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View Full Version : Amnesia, repressed memories, psychotherapy and medication



Jettica
06-02-2011, 04:02 PM
My character was found with no recollection of anything other than his name. He doesn't know where he's from, what he does for a living etc.

A neurologists signs him off as not having any head trauma. So the memory loss must be down to something psychological.

He has dreams that are very vivid that he suspects could be memories. He tells his doctor about these dreams. But they all involve robots and other things that couldn't possibly be memories. (But they are. MC is from the future.)

What reason would the doctor give to these dreams?

What treatment would my character receive?

Would he be given any medication?

MC says that he doesn't want to remember because he knows whatever happened is scary as hell. What would the doctor say to that? Something that would make him agree to further treatment. i.e. Repressed memories causing further trouble if they aren't faced. (What though?)

Anything else I need to think of?

You guys have always been so helpful. So thank you in advance. x

Canotila
06-03-2011, 08:22 PM
Nobody is going to force your character to undergo treatment if he isn't a danger to himself or others.

Also, it's difficult to rule out head injury because even a head injury from 10 years ago could be affecting his memory.

Try researching PTSD and dissociative disorder (not dissociative identity disorder, it's completely different). There is a coping mechanism that some people's minds turn to when they can't handle what is going on, where they just sort of black out during the trauma. Sometimes there are memories of what happened that are repressed, sometimes there is nothing.

If your character's doctor is having him do any kind of trauma work, they aren't going to force him to try and remember because of the real risk of re-traumatizing the patient. Initially they will probably help the patient find ways to reduce and cope with any episodes that might be disrupting their life. When the patient is ready and wants to try and remember, they'll help them try. Or if the patient's mind starts bringing back snatches of memory on their own, they'll help the patient process those memories. If your character doesn't want to remember, then that might be the best way to go.

PM me if you need more information.

PinkAmy
06-04-2011, 12:22 AM
My character was found with no recollection of anything other than his name. He doesn't know where he's from, what he does for a living etc.

A neurologists signs him off as not having any head trauma. So the memory loss must be down to something psychological. I have never seen total amnesia purely due toward psychological reasons. I don't even know if it's possible.

He has dreams that are very vivid that he suspects could be memories. He tells his doctor about these dreams. But they all involve robots and other things that couldn't possibly be memories. (But they are. MC is from the future.) you've got more leeway with a sci-fi story

What reason would the doctor give to these dreams? doctors don't interpret dreams. They talk about what the dreams mean to the patient. There are different schools of though on dream interpretation, but honestly, I don't know any therapists or psychiatrists who focus on that. What you're talking about is something you'd fine in psychoanalysis a few decades ago.

What treatment would my character receive? he doesn't need treatment unless he wants treatment. There is no prescribe treatment for amnesia. He might have talk therapy or work with someone to try to have him probe for clues. If he had an unconventional doctor he might try hypnosis, but memories under hypnosis are usually not considered to be 100% accurate, particularly if medication is used. They would never stand up in a court of law, etc.

Would he be given any medication?there is no medication for amnesia, but he might experience anxiety or depression due to his condition and need to meds for that. Doctors are going to be cautious about medicating him since they don't know the origin of his amnesia or his history with medications.

MC says that he doesn't want to remember because he knows whatever happened is scary as hell. What would the doctor say to that? Something that would make him agree to further treatment. i.e. Repressed memories causing further trouble if they aren't faced. (What though?)
You're making a lot of suppositions. Chances are there is a reason other than trauma he's amnesiac. There have been so few documented cases of total amnesia, and most all have been due to head injuries, to my knowledge. Partial amnesia is much more common. The trauma that causes amnesia is usually physical, like a car crash, not emotional. Here is a link about amnesia http://www.citypaper.net/ . Amnesia isn't the same as repressed memories. Repression is a psychological defense mechanism to avoid difficult, emotionally traumatic memories. The term isn't used for physical amnesia.
Repressed memories usually do cause trouble and other symptoms until they are addressed, I believe with amnesia, the sufferers almost always want to remember and they are willing to do anything to try to remember. Doctors would suspect malingering (faking amensia to avoid trouble) if the patient was unwilling or averse to finding out his identity.
Anything else I need to think of?

