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Can you cure a phobia by medically rewriting the original fear memory?

Far from pure recollections of the past, human memories are imperfect, emotional and inevitably intertwined with our habits and learned behaviours. Based on her understanding of memories as fundamentally alterable, the Dutch clinical psychologist Merel Kindt has developed an experimental and unusual – although very promising – treatment for phobias and emotional traumas that trigger a detrimental fear response. In Kindt’s laboratory at the University of Amsterdam, patients terrify themselves via controlled exposures to what they fear most – everything from mice to memories of war. After experiencing intense fear, they ingest a beta-blocker called propranolol and, in doing so, aim to change the neurological structure of the fear-memory to make it benign. This is the first in the US director Lana Wilson’s four-part documentary series A Cure for Fear, which explores fear in the context of Kindt’s potentially revolutionary treatment. This instalment sees patients with phobias of cats and spiders attempting to get their terrors under control. Watch the other three instalments at Topic.

Director: Lana Wilson

Producer: Shrihari Sathe

5 November 2018

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