APR 20, 2016 11:14 AM PDT

Can Positive Memories Treat Mental Health Problems?

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet
BMAC is a therapeutic technique that uses positive memories and images to improve feelings of safeness and warmth
Researchers from the University of Liverpool have demonstrated how to use positive memories to generate feelings of social safeness and emotional warmth. 

Researchers at the University of Liverpool wanted to test the effectiveness of the social Broad Minding Affective Coping (BMAC) technique. BMAC is a therapeutic technique that uses positive memories and images to improve feelings of safeness and warmth. They additionally wanted to investigate possible predictors of an individuals’ response to the intervention. 

The team of researchers, led by clinical psychologist Peter Taylor, recruited 123 participants online. Before and after the intervention, each participant completed self-report measures of social safeness, self-attacking, and pleasure.   “Social safeness” relates to feelings of warmth and connectedness. “Self-attacking” relates to thinking mean, diminishing, insulting, and shaming thoughts about oneself. There are two types of self-attacking: Inadequate self-attacking and hated-self attacking. Inadequate self-attacking is thought to be for self-correction. Hated self-attacking is thought to be for self-punishment. 

The researchers asked the participants to recall a positive memory of being with someone else and fill out the social BMAC prompt sheet. Each participant then followed auditory instructions that guided them through an initial relaxation exercise, which focuses the participant’s attention to themselves and the present moment. They then followed auditory instructions for the social BMAC, which guided them through a positive social memory. 

Researchers asked the participants to consider the positive feelings felt by the other person in the memory. Then, reflect on the feelings they themselves experienced. Engage all their senses when thinking about the memory. Consider why the memory is meaningful to them and take the time to savor the positive feelings experienced. The participants then completed another self-report measure of self-attacking, social safeness, and pleasure. 

The BMAC proved effective in eliciting safe and warm positive feelings. Contrary to what was expected, individuals who scored high on inadequate self-attacking benefitted the most from the intervention. Individuals high in inadequate self-attacking might work hard in order to gain approval from others. It’s possible these individuals benefit from BMAC because they have the ability feel the positive feelings another person has about them, even if they can’t generate those positive feelings about oneself by themselves. 

Two weeks later, nearly half of the participants took part in a follow-up. The warm and safe feelings were not sustained. This was expected as the intervention was brief. 

"These results suggest that the BMAC has the potential to be a practical and effective method for boosting mood amongst individuals with specific mental health problems such as anxiety or depression,” Taylor said. 

Further research needs to be done to see whether repeated use of social BMAC could lead to sustained results. Once the researchers find a method to sustain the results, they need to identify what the long-term benefits of experiencing sustained results are. 

The results were published today, April 20, 2016, in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. 

Sources: study via Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, University of Liverpool Press Release via EurkeAlert! 
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
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