You guys have always been so helpful. So thank you in advance. x

Why don't you tell us what you want your MC to go through, and we can try to figure out a physical or psychological way to accomplish it. As it stands now, I think you're going to have some difficulty making everything fit. Tell us how you want it to go and we can help more.

archetypewriting
06-04-2011, 07:35 AM
My character was found with no recollection of anything other than his name. He doesn't know where he's from, what he does for a living etc.

This would be called dissociative amnesia (good example is The Bourne Identity), or possibly a dissociative fugue (good example is The Long Kiss Goodnight). However, as someone else noted, dissociative amnesia may be an artifact of cultural beliefs. Research suggests that there are no cases of dissociative amnesia prior to Freud's ideas about repression and dissociation.


[A neurologists signs him off as not having any head trauma. So the memory loss must be down to something psychological.

Thus, the cause is not "organic," it is "psychological", "psychogenic," or "dissociative" in nature. (You could use any of those terms.)


He has dreams that are very vivid that he suspects could be memories. He tells his doctor about these dreams. But they all involve robots and other things that couldn't possibly be memories. (But they are. MC is from the future.)

What reason would the doctor give to these dreams?

A neurologist is probably just going to assume dreams are random firing in the brain, or are due to associations made during the day. Most likely, s/he'd assume your character watches too much scifi. ;)

If your character seeks help from another type of doctor, e.g. a therapist, many therapists WILL listen to dream content, but as someone else noted, they're interested in the CLIENT'S interpretation. Unless, say, your character stumbled onto a Jungian therapist, who might be very interested in delving into the dreams and analyzing them.

Jungian therapists are kind of rare, but...have you thought about your character digging up a dream interpretation book? Those things are actually totally bogus, but that means you could create whatever kinds of interpretations you wanted.


What treatment would my character receive?

I'm assuming that there would be a lot of fingerprinting and other attempts to find his history, including published reports in the newspaper...more than psychological treatment. But...here is a link to help you get some ideas about psychological treatment. If you want to pursue one of the therapies listed, post again for information on how to portray said therapy.

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-amnesia


Would he be given any medication?

No, unless there were depression or anxiety symptoms, as someone else noted. Or really extreme PTSD symptoms. Sometimes antipsychotics are used if someone is having horribly intrusive nightmares and flashbacks. Those would have to be really extreme situations, though.


MC says that he doesn't want to remember because he knows whatever happened is scary as hell. What would the doctor say to that? Something that would make him agree to further treatment. i.e. Repressed memories causing further trouble if they aren't faced. (What though?)


The writer in me says you need to have something from that scary time encroach on his life, ie something coming back from the future to threaten him, something that means he has to remember if he's going to survive. Otherwise, he WON'T go to treatment, not if he's afraid it will make him remember. Most people don't realize this about therapy, but the bottom line is, if someone really doesn't want to go to therapy, they won't go, and I don't care who tells them they have to.

Wiskel
06-04-2011, 01:32 PM
. Most people don't realize this about therapy, but the bottom line is, if someone really doesn't want to go to therapy, they won't go, and I don't care who tells them they have to.


A quote I love regarding therapy is that "You can't take someone from where they're not, to somewhere they don't want to be."

Your character has to have a reason to want to remember, but good drama often comes from needing to do something that scares you.

Craig

Jettica
06-07-2011, 01:17 PM
I knew you'd be terribly helpful!

Okay so this is what I need to happen to my character.

He wakes up not really knowing who he is. Snippets of memories come to him in dreams but at first his puts the scariness down to anxiety and frustration.

It's only when he's happier and still having the dreams (as well as connecting scars and tattoos to them) that he realises they might be memories.

As it's sci-fi it doesn't really matter what caused the total memory loss. Being pulled through time could do all sorts to you! It's just the question of how a doctor would deal with it.

