Behaviorists are always on the lookout for new ways to help their patients feel better. Tim Dalgleish, Ph.D., of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit conducted a study using a process called “method-of-loci,” which appears to be useful in decreasing depression.
Recalling past happy memories is typically a mood elevator, but being able to do that in the throes of depression isn’t always easy. The “method-of-loci” strategy asks a patient to associate positive memories with specific objects or locations. An example of this may be that you connect your happy memory to a park or a building that you pass everyday on your way to work. In order to bring up that memory later, you then need to envision the process of your commute and these specific landmarks.
The study asked people to recall 15 happy memories. One group was then asked to use this method-of-loci technique and the other group was asked to organize the memories based on similarities. Initially both groups were able to recall these memories at the same level of accuracy. One week later the researchers made a surprise call to the participants and asked them once again to recall these memories. The members of the method-of-loci group were significantly more adept at doing so.
Depression suffers have a difficult time accessing positive memories and therefore this new study offers valuable information and practical strategies to help accomplish this. Writing down one’s joyful memories can be a good way to get started with the process. When you emotionally relive these experiences through recall your mood is typically elevated.
I use the process of recalling positive memories frequently when working with couples in distress, because so often when a relationship is struggling it is hard to remember any of the good times. So much of our mood is dictated by our perceptions, both towards others and ourselves. I have watched couples do something as simple as viewing photos of a happier time together, which then helps them to become hopeful that regaining that connection is possible.
Individuals will experience a similar process when they recall happy memories as if a light has been shed on an otherwise bleak picture. The deeper belief is that if they have felt this positively in the past, then there is a chance they may feel happy again.
This study provides useful information to those suffering with depression. The process can be tried on one’s own but is likely to be more effective with the supervision of a clinician. However it is attempted, it is a step in the right direction toward the alleviation of depressive symptoms.
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