfield found that applying electrical stimulation to the temporal lobe in the right hemisphere caused people to re-live and re-enact past experiences. Similarly, this study showed hyperactive communication between the right temporal cortex, parietal and/or parieto-occipital in the brains of patients with PTSD. Yet the heightened activity was there without any additional stimulation.
To measure brain activity, participants wore an MEG helmet while concentrating on a spot 65 centimeters in front of them for 60 seconds. The study included 80 people diagnosed with PTSD, 18 people reporting remission from PTSD, and 284 people without PTSD.  Interestingly, the patients reporting remission of PTSD still had heightened activity in the right hemisphere, even though it was less intense than those reporting current PTSD.
The researchers believe this suggests PTSD is not just a disorder of an overactive neural fear circuit.  Witnessing this heightened activity on the right side of the brain also supports theories that PTSD is a disorder of memory. In other words, the heightened activity suggests memories are still being represented as purely sensation based, and have not been fully integrated with contextual memory.
From a Rapid Resolution Therapy standpoint, this research may lend support to the concept of the traumatic event leaving an “impression.” We can think of the “impression” as the sensation aspects of the memory still held in the right hemisphere. Our goal with RRT is to integrate the data into the left hemisphere and give the memories some context. This is accomplished through the process of retelling the trauma story while staying emotionally present.
The research study cited in this post was conducted by the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Minnesota. The research was just published in the October issue of the Journal of Neuroengineering.
If you are a mental health professional and still have not viewed the RRT online class, you can still get access to it. Click here to send me your contact information and I will send you the link and the password for the class.
Courtney Armstrong is a Licensed Professional Counselor as well as a Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer in Rapid Resolution Therapy. She has a private counseling practice in Chattanooga, TN where she specializes in treating trauma, anxiety, and grief. To contact Courtney, visit www.courtneyarmstronglpc.com.

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