The doctor in question needs to be a psychologist/psychotherapist of some kind for the plot to work. However later in the story the MC does go to another doctor who does something (I was thinking hypnosis) to make all the memories comes flooding back. Thoughts on this?

You've all given me some great ideas and lots to go on. Thanks.

mgencleyn
06-07-2011, 02:33 PM
The way memories are physically encoded, you would need something far out there to cause that kind of memory loss. I know books and movies use the same idea, but it's not realistic. Kinda like sound in space. By now, just about everyone knows that is wrong, but the movies still, still, still put sound in space. So, assuming something advanced enough could do that to a brain, hypnosis doesn't seem realistic at all for restoring memories of that condition. You should need something equally out there.

Jettica
06-07-2011, 02:39 PM
Then I have an issue. Damn.

I need him to not remember much other than what he dreams. Then I need something insane to happen that he remembers everything.

I was thinking that later he could get hurt and is transported back (maybe only in mind) to his world at the point when he was sucked through to ours. He then has to endure some time there.

Maybe when he gets back he remembers everything.

If he were to remember some stuff about his past, say childhood to a few months before the bad times began, the doctors would think he was crazy, right? What would they do in this case? Call him delusional, put it down to false memories?

mgencleyn
06-07-2011, 02:46 PM
My point is, you could just go with it. Most people have no idea what amnesia really is, so as long as you can live with that then you can get your story going. If Jason Bourne can lose his identity, then so can your character. But if you want scientific accuracy, then you're asking for a huge watermelon with lots of seeds.

I can only suggest the wikipedia article on "Dissociative Fugue" to point you in the direction you're interested in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugue_state

Jettica
06-07-2011, 02:53 PM
Ah I see!

Thank you. Very helpful. I think people tend to suspend their disbelief when it comes to stuff like this in sci-fi. I'm just wondering how much it will bug me if it isn't scientifically correct.

Looking at the wiki page it shouldn't be too difficult to work that into the story. I shall keep writing and researching and see how the main story line turns out.

Thank you.

mgencleyn
06-07-2011, 02:55 PM
Sure, and notice in the article the real life examples that might help you build a model for your character. You might even get lucky with some YouTube vids on them or others.

PinkAmy
06-07-2011, 06:22 PM
I knew you'd be terribly helpful!

Okay so this is what I need to happen to my character.

He wakes up not really knowing who he is. Snippets of memories come to him in dreams but at first his puts the scariness down to anxiety and frustration. where does he wake up? is he homeless? is he in a hospital?

It's only when he's happier and still having the dreams (as well as connecting scars and tattoos to them) that he realises they might be memories. how does he get happier, what time lapse are we talking about? Why does he think they might be memories?

As it's sci-fi it doesn't really matter what caused the total memory loss. Being pulled through time could do all sorts to you! It's just the question of how a doctor would deal with it. at what point does he go to the doctor and why does he go to the doctor?

The doctor in question needs to be a psychologist/psychotherapist of some kind for the plot to work. However later in the story the MC does go to another doctor who does something (I was thinking hypnosis) to make all the memories comes flooding back. Thoughts on this?
hypnosis doesn't make memories come back and if they come back they all won't come flooding back. Memories can come back through hypnosis but they are not regarded as credible as those that come back on their own.
You've all given me some great ideas and lots to go on. Thanks.

You haven't given me much to go on, but let me see what I can do.

MC wakes up on a park bench, confused. Someone asks if he's ok because he doesn't look like a homeless guy. He appears disoriented so the good samaritan calls the hospital and he is admitted, given a CAT scan etc. They find nothing in any scans or blood tests. He ends up on the neurology unit.

They can't keep him in the hospital because he's got no medical problems except the amnesia, so they send him to a state hospital to see if it's a psych problem. Unfortunately, state hospitals (where he would go since he's indigent and has no ID, social security number etc) don't do much if any individual treatment. An psych intern takes a special interest in the case, because she's not so jaded to assume he's malingering (faking symptoms) the way the other drs on the unity think. She takes him on as a special project, even though she's told she's wasting her time.

