Medicine to mend a broken heart - 17th February 2020

Dr Alain Brunet, a researcher in Canada, studies painful memories and can help them be less painful with medicine and therapy. His research has now started helping people with memories from difficult relationships.

Dr Brunet has helped soldiers with trauma for 15 years. He also helps people who have been in terror attacks and crimes. They discuss the painful memories and use a medicine called propranolol. It is often given to people with bad headaches or stress. His new research shows the treatment can also help other patients.

Brunet’s treatment, called ‘reconsolidation therapy’, takes away the emotional pain in the memories. The patient is given propranolol and, an hour later, writes down their trauma. When they have finished, they read it to Dr Brunet. This process develops a less painful memory. After a few ‘reconsolidation therapy’ sessions, 70 per cent of patients feel better.

Now, Dr Brunet is studying the effects of ‘reconsolidation therapy’ on romantic trauma. When you learn something new about a painful memory, propranolol helps the brain recall this new information and saves it as a new, less painful memory.

Patients said they felt better after five sessions, and that the memory felt “like reading a novel”. Some patients improved after just one session.

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