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Can You Heal a Trauma You Don’t Remember?

11 Nov


I have no current conscious memory of PTSD but I have the symptoms of it. (I wake up in the middle of the night screaming and I have panic attacks during the day.) I read Invisible Heroes, your book about PTSD, but every survivor had some sort of memory or recollection of their trauma. How should I go about healing if I cannot remember anything?


Dear Kara,

Not every trauma survivor in the book had a clear memory of what caused his or her posttraumatic stress symptoms, and it is not at all uncommon for memory to be clouded or missing, due to the burst of pain-killing biochemicals that flood the bloodstream during a terrifying event.

This can result in partial or full amnesia and it is most common among survivors of traumatic events from childhood (but it can certainly occur with adults, too).
Fortunately, you do not need to remember what happened in order to heal. I know that goes against traditional psychotherapy training, but it's true - many people get better without specific memories.

They do the same things recommended in the book for people who do remember: learn and practice self-soothing techniques, use guided imagery for healing trauma, get exercise, body work, try moving meditation, use ritual and prayer, work with journaling and other forms of right-brain self-expression, see about temporary medication, and try one or more of the "alphabet" therapies, such as EMDR, EFT or SE.

It's important to make sure you go to practitioners who are sophisticated and experienced in dealing with PTSD and are informed about the wonderful range of (relatively) new and effective therapies that are available now.

All best to you and good luck with this.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.