If you want his dreams to be memories, we'll assume he has the symptoms of PTSD with no known traumatic event. He'll also have flashbacks, an exaggerated startle response, and at times he'll lose his train of thought and appear to be spaced out, but he'll really just be deep in thought or having a flashback (it's called dissociation.) These spaced out periods won't last very long, just a few seconds to a few minutes.

As he talks to the intern about what he's seeing/dreaming, she will believe him and bring this to the attention of her supervisor, who thinks the intern is also nuts. He orders the intern to stop working with your MC. Then he notices some of the things she does, so he takes MC under his care.
Memories rarely all come back at once in a coherent manner. Ditch the hypnosis idea, and have him just remember snippets, then larger chunks. You'll be able to build tension this way too and make the payoff of his true story last longer.

Stay away from dissociative fugue and anything else that can be related to DID because there's too much controversy in the veracity of those concepts in the psych community.

Jettica
06-07-2011, 06:52 PM
PinkAmy, love all your ideas and the beginning part is, to an extent, what happens.

He is found by a doctor who helps him through not really knowing who he is. The doctor takes a liking to the MC and decides he wants to help him. He helps him through the process of getting a NI number (this takes place in England), job etc. He also lets him live with him (I'm sure there's all sorts of ethical issues here) when he's having a hard time at the hospital.

Once MC has a job, a nice place to live etc. He's much happier, even if he doesn't really know a great deal about his past.

I will ditch the hypnosis. Having the memories coming back in dreams/snippets/flashbacks would actually work much better.

Something that's just come to me is the fact that I want him to start seeing things. Firstly, the man he shot, a drawn out image of that man in the moments between MC pulling the trigger and the victim falling down dead. Obviously MC doesn't know who he is and just thinks someone is staring at him.

He sees this man more and more. Until he sees the moment after the shooting. There's lots of blood. I don't think my MC would tell a doctor about this but what if he did? What would the doctor do/say?

As for your questions.

Where does he wake up?
- Under a street lamp in a park.

Why is he happier?
- He gets out of the awful hospital, gets a job, makes some friends and starts living a life again.

Time period of all this.
- From waking up on the ground with no recollection of who he is to getting a job, three months. (Realistic?)

Why does he think these are memories?
- He recalls wanting to scratch a tattoo from his skin. A prison tattoo. He investigates his only known tattoo, a string of numbers he knows nothing about.
- He has a dream about being shot. He's never really thought about all those tiny scars before but that one on his side now suddenly makes sense.
- If they feel like memories then why wouldn't they be? He can remember smells, pain, feelings and minute details. He decides that he couldn't make that sort of thing up.

PinkAmy
06-07-2011, 07:46 PM
Something that's just come to me is the fact that I want him to start seeing things. Firstly, the man he shot, a drawn out image of that man in the moments between MC pulling the trigger and the victim falling down dead. Obviously MC doesn't know who he is and just thinks someone is staring at him. when you're talking to a psychologist, be wary of using the term seeing things ;) LOL, because we take that to be having delusions ;). I don't think you mean that he's having delusions but that they are flashbacks that-like a slide projector. He doesn't hear sounds, but he might feel body sensations like he was punched in the gut or nausea. It can be a longer memory but it's seem in connecting snippets

He sees this man more and more. Until he sees the moment after the shooting. There's lots of blood. I don't think my MC would tell a doctor about this but what if he did? What would the doctor do/say? you have to be more clear about what seeing means. Does he think the guy is walking down the street, or does he realize he's seeing the images more frequently in his mind. I could stick with him realizing he keeps seeing the man in his mind, and at this point he's actually thinking of memories not of flashbacks (more like seeing a film in his head than snippets or slides.)

As for your questions.

Where does he wake up?
- Under a street lamp in a park.

Why is he happier?
- He gets out of the awful hospital, gets a job, makes some friends and starts living a life again.

