Memory, Memory, What Art Thou?

Sensory information become patterns of energy and information in our neural architecture in the form of memory. When we think of memory we often assume it’s explicit memory about what we can consciously recall. However, memory comes in different forms. There are two main types of memory that are, which are: 1) implicit; and, 2) explicit.

Implicit memory automatically forms outside of conscious awareness and can be difficult to consciously interpret because it is not originally (directly) formed with language. Implicit memory is stored in 3 regions of the brain. The first region is the amygdala, which stores emotional memory. The second region is the striatum, which stores habitual memory. The third region is the cerebellum, which stores procedural memory.

Generally, declarative memory consists of: 1) Working memory (immediate memory); 2) Short-term memory (seconds to days); and 3) Long-term memory. Working memory and short-term memory are localized in the prefrontal cortex. Long-term memory is distributed among many brain regions, but the hippocampus and surrounding regions have been found to be of especial significance to explicit memory. The hippocampus is necessary for the conversion of short-term explicit memory to long term memory (note: the hippocampus is not needed for the conversion of implicit memory). The consolidation process from the hippocampus to the respective memory regions for explicit memory can take anywhere from days to years.

For our purposes, there are two pathways in the brain that assess our environment. One is sub-cortical (unconscious) and faster, called the "low road". The second is cortical (conscious) and slower, called the "high-road". Sub-cortical means below the cortex. Cortical means involving the cortex. For the sub-cortical pathway (low road), information from the senses meets in the thalamus (sensory switch board of the brain) and relays information directly to the amygdala, bypassing all conscious involvement. For the cortical pathway (high road), the sensory information goes to the thalamus, then to the cortex and hippocampus.

Regarding the subcortical “low road” pathway and the lack of conscious involvement, this is significant because it means that language is not used for encoding emotional memories, so clients may not be consciously aware of what is causing them distress. The amygdala is fully formed in the 8th month of gestation, and the hippocampus doesn’t form until after the first year of birth, so implicit emotional memories can form early in life, but might not be remembered and yet still affect the client in the form of unelaborated distress and feelings that aren't understood.

The brain circuits in the faster sub-cortical “low road” don't have the capacity for context and detail. As such, implicit emotional memories stored in the amygdala do not have situational or temporal context – that’s why traumatic memories are experienced as if they are happening right now. Cues in the environment (or even thoughts) can trigger the traumatic memory. The slower cortical pathway in the “high road” is capable of giving detailed assessment and context, and can modulate the amygdala’s appraisals. The significance of the direct "low-road" pathway to the amygdala is that such appraisals occur in a quick, generalized, and threat-biased way - through the lens of past implicit memories. This means that a person with trauma views their present situations through the lens of past traumatic memories so that anything of remote similarity will register as a potential danger. Until next time, keep well on your journey in therapy!

Until next time, keep up the excellent work on your journey in counselling!

Alistair Gordon, M.A., R.C.C.
Registered Clinical Counsellor #13561

  • When I decided to find a counsellor, I tried to find someone that I could relate to, someone that is like-minded and down-to-earth and with Alistair I really found the right person. He uses an integrative approach, showed me techniques to relax and get aware of my emotions, and helped me see things in a new perspective. Of course this is an ongoing process but I enjoy meeting and working with Alistair every time. The downtown office is a very neutral place – not too intimate, not too clinical – which is helpful to overcome apprehension, especially the first couple of times. What I find remarkable is that Alistair almost always knows what I’m trying to say, even if I can’t put it into words. Working with Alistair helped me a lot and it was the right decision to put my trust in him.

    - Michael S.

  • Alistair really cares about you the person, and I could really feel him trying to tackle my challenges. He was also very available for off-session contact via text and email. I think he did a great job with confronting me where I needed it. Alistair always could remember the important peoples' names in my personal life, which really helped with talking about my problems. I really felt like I was talking to a friend.
    Definitely feels great that they're options out there get help and I achieved a lot with Alister in as little as 5 sessions.

    — Max A

  • I have been working with Alistair Gordon as my counsellor at Wellspring for almost 6 months now and cannot begin to tell you how far I have come with his help. I have tried working with other counsellors and therapists in the past but never really found one that clicked for me. I always felt judged, unsupported, and rushed at those appointments until I booked my first appointment with Wellspring and with Allistair. Read More

    — Elyse Renouf

  • I am a young professional which for a long time now, has struggled with anxiety, insecurity, and difficulty in finding effective life coping mechanisms. Alistair was referred to me by a friend and upon the first meeting, I found Alistair to be empathetic, compassionate and intuitive. I have now been seeing Alistair regularly for 6 months and through that time my anxiety has significantly decreased, Read More

    — Kahir Lalji

  • I am very glad that I had the chance to work with Alistair. It was easy to connect right from the start. He uses an integrative approach, showed me techniques to relax and helped me see things in a new perspective. One of Alistair’s most remarkable qualities is that he almost always knows what I’m trying to say, even if I can’t put it into words. Contacting Alistair and working with him was definitely the right decision.

    — Michael Silberhorn

  • I had no experience with therapy and was unsure of the whole process. Alistair made everything very accessible and unintimidating. It was clear that he puts quite a lot of effort and preparation into every session. I'm so glad that I decided to do this, and could not have asked for a better person to help me with this. I would highly reccomend Alistair to anyone who has ever thought that they might benefit from talking to a professional.

    — Edward Hicks

  • I enjoy how sessions are collaborative where I can take the lead for the direction of what we talk about, and at the same time I know that Alistair will offer helpful guidance and insight along the way. I also like how we focus on the future instead of just the past. I find this to be empowering and helpful to move forward in life.

    — RM

  • Alistair is an awesome counsellor. He has been so helpful in working with me through some tough times in my life. He's always been available to chat with me in-between sessions. I'd recommend Alistair to anyone - he's really the ideal counsellor in my view.

    — JG

  • I have always felt very comfortable with Alistair. He has a calming presence, and you can tell he cares about being the best counsellor for you. He helps you with all aspects of your concern, and is always able to help me find a solution to the problem I'm having.

    — SD

  • Mr. Gordon is someone that captures the spirit and the heart of active engagement. He is empathic, genuine and incorporates action and creative problem solving into his practice. I have no hesitation in recommending Mr. Gordon as an effective career and personal counsellor.

    — Dr. Norman Amundson

    Professor of Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia "Active Engagement: The Being and Doing of Career Counselling"

  • Alistair is an exceptionally talented counsellor and has always demonstrated strong ethics, great compassion, wisdom and respect for others. I highly recommend him as a counselling practitioner.

    — Dr. Marla Buchanan

    Director of the UBC Centre for Group Counselling and Trauma,
    University of British Columbia