I would like to share with you my thoughts on the spot reparenting technique (and other techniques using the same phenomenon) in psychotherapy. Let us begin with the nature of memories. They tend to be changeable and unstable, and in fact seldom reflect reality. Psychologists and neurologists have discovered long ago that every time we recall a certain life episode, we seem to rewrite it with minor alterations. This may sound like a paradox, but our most trustworthy memories are the ones we never recall, as they don’t risk being changed beyond recognition during each subsequent “rewriting”.
And then there is the fact that people tend to unconsciously alter or embellish their memories, if there is a chance that the new story may make their life easier or provide better structure. In other words, we wish that things were different, and accordingly we create new memories of that desirable past. For example, people who hate feeling guilty will justify their actions in their “edited” memories. And finally, memories may change colour and shape depending on the circumstances under which the events occurred and the way they were recalled afterward. Threats will seem more serious than they really are if we hear them under stress, ice cream is more delicious on a sunny day, and the attic appears enormous to a five-year old. When we recall our childhood in hard times, it seems happier than it may have actually been. When a friend reminisces of your joint adventures from your youth, exaggerating a bit, you too begin to remember differently those miles walked together and those sleepless nights.
There was this experiment where a group of people watched a recording of a car crash and were then asked to assess the speed at which one of the cars had been going. For one half of respondents the question was formulated using the verb to collide, but for the other the verb was to run into. Curiously, the first half estimated a speed of about 10 mph lower than the second.
Why am I mentioning all this? Because our memories are not merely ambivalent – they are also changeable, which means that they can be edited and reinterpreted. For example, certain episodes containing the emotional abuse we received as children from a parent, which were later buried deep in our memory and still frighten our inner child and haunt our adult life, can be taken out from the depths – in a secure environment, with the psychotherapist’s help – aired and then rewritten.
Psychotherapists are not detectives. Our task is not to discover the ultimate truth – we work with every client’s subjective past.
Of course, nothing can change the objective, physical childhood as it occurred, but what we can do is examine our subjective perception of these events and ease its control over our present.