EP Departmental Seminar: All memory is presence and future: insights from trauma research
Professor Tanja Michael, Saarland Univeristy, Germany
Departmental Seminar Series
Thursday, 01 June 2017, 12pm to 1pm
Sultan Nazrin Shah Lecture Theatre
Hosted by Professor Anke Ehlers
Traumatic events are unfortunately not rare events, even in relatively safe countries like the UK. The lives of the people affected are often profoundly impacted. As a matter of fact, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has a particularly high disease burden and is associated with high suicide rates and increased mortality. Both survivors and trauma researchers often describe PTSD as a disorder of memory, as the daily life of patients is characterized by frequent involuntary memories of the event(s) that go together with strong negative emotions like fear or sadness and with ruminative thinking. In the first part of the talk, data gathered by ecological momentary assessment and case reports are used to illustrate how life feels like for trauma survivors. In the second half of the talk, it is discussed which memory and related cognitive processes (e.g., cognitive control) are involved in the origin and maintenance of the symptoms. The last part of the talk focuses on the problem how to make trauma-focused psychotherapy – that fortunately has already a high effect size – even more effective. Maybe somewhat counterintuitively, data from our group suggest that the stress hormone cortisol, which has multiple effects on bodily and memory functions, seems a promising candidate. Our results suggest that cortisol is beneficial for the consolidation of fear extinction and support the idea that cortisol might be a useful treatment adjunct for PTSD.