The science of hypnotic memory review


Often, people see a situation in their past as a ‘root cause’ of the problems they are experiencing today.  In this case, regardless how much work we do on creating new and more valuable patterns of thinking and behaviour, they keep holding on to this one event (or, in many cases, a ‘sense’ of an event without it having any true form) which continues to interfere with their ability to move on.

Hypnosis is a powerful medium in which to review and modify such memories, in ways which create new resource, increased empowerment and a new idea of comfort for the client.  But how is this possible?

The human brain stores memories in associative networks.  This means that a group of neurons, often scattered throughout the brain, fire in a certain pattern which ‘represents’ the elements of experience of that memory.

When we recall a memory, we are initiating those neurons to fire.  That network ‘lights up’.  As it is lit up, it is open to change.

Experiments have shown how using ECT (“shock” treatments), memories called up were wiped by the electrical shocks given to the brain.  Memories that were not called up before the shock remained intact – demonstrating that revivification (re-firing the neural network of that memory) allows it to be changed.

The CA fields of the hippocampus (a structure within the brain) are critical for reconsolidating memories.  As an episodic memory is revivified, this part of the brain ‘recodes’ the memory and is responsible for creating the neural network that will sustain it throughout the cerebral cortex.  The role of the hippocampus decreases over time as the memory becomes fixed in that neural network.

Hypnosis provides a vehicle for a person to revivify a troubling memory, and to use imaginative processes to revivify it in a dissociated state.  This allows the person to play the ‘observer’ of the memory, rather than the actor, and allow themselves to create new meanings, offer different attributions and establish different connections in relation to the memory.

Creating new meanings, modifying the attributions and providing new connections means that as the memory is reconsolidated by the hippocampus, it is stored differently (a different set of neurons is activated to hold the memory).  It no longer is what it was, but is now something new.

Modifying root cause memories can have tremendous impacts on clients.  To be able to deal with something they have carried for years, to see things in a new way, to gain acceptance or forgiveness – are all powerful shifts.  Clients often talk of a ‘release’ when this happens.  A weight comes off them, they feel a sense of peace or freedom.  It is a powerful demonstration of the power of the hypnotic state.

Just going back and altering the ‘root cause’ of a problematic memory may not be enough, however.  Often clients also run unhelpful thought or feeling patterns which impact upon the choices that they make moving forward.  If we change the root memory, but do not offer any new skills or strategies for how to move forward in difficult circumstances in the future, then we have missed the opportunity to create real and lasting change.

This is where a solution-oriented strategic approach to hypnosis adds true value.  By working on all aspects of the situation, the client develops new ways of seeing the past and new solutions for their present and future.


Do you have a memory which sits at the ‘root’ of your issue?  Utilisation of this approach with strategic hypnosis could be a valuable tool in helping you move forward.