People with dissociative amnesia may gradually or suddenly recall their lost memories through treatment. The primary goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and regulate behavior due to lost memories. It is important l that the patient and their friends or family are safe when the patient attempts to reconnect their memories.
Treatment Options for Dissociative Amnesia
A number of options are available to treat dissociative amnesia, that focus on allowing the patient to safely process and express agonizing memories, develop coping skills, restore normal functioning and improve relationships. The treating physician will decide which treatment approach the patient may benefit from, depending on the severity of their symptoms. Treatment may consist of a combination of methods:
- Cognitive therapy
- Family therapy
- Creative therapies
People with dissociative amnesia may respond well to treatment. Progress and success depend on many aspects, including the person’s support from family and friends and their life situation.
The therapist must approach these treatments gently, as the traumatic circumstances that stimulated memory loss are likely to be recalled and be very upsetting. The therapist may carefully phrase questions to avoid creating false memories by suggesting events that may not have happened. Victims of childhood abuse usually expect their therapist to force uncomfortable memories rather than help them recall memories that caused the amnesia. The resistance of the patient may make therapy a longer process.
Filling in the gap may be more important than the degree of accuracy of the traumatic injury. Restoring only pieces of the event is useful in reestablishing the patient’s identity and sense of self. Once the patient restores their memories, ongoing treatment may help the patient:
- Resolve problems related to their amnesia episodes
- Give meaning to underlying trauma
- Allow patients to move on with their life
Dissociative Amnesia Therapies
When a patient recalls their memories, therapy can help them understand how trauma caused their amnesia or disrupted their life. The therapist guides the patient through a resolution of their issues that may help prevent further trauma in the future.
Psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy, is the most-used treatment for dissociative disorders, including amnesia. Mental and emotional disorder patients often use psychotherapy for treatment. This treatment uses psychological techniques intended to encourage communication about conflicts in the individual’s life. It may also allow the patient to improve their understanding of the underlying and surrounding problems.
Cognitive therapy is a specific subtype of psychotherapy, which focuses on changing the patient’s dysfunctional thinking patterns and their resulting behaviors and feelings. The therapist will work with the patient to find ways to reroute their thinking patterns to more positive and healthy thoughts.
Family therapy helps to teach the patient’s family about the disorder and its causes. When the family members understand the disorder, it is easier for them to recognize symptoms of a recurrence. Because the patients do not always know when it occurs, the family may begin to identify situations that are activating the amnesia state after it happens.
Creative therapies such as art therapy or music therapy may help to treat dissociative amnesia in patients. These types of therapies allow the individual to explore and express their thoughts in a safe yet creative environment.
Clinical hypnosis is another treatment method used. This technique includes intense relaxation and concentration, which forces an altered state of consciousness, allowing the individual to explore thoughts and memories they may be hiding from their conscious minds.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a technique designed to treat people who have continuing nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This treatment may be successful for individuals with dissociative amnesia. Meditation and relaxation techniques also may help individuals with dissociative amnesia.
Medications for Dissociative Amnesia`
There are no medications to treat the dissociative amnesia itself. However, some individuals with dissociative amnesia may also have symptoms of depression or anxiety. Medications, such as an antidepressant or anti-anxiety prescriptions, may help these individuals throughout their treatment.
Treatment for Dissociative Amnesia with Co-Occurring Conditions
When a patient experiences dissociative amnesia and substance abuse at the same time, the co-occurring conditions can create even more undesirable symptoms. The combination of disorders may compound distress and make diagnosis and treatment more challenging. The individual may be more likely to use drugs that have the potential to cause memory loss. Alcohol, opioids and anti-anxiety drugs are examples of substances that may cause drug-induced amnesia. The higher the dosage of substance the individual uses, the more likely dissociative amnesia is to occur.
Mental illnesses are common with addiction, especially depression and anxiety disorders. As a patient’s list grows, treatment of dissociative amnesia becomes more challenging. Treatment for substance abuse usually treats the amnesia, though it must be ongoing to prevent recurrence of use.
Dissociative Amnesia and Addiction Treatment
For individuals living with addiction, detox is necessary before long-term treatment can begin. If the patient tries to seek treatment for their dissociative amnesia while continuing to use drugs or alcohol, they may continue to experience amnesia symptoms due to depression, anxiety or drug-induced amnesia until they have completed detox first. Therapy after detox is the main component of treatment for this co-occurring disorder, which may occur in an outpatient setting or in a residential facility. Behavioral therapies are often the most useful to allow the individual to understand how their current behaviors are hindering treatment, creating worse symptoms and blocking coping abilities. Treatment usually involves developing strategies to prevent drug use prompts, making positive lifestyle changes, finding new hobbies, relying on the support of loved ones and developing action plans.
These types of therapies help the patient to set and achieve goals and to learn to use healthy coping and relaxation techniques. Patients learn to recognize their negative thinking patterns and behaviors and how to make positive changes removed from substance use and toward an understanding of the underlying trauma that caused the dissociative amnesia. Other treatment may include medications when appropriate, health and nutrition counseling and exercise.
If you or someone you love are struggling with a substance use or co-occurring disorder, The Recovery Village can help. A team of professionals offers a number of treatment programs for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which program could work for you.