Effects of processing positive memories on posttrauma mental health: A preliminary study in a non-clinical student sample

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Background and objectives: Although trauma research and therapy primarily focus on traumatic memories, recent evidence indicates positive memory processes play a role in the etiology/maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity. We examined the effects of a novel positive memory processing technique on PTSD symptom severity, depression symptom severity, affect, posttrauma cognitions, and self-esteem. Methods: Sixty-five trauma-exposed participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions (narrating/processing vs. writing/processing two specific positive memories, or a time-matched control) and completed self-report measures pre- and post-task (T0). About one week later, participants repeated their assigned task condition and completed self-report measures pre- and post-task (T1). We conducted mixed ANOVAs to examine the impact of the technique on study variables over time. Results: The narrating condition had significant decreases in PTSD symptom severity, posttrauma cognitions, and negative affect from T0 pre-task to T1 post-task; and significant increases in positive affect from T0 pre-to-post-task and from T1 pre-to-post-task. The writing condition had significant increases in positive affect from T0 pre-to-post-task, but a significant decrease from T0 post-task to T1 post-task; and significant decreases in negative affect from T0 pre-to-post-task with an increase from T0 post-task to T1 post-task. Limitations: Use of self-report measures, non-clinical convenience sample with less gender/ethnic/racial diversity, small sample size, methodological differences in time frames for measures, and no examination of follow-up effects. Conclusions: Narrating and processing specific positive memories had a beneficial impact on PTSD symptom severity, posttrauma maladaptive cognitions, and affect; such results provide an impetus to examine positive memory interventions in trauma clinical work.

Publication Title

Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry