Psychological Self-Help

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thoughts about their experiences than persons with the same
traumatic history but experienced less stress. So, is it good to try to
forget bad experiences--just put them out of your mind? Well, other
well-known research psychologists, e.g. Wegner (1989) and
Pennebaker (1991), have reported results different from the Anderson
experiment, namely, that trying not to think about something stressful
actually results in more uncontrollable negative thoughts about the
situation. What happens if you are asked to not think of an elephant
during the next five minutes? (See
researchers and many therapists believe the deniers and people-who-
won't-talk-about-it, who believe they are avoiding their problems, are
actually making it worse. Different therapy and crisis workers would
counsel "don't obsess about it" or "just put it behind you." Science will
eventually provide an explanation of these different-sounding theories
about treatment but, for now, we don't have that wisdom. Probably
the best approach depends on the person and the circumstances,
which doesn't say much except "try different approaches." 
A recent 2002 news report by Dr. Judith Hosie
( and Dr.Alan Milne at the University of Aberdeen
is relevant and interesting. After showing a film that arouses anger,
they had male and female subjects (1) express their angry feelings,
(2) inhibit those feelings, or (3) replace anger with happy memories.
After showing a second emotional film and letting the subjects respond
freely, they found that women who had inhibited feelings to the first
film reported feeling more upset and angry than men in the same
experimental conditions. That is, for women there was a "rebound
effect," suppression led women to express more anger. On the other
hand, substitution of happy feelings for anger resulted in women
feeling less anger than men. For men, a prior attempt to replace anger
with a happy memory resulted in feeling more anger than after trying
to inhibit their anger. Under these conditions, anger replacement with
happy thoughts works better for women while anger suppression
works better for men but makes it worse for women. Surprisingly,
there is little research in this area; it is badly needed. For now, find
what works for you. 
Many cognitive-behavioral researchers, seeing things more as
Anderson does, believe some people simply think about traumatic
experiences differently than others and, thus, experience different
levels of stress. Thus, using methods to change or control our
thoughts, such as trying to forget, or questioning the logic of the
upsetting or scary thoughts, as cognitive therapists do, could be a
great advantage. Research evaluating both methods--the direct
reduction-of-upsetting-thoughts/feelings vs. the uncovering-and-
understanding-the-details-of-the-trauma--is badly needed. 
Dr. Peretz Lavie, a sleep and trauma researcher at the Technion-
Israel Institute of Technology, doesn't believe in treating trauma
survivors (Holocaust and war) by having them recount or relive the
trauma over and over. He advocates "leaving the memories behind."
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