Suppose you could erase bad memories from your mind. Suppose, as in a recent movie, your brain could be wiped clean of sad and traumatic thoughts.
That is science fiction. But real-world scientists are working on the next best thing. They have been testing a pill that, when given after a traumatic event like rape, may make the resulting memories less painful and intense.
Will it work? It is too soon to say. Still, it is not far-fetched to think that this drug someday might be passed out along with blankets and food at emergency shelters after disasters like the tsunami or Hurricane Katrina.
Psychiatrist Hilary Klein could have offered it to the man she treated at a St Louis shelter over the Labour Day weekend. He had fled New Orleans and was so distraught over not knowing where his sisters were that others had to tell Klein his story.
"This man could not even give his name, he was in such distress. All he could do was cry," she said.
Such people often develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a problem first recognised in Vietnam War veterans. Only 14% to 24% of trauma victims experience long-term PTSD, but sufferers have flashbacks and physical symptoms that make them
feel as if they are reliving the trauma years after it occurred.
Scientists think it happens because the brain goes haywire during and right after a strongly emotional event, pouring out stress hormones that help store these memories in a different way than normal ones are preserved.
Taking a drug to tamp down these chemicals might blunt memory formation and prevent PTSD, they theorise.
Some doctors have an even more ambitious goal: Trying to cure PTSD. They are triggering very old bad memories and then giving the pill to deep-six them.
The first study to test this approach on 19 longtime PTSD sufferers has provided encouraging results, Canadian and Harvard University researchers report.
While I have overwhelming sympathy for veterans and people who endurded a natural disaster, this sounds VERY VERY DANGEROUS.
I've had a few really traumatic things happen (heh, mostly due to the psychiatric industry, thankyouverymuch) but, I think those experiences have shaped the person I am and to remove those situations from my life seems very artificial to me.
Apparently "you'll have the memory, just not the traumatic effects of it"...which makes very little sense to me.
Say you lost your entire family in a natural disaster...how would a pill differentiate between the pain and the trauma? Would it allow normal bereavement or would it make the person completely numb to what happened? Would it hinder the ability to feel normal (negative) emotions in the future?
Another big problem I have with this, is trauma could be subjective. I fear people will want prescriptions for this for every little bad thing in their lives.