Memory recovery and repression: What is the evidence?
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Both the theory that traumatic childhood memories can be repressed, and the reliability of the techniques used to retrieve these memories are challenged in this paper. Questions are raised about the robustness of the theory and the literature that purports to provide scientific evidence for it. Evidence to this end is provided by the demographic and qualitative results of a research study conducted by the authors which surveyed New Zealand families in which one member had accused another (or others) of sexual abuse on the basis of recovered memories. It is shown that a number of these allegations involve very low probability events. Since memory repression theory is not currently scientifically substantiated it is argued that care needs to be taken in the mental health, legal and insurance compensation arenas. Memories recalled during therapy may be treated as metaphorical but, in the absence of corroborative evidence, should not be considered factually true. Clinicians who wish to use memory recovery techniques should inform patients of their experimental and controversial nature, point out potential adverse effects, and obtain consent before proceeding.
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