In psychogenic amnesia, there is extensive loss of autobiographical memory which is triggered by psychological factors, such as an emotionally stressful event. This can last for several days typically, to months or years.
The features of psychogenic amnesia are variable but the following characteristics are common:
- Extensive loss of memories from personal history
- Preserved ability to form new memories
- Episode triggered by a highly emotional event
- Duration of memory loss usually lasts for at least several days
- A history of “organic amnesia”, psychiatric illness and/or substance abuse
Prognosis is variable with some individuals recovering their memories in response to a minor cue, whilst others may remain permanently unable to recall particular autobiographical memories for a period of weeks, months or even years.
Treatment aims to help the individual to process painful memories, develop new coping and life skills and restore their social and cognitive functioning. Treatment depends on the individual and the severity of their symptoms but may include psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, medication, family therapy, creative therapy or hypnosis.