Research has shown that overgeneral memory, the recalling of memories in a vague, un-detailed manner, can foretell the development of post-traumatic stress. But a recent study suggests that it may also forecast depression. When people are faced with troubling memories, they forget the details in order to avoid the negative emotions associated with them. “It’s an unsung vulnerability factor for unhelpful reactions when things go wrong in life,” said Mark Williams, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the study. When a depressed person shows a persistent tendency to eliminate specific details surrounding an event, it has been shown that they will suffer more severe depressive episodes. This new study is striving to determine if the overgeneral memory trait is a precursor for the development of depression.
“Based on everything we know of memory specificity and depression, there’s a good chance we will find these effects,” said Dirk Hermans, a research psychologist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who collaborates with Dr. Williams. Overgeneral memory characteristics have been shown to be present in Serbian and Bosnian teenagers who have experienced horrific traumas as a result of war. This characteristic can sometimes prove useful when a person cannot face a painful event. However, the overgeneral memory can become an emotional block when it is the primary method of recall.
“If you’re unhappy and you want to be happy, it’s helpful to have memories that you can navigate through to come up with specific solutions,” Dr. Williams said. In his research, Dr. Williams has discovered that mindfulness therapy has been effective in the treatment of some depressive symptoms. This method helps a client identify a specific memory and urges them to face their negative emotions in order to heal from them. This technique could allow those who instinctively use overgeneral memory to develop other methods of recall that could prevent the symptoms of depression.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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