New Research From Clinical Psychological Science

Reports of Recovered Memories of Abuse in Therapy in a Large Age-Representative U.S. National Sample: Therapy Type and Decade Comparisons
Lawrence Patihis and Mark H. Pendergrast

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To investigate the prevalence of memories of abuse being recovered in psychotherapy, Patihis and Pendergast surveyed patients about the duration and type of treatment they received, whether their therapists had discussed the possibility that they had repressed memories of abuse in childhood, and whether they had retrieved memories of being abused. Of 1,082 participants, 122 reported having recovered a memory of abuse. They were then asked how, where, and in what form they remember the abuse occurring, and whether they had cut off contact with family members. Twenty percent of the participants reported that their therapist had discussed the possibility of them repressing memories; this occurred in all types of therapies but mostly for those who started therapy in the 1990s. When the therapist had discussed the possibility of repressed memories, participants were 20 times more likely to report the recovery of such memories. The recovered memories most frequently reported involved emotional abuse, followed by physical abuse, and then sexual abuse, recalled as flashbacks both inside and outside of a therapy session. The recovered memory frequently resulted in cutting off contact with family members. The authors discuss the potential hazards of claimed memory recovery.

Reflections on Recovered Memories: Comment on Patihis and Pendergrast (2018)
Steven Jay Lynn, Harald Merckelbach, and Craig P. Polizzi

Patihis and Pendergrast showed that patients’ recovered memories increased as therapists discussed with them the possibility of recovering memories. In this comment, Lynn and colleagues agree with Patihis and Pendergrast’s skepticism about recovered memories and express concern about their accuracy and aftereffects. Moreover, Lynn et al. add that the assumption of a link between traumatic experiences and dissociative disorders is particularly problematic. They suggest that recovered memories could be studied and classified as a function of how the memories were recovered and interpreted, and that researchers could examine the procedures used by therapists who believe in repressed memories. Lynn and colleagues also recommend that therapists provide their clients with informed consent regarding the potential adverse effects of recovered memories and suggestive techniques.

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: A Nation Full of Traumatic Memories
Elizabeth F. Loftus and Jennifer Teitcher

Commenting on Patihis and Pendergrast’s survey suggesting that millions of people may have recovered memories of traumatic events because of psychotherapy, Loftus and Teitcher highlight the risks of recovering memories that are false and the potential risks of recovering real traumatic memories for patients who had spent most of their lives not thinking about those traumatic experiences. Patients that recover traumatic memories may become suicidal or engage in self-mutilation. The authors also believe that simply giving information about the potential hazards of recovered memories as part of informed consent may harm the patient. Therapists and researchers must consider how to ensure patients are actually better off after remembering traumatic events, even when they indeed happened.

The Recovered Memory Debate Continues in Europe: Evidence From the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Germany
Julia Shaw and Annelies Vredeveldt

The debate about the reliability of recovered traumatic memories and their effects is not unique to the United States. After Patihis and Pendergrast’s American survey, Shaw and Vredeveldt analyzed how prevalent the idea of repressed and recovered memories still is in Europe. In the United Kingdom, charities support individuals who claim they have been falsely accused of a crime on the basis of a false memory recovery, usually during therapy. In the Netherlands, most cases involving memory recovery cannot be taken to court, but there are still many individuals who claim to have recovered traumatic memories in therapy. In countries where psychoanalysis is popular, such as France and Germany, the numbers of repressed and recovered memories reported during therapy are even higher. Despite the fact that the concept of recovered memories has been widely criticized by scientists, memory-recovery techniques are still prevalent in psychotherapy in parts of Europe.

False Memories and True Memories of Childhood Trauma: Balancing the Risks
Gail S. Goodman, Lauren Gonzalves, and Samara Wolpe

In this commentary, Goodman et al. weigh in on the debate about recovery of traumatic memories during therapy. They focus on cases in which the traumatic events actually occurred and thus the memories recovered are true, pointing out that it might be legitimate for therapists to ask about past traumatic experiences that otherwise patients would not remember. To support this idea, they discuss literature showing trauma avoidance and the need for prompts to remember forgotten childhood events. The authors do not dismiss the likelihood of falsely recovering memories. However, they consider the risks of clinicians not asking about childhood trauma to be greater than the risks of creating false memories.

Reports of Recovered Memories in Therapy, Informed Consent, and Generalizability: Response to Commentaries
Lawrence Patihis and Mark H. Pendergrast

Patihis and Pendergrast respond to a series of commentaries on their article on the rates of recovered memories during therapy. They further develop their idea of informing patients about the risks of recovering memories, considering the criticisms of Loftus and Teitcher, and the ideas of Lynn, Merckelbach, and Polizzi. They also address the impact that psychoanalysis might have had on the rise of techniques that involve memory recovery, which would explain why these techniques are more common in European countries where psychoanalysis is popular, as Shaw and Vredeveldt showed in their commentary. They also respond to Goodman et al.’s skepticism regarding the original article and their emphasis on the possible accuracy of recovered traumatic memories. The authors argue that addressing childhood trauma will be more effective when there are as few distortions as possible, and thus researchers and therapists should examine and expand research on problematic memory-recovery practices.

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