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Recovered Memories in Therapy

Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories. (Williams, 1995). Full Text.
Impact: In a community sample of 129 women with documented histories of childhood sexual abuse that included women who experienced recovered memories, the authors concluded “there is no evidence from this study of child sexual abuse experienced by this community sample of women that recovery of memories was fostered by therapy or therapists. For this sample of women memories resurfaced in conjunction with registering events or reminders and an internal process of rumination and clarification.”

Dalenberg, C. J. Accuracy, timing and circumstances of disclosure in therapy of recovered and continuous memories of abuse. (Dalenberg, 1996)
Impact: Victims of abuse in therapy and perpetrators of abuse were interviewed to assess the accuracy of memories of abuse. Memories of abuse recovered in therapy were found to be just as accurate as continuous memories of abuse.

Does psychotherapy recover or invent child sexual abuse memories? A case history. (Milchman, 2008).
Impact: The article proposes the theory that integrates the construct of the self with the relationship between bodily experiences and memory narratives. It suggests that: (1) amnesia and recovering memories involve normal and abnormal memory mechanisms; (2) remembering during psychotherapy is complex; (3) psychotherapy need not be suggestive; (4) inaccessible memories may act as constraints on suggestibility; and (5) narrative recall may depend on the connection of bodily experiences with self-reflection.

Are 25% of clinicians using potentially risky therapeutic practices? A review of the logic and methodology of the Poole, Lindsay, et al. study. (Olio, 1996)
Impact: This study documents the alleged number of persuaded clients who have developed false memories of childhood abuse, challenging the Poole, Lindsay et al. study that claims a high incidence. Secondly, the authors critique the study as having a lack of operational definitions, flawed survey construction, lack of face validity, misclassification of techniques, and fallacious inferences about causality, such as mistaking correlation for causation; making it impossible to use these data to draw scientific conclusions about the nature and outcomes of clinicians’ practices.

Suggestibility and treatment as key variables in the recovered memory debate. (Leavitt, 1999).
Impact: To assess whether or not recovered memories were fostered by therapists, practices used by therapists on patients who happened to recover memories during treatment were tested on a separate population. After two years of treatment, even the most suggestible participants did not recover memories. As such, this study concludes that “claims involving simple cause and effect relationships between treatment and memory recovery are not viable,” and that they are “not relevant for understanding the emergence of memories of childhood sexual trauma.”

Leavitt, F. (1999). Suggestibility and treatment as key variables in the recovered memory debate. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 17, 5-18.
Abstract: Alleged inducement of sexual trauma memory was studied from the perspective of suggestibility as embodied in false memory theory. The controversial assumption that therapeutic suggestion operates to cause events to be falsely remembered was tested using a sample drawn from practices that contained patients who did, as well as those who did not, recover memories while in treatment. Following two years of treatment, the most suggestible of the patients did not recover memories. Paradoxically, those with the weakest levels of suggestibility recovered memories from the same practices. Since it is not logically conceivable that therapeutic suggestion operates only in the nonsuggestible, the assumptions of false memory theory were interpreted as not relevant for understanding the emergence of memories of childhood sexual trauma. Claims involving simple cause and effect relationships between treatment and memory recovery are not viable.

Recovery and verification of memories of childhood sexual trauma. (Herman, & Schatzow, 1987).
Impact: Short term therapy groups for incest survivors proved to be a powerful stimulus for recovery of previously repressed traumatic memories. A relationship was observed between the age of onset, duration, and degree of violence of the abuse and the extent to which memory of the abuse had been repressed. 74% of participants were able to validate their memories by obtaining corroborating evidence from other sources.

Recovered memories of abuse among therapy patients: A national survey. (Pope & Tabachnick, 1995).
Impact: 73% of psychologists had had at least 1 patient who claimed to recover previously forgotten memories of childhood sex abuse. Therapist’s gender is a significant variable only for women patients who recover memories of having been abused. Therapists’ theoretical orientation was not relevant. In this study, about 8 or 9 patients out of every 1,000 reported recovering memories of childhood abuse. According to the therapists, about 50% of the patients who claimed to have recovered the memories had found external validation.

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