Smucker, Mervin (2013). Different theories on what constitutes emotional processing of trauma.

There is considerable agreement among researchers and clinicians that post-traumatic stress symptoms develop as a result of inadequate emotional processing of a traumatic event and that these PTSD symptoms are alleviated once a degree of adequate cognitive and emotional processing has occurred. However, consensus has not yet been reached on exactly what constitutes adequate emotional processing of traumatic material or on what specific interventions can best facilitate such processing. Several different views on this topic are summarized here:

  1. Rachman (1980), in his theory of emotional processing of fear, proposed that successful emotional processing can „be gauged from the person’s ability to talk about, see, listen to or be reminded of the emotional events without experiencing distress or disruptions“ (pp. 51-52).
  1. Horowitz (1986) contends that the processing of traumatic material is complete once the cognitive schemata have been altered to successfully incorporate and integrate the new information. Until such processing occur, a „completion tendency“ causes unintegrated material (e.g. flashbacks and nightmares) to emerge repetitively. Successful processing of traumatic material is thus frequently delayed or prevented by means of denial or numbing which, according to Horowitz, are defense maneuvers designed to protect the victim from „information overload“.
  1. Lang (1986) developed a theory of emotional processing in which traumatic, fear-inducing memories are thought to be encoded in a neural „network“ consisting of stimuli, responses, and the subjective meaning assigned to the stimulus and response data. Lang contended that vivid response imagery and affective involvement must be present both in accessing and altering a fear memory.
  1. Foa & Kozak (1986) expanded Lang’s theory by placing greater emphasis on the cognitive meaning of the trauma and define emotional processing as „the modification of memory structure that underlie emotions.“ They concluded that recovery from PTSD requires activation of the entire „fear network“ – along with the associated affect – and incorporation of corrective information that is incompatible with traumatic elements of the fear structure.

Mervin Smucker

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