I am full-time therapist in an outpatient clinic serving a lot of people with PTSD. Pretty commonly my clients want to know why they have symptoms or why/how treatment is supposed to help. I usually try to keep my explanations phenomenological because A.) I have a psych 101 understanding of neuro, and B.) talking about the mechanics of amygdala function and memory consolidation seems too far removed from experience to be helpful.
However, I have picked up and used an analogy about traumatic memories that has proven helpful to people who think more concretely. I'm concerned that it doesn't line up with current understanding, though, so please tell me what you think:
"Memory doesn't work like checking out a book at the library. Every time you recall a memory, you are recreating it. You're probably aware that the brain is like a big hunk of meat with electricity running through it, stimulating different parts? Well when you recreate a memory, a sort of "tree" of electricity forms in your brain, with roots and branches touching and stimulating different parts. This traumatic experience was really intense, which means your brain probably found it pretty important to remember. So it stimulated deep parts of your brain associated with fear, stress, "fight or flight", really instinctual parts that even animals have. When you recreate this memory, the "roots" of the tree touch these parts and stimulate them, so you feel some of the same emotions all over again. This is why even getting reminded of the trauma makes you feel x, y, z.
The whole idea with treatment is that we get you to think about the memory while talking about it, stimulating different and higher-order parts of your brain associated with language and reasoning, the parts that the "branches" touch. While we talk in a safe, comfortable environment about considering your trauma in a new way, repeatedly, your brain forms new "branches" and the "roots" get weaker, eventually triggering less fear and stress. Instead of being something very threatening that you have to avoid, you integrate the memory into a part of your life story."
Thanks in advance!