Time period of all this.
- From waking up on the ground with no recollection of who he is to getting a job, three months. (Realistic?) yes

Why does he think these are memories?
- He recalls wanting to scratch a tattoo from his skin. A prison tattoo. He investigates his only known tattoo, a string of numbers he knows nothing about. good visualization
- He has a dream about being shot. He's never really thought about all those tiny scars before but that one on his side now suddenly makes sense. I would stick more to him remembering these things during waking hours, maybe have the dream end in a shot, then waking up and seeing the scene before being shot. We don't dream literally, but we (can) remember literally.
- If they feel like memories then why wouldn't they be? He can remember smells, pain, feelings and minute details. He decides that he couldn't make that sort of thing up. depends on how outlandish-but they do sound like good clues for him and since he has physical evidence like scars and tattoos that fits.

Hope this helps.

Jettica
06-07-2011, 08:08 PM
I wanted him to feel like his is physically seeing this man. One moment he is there but as soon as the MC takes his eyes away for a moment the man is gone. And if there had been anyone else around they wouldn't have seen him either.

The second time he sees the man he is drunk and the 'vision' is a bit more violent. I think this could all be worked into the fact that he is beginning to see his memories. But I feel like paranoia would factor quite heavily into him thinking he is being watched/followed. In the time between killing someone and coming to the world in which the story follows he's been on the run. Constantly pursued by the law and also by the bad guys on the surface of Future!Earth.

I think I'll start with the dreams and then start factoring in flashbacks/memories as things get more severe.

Love the idea of him dreaming of getting shot then remembering the actual scenario when he wakes up.

I've read a little about PTSD. Aren't there things that can trigger episodes of paranoia/anger/other stuff? How would that factor into all of this?

(Thank you, thank you, thankyou!)

PinkAmy
06-07-2011, 08:50 PM
I wanted him to feel like his is physically seeing this man. One moment he is there but as soon as the MC takes his eyes away for a moment the man is gone. And if there had been anyone else around they wouldn't have seen him either. if he's physically seeing the man or he thinks he's physically seeing the man (and the man isn't actually there) he's having delusions if he believes that the man is actually there. He can see the man and if he realizes his mind is playing tricks on him, then you could get away with him not being delusional. I'd stay away with having him delusional, it will only question whether readers can trust your MC's point of view or whether it's a distortion of reality (because delusions are distortions of reality.)

The second time he sees the man he is drunk and the 'vision' is a bit more violent. I think this could all be worked into the fact that he is beginning to see his memories. But I feel like paranoia would factor quite heavily into him thinking he is being watched/followed. In the time between killing someone and coming to the world in which the story follows he's been on the run. Constantly pursued by the law and also by the bad guys on the surface of Future!Earth. there's a difference between clinical paranoia as in needs to be hospitalized and medicated and being what we call in common discussion as feeling paranoid. Thinking you're being watched might not be unexpected for someone with no memory of his past. Boarding up his house and covering it with tinfoil to keep away the "enemy"-- NOT normal.

I think I'll start with the dreams and then start factoring in flashbacks/memories as things get more severe. don't make the dreams literal, but have the dreams have one or two aspects of the memory and some aspects of his life as he knows it now

Love the idea of him dreaming of getting shot then remembering the actual scenario when he wakes up. that would be most realistic too

I've read a little about PTSD. Aren't there things that can trigger episodes of paranoia/anger/other stuff? How would that factor into all of this?
Anything involving the senses can trigger episodes of PTSD--sounds, sights, smells, tastes, touch. Even as simple as seeing someone walk down the street with the same gait as a perpetrator, or someone with the same uncommon bright blue eyes. PTSD is an anxiety disorder so most of the reactions will gear toward the fear spectrum (like non-clinical paranoid) rather than the anger spectrum. I'm not saying he couldn't also be angry, just that it's a less typical.) I used to have PTST (before I became a psychologist) due to sex abuse and anything remotely penis looking triggered flashbacks (the eiffel tower, hot dogs, rolling pins, a cigarette--you can see how far removed these are from actuality.)
(Thank you, thank you, thankyou!)
You sound like you're well on your way. Glad I could be of some help.