(palimpsest: a parchment, or the like, from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text. From the Greek palimsestos, meaning “scraped again”)
PRESENT and PAST
We rarely think about the literal meanings of ‘present’ and ‘past’ and the relationship that our conscious-level awareness and processes have with such temporal phenomena as present and past. So, here we have a dilemma in psychotherapy. If we can show that there are no – absolutely no – authentic ties between what we perceive in ‘our present’ and what has occurred to us, with us, around us, in the past, then what does that say for ANY therapeutic process that relies on a single person’s interpretation of what they are attempting to ‘remember’?
This, of course, is the huge challenge that affectologists, and in particular Af-x Therapists (who allow no attempt at recollective report during therapy) bring to the rest of the psychotherapeutic community. If it can be shown that memory is flawed in almost all cases, that a person’s ego-centric conscious mind is set to DISALLOW any criticism or doubt of its fantastic capacity for remembering, then what does that say for cognitively-driven therapeutic methods?
DEPENDING ON TRUTH of MEMORY
Think of it another way. If we really think about it, conscious level therapy – or should I say, therapy dependent on conscious reporting and discussion, either symptomatic or past memory revival – is ENTIRELY reliant on that conscious perception and the authenticity of memory being authentic. There’s no other way to see it. If ‘talk therapy’ uses ‘talk’, then from where does the talk dynamic issue? – memory and self-assessment based on past perceptions.
So, there’s fact number one. CBT (and almost all talk therapy) relies on the authenticity of memory.
Let’s toss into the mix, the fact that there is no such thing as an AUTHENTIC memory, or rather a memory that is entirely based on ‘the truth of the matter’. So, I can see hordes of people at this point throwing objects at me as a result of my challenge in this matter. “How dare I suggest that my memory of abuse or trauma or discomfort is not true – a lie! How dare I make such a statement about the very thing that defines and underlies my present discomfort and symptoms as I believe they are?” Yes, it’s a tough stand (but somebody has to make it!).
A huge mass of research has shown that the memory – the conscious-level recall – of any event more than a few minutes old is open to the potential of a broad spectrum of influences that are likely to make memory tainted in some way. The fact that we will attempt to re-constitute ‘truth’ out of snippets of recollection is the basis of the definition of memory in a technical sense. Add to this the problem of what we know to be biased interpretations of experiences at the time of encoding (unconscious memorizing), and we then have a formula for some pretty hazy attempts at this important thing called memory. Compound this by the fact that every person interprets the NEED for memory at any given time based on who is listening and what the memory is for, then we have an added “catastrophe of truth” when it comes to the therapeutic exchange. People who go to therapy and are encouraged to recall past events and experiences, do so out of a variety of driven needs or understandings of requirement. And that’s fact number two: misinterpretation of memory.
So now, add this into the mix with fact number one above, and where does that leave us? If talk psychotherapy that relies on authenticity of memory has no guarantee that reporting is authentic, doesn’t that offer some potential to perhaps take the path of therapy down very incorrect and even dangerous tracks? I make no secret about the fact that there is a huge difference between conscious-level memory and set unconscious affect memory in my therapeutic work, and I expend great effort in my teaching and training of practitioners to examine the problem of memory from all perspectives. And this accounts for at least one of the imperatives of my style of ‘no-talk’ therapeutic work.
I know it’s hard. Clients are convinced that their memory is accurate, and they will defend it, no matter what! Even worse, if a therapist relies on narrative and narrative built out of memory, then it seems even harder to convince those therapists that memory might be flawed: completely wrong perhaps, but at least, inauthentic in detail. Their whole practice is built on that which I claim cannot exist – accurate and authentic past memory!
This conundrum, now driven by a slow professional realization that memory isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, is a factor in the increased popularity of people training and studying in Clinical Affectology and affectology in general. The realization that conscious memory may be defective, when unconscious emotional memory is always solidly accurate – and what’s more, there exists a broad disconnect between the two – is beginning to drive this professional concern that leads people toward no-talk methods such as Clinical Affectology and Af-x.
Puzzles abound! No conundrum is greater than the puzzle of the palimpsest – for ‘talk therapy,’ anyway.
We’ll leave this post with a quote from James Hall. … …
The present moment lasts only from three to twelve seconds, and everything else is memory.
It is also within those three to twelve seconds that the past is recalled. Every instant of the past is hostage to the vagaries of the present. Any story of yesterday has to be refracted and colored by the narrow lens of the moment.
The past is a palimpsest, that ancient tablet that was erased again and again so that new directives could be recorded there, a tablet whose surface inevitably showed the traces of previous texts. New replacing old, but the old never completely disappearing. Shadows remaining, the faint scribbles showing through, year after year, layer after layer, accumulating, until the present text was little more than a muddle, a confusion of imperfectly erased sentences from the past. And yet, we believe it.