Share this article:


  • Join our comunity:

Clinical Implications of Reactivation in Psychotherapy

By: , Posted on: February 4, 2015

Warren Tryon & HammerPrinciple 4, as presented in my book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory, concerns Reactivation as distinguished from activation.

I represented this principle in Blog 20. The link to my full blog archive is here.

I introduced Reactivation as its own principle to distinguish it as a specialized form of activation which Principle 1 emphasizes propagates automatically and unconsciously across neural networks. Reactivation is an unconscious process of resetting relevant synapses of our connectome to the state that they were in when memory last formed for the event being recalled. I emphasize the last time that the event was recalled because every reactivation interacts with post-event information and those interactions modify what is remembered the next time this event is recalled.

Hence, repeated remembering reshapes memories depending upon the type of post-event information that is presented at the time of recollection. A great deal of forensic research has clearly supported the vulnerability of human memory to post-event information and to suggestion. Attorneys and police interrogators routinely re-question witnesses in order to re-shape their recollection of the facts so as to fit their particular perspective.

Reactivation is a basic mechanism by which hermeneutic psychoanalysis, as discussed by Shaffer (1978), works. Consider the following excerpt from page 462 of my book.

Hermeneutic psychoanalysts took a more direct interest in memory modification. They targeted memories for modification and recommended memory modification as a therapeutic tool. Shaffer (1978) advanced the following three theses in his Yale lectures: (1) ‘The first thesis is that a psychoanalysis consists of the construction of a personal past. It is not the personal past but a personal past. However convincing it may be, it remains a construction, merely a history of a certain kind’ (p. 8). (2) ‘At this point I want to move on to the second thesis, which is that a psychoanalysis consists of the construction of a present subjective world of a certain kind. Again, not the present world but a present world. Like the past, the psychoanalytic present is no more than one of a number of possible constructions’ (p. 14). (3) ‘My third thesis, which concerns the characteristic point of view taken of this distinctively Freudian past and present, is this: the psychoanalyst develops a view of the analysand’s life history as action. The term action will be used in the sense that includes wishing, imagining, remembering, and other such mental acts along with physical acts in and on the environment’ (p. 18) (all emphases original). The objective of successful therapy was to revise the patient’s memories in ways that would make them less distressing. After all, their memories were considered to be just ‘a history of a certain kind’ (p. 8). Altering them to be a less distressing history was considered to be therapeutic.

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) also works because of Principle 4 as I indicate beginning on page 463 of my book:

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT; Angus & Greenberg, 2011; Greenberg, 2002, 2008; Pavio & Pascual-Leone, 2010) includes narrative construction and reconstruction (Angus & Greenberg, 2011, pp. 22–3) ‘in which symbolized feelings, needs, self-experience, thoughts and aims are clarified and organized into a coherent story’ (p. 22). ‘Here, complex experiences, such as conflict or puzzling reactions, are organized into stories that are understandable and often new’ (p. 22). ‘Promoting reflection on emotional experience, as well as helping people make sense of their experience, promotes its assimilation into their ongoing self-narratives’ (p. 23). EFT also includes ‘Transformation of emotion and story outcomes’ (p. 23) where the therapist helps the patient create ‘new explicit meanings and story outcomes’ (p. 23). Modifying life-story narratives is understood to cause emotional change. ‘As such, emotional change, by definition, involves narrative change’ (p. 24). EFT also includes ‘identity reconstruction’ (p. 24). ‘A critical change process occurs when the client’s most important personal stories and their emotional plotlines change. This final process involves different forms of identity transformation that result in the emergence of new self-narratives’ (p. 24). ‘Importantly, the integration of emotion processes and narrative structure facilitates the construction of a stored explanation of what happened, which can then be told to others and reflected on for further understanding and personal meaning construction. Therapy then is a process of clients coming to know and understand their own lived stories and articulating them as told stories – and in doing so changing their stories’ (p. 25). ‘The term autobiographical reasoning refers to this type of narrative meaning-making activity’ (p. 25).

Reactivation of memories has, and continues to constitute an important component of effective psychotherapies.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy coverRead more from Warren Tryon on SciTech Connect:

Warren’s book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is available for purchase on the Elsevier Store. Use discount code “STC215” at checkout and save up to 30% on your very own copy.

About the Author

Warren ComputerWarren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy.

In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.

His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is

This blog and all others by Dr. Warren Tryon can be found on his Fordham faculty webpage.


  1. Angus, L. E., & Greenberg, L. S. (2011). Working with narrative in emotion-focused therapy: Changing stories, healing lives. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.
  2. Greenberg, L. S. (2002). Emotion-focused therapy: Coaching clients to work through their feelings. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  3. Greenberg, L. S. (2008). The clinical application of emotion in psychotherapy. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. F. Barrett (2008). Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 88-101). New York: Guilford.
  4. Pavio, S. C., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2010). Emotion-focused therapy for complex trauma: An integrative approach. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  5. Shaffer, R. (1978) Language and insight. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Connect with us on social media and stay up to date on new articles


Researchers and clinicians in psychology work across a vast array of sub-disciplines, including applied psychology, addictions, cognitive psychology, developmental and educational psychology, experimental physiological psychology, forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and behavioral and cognitive therapy. For these professionals, and students as well, cross-disciplinary study is a given. For more than 75 years, Elsevier has cultivated portfolios of psychology books, eBooks, and journals covering current and critical issues in all of these areas. This vital content provides a sound basis of understanding for all those involved in this multi-faceted field.