Child Abuse  >  Recovered Memories

Additional Resources

On this page I offer resources that are not found on the other pages of this section, or on those pages but worth mentioning here too.

Websites

Dr. Kenneth Pope has several articles on the recovered memory/false memory debate. Dr. Pope is an accomplished psychologist who has published many articles and a book on the scientific and therapeutic issues involved.

The Recovered Memory Project is maintained by Ross Cheit, political scientist at Brown University who conducts important research on sexual abuse and public policy in the United States. This website includes an archive of corroborated cases of recovered memories of sexual abuse. The Archive includes cases in which sexual abuse had gone on for years – occurrences still claimed to be impossible by those now unable to deny the existence of recovered memories. Cheit provides the criteria for inclusion in the Archive and invites submission of additional cases, as well as criticism and contrary evidence. It’s an extremely valuable web site, and I strongly encourage you to educate yourself there – especially if you’re still skeptical about the reality of recovered memories of abuse. Here’s an outline of the Archive’s Corroborated Cases of Recovered Memory:

  • 53 Cases from Legal Proceedings
  • 25 Clinical Cases and other Academic/Scientific Case Studies
  • 33 Other Corroborated Cases of Recovered Memory

Amnesia and Recovered Memories for Other Traumas

Clearly the scholarly work cited on this website demonstrates that people experience amnesia and delayed recall for memories of childhood sexual abuse. But there are other traumas for which these phenomena have been found as well – although this is often overlooked in many discussions of recovered memories. The following is a sampling of papers reporting findings like those for sexual abuse.

Combat Trauma

Karon, B.P., & Widener, A.J. (1997). Repressed memories and World War II: Lest we forget! Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 28, 338-340.

Hendin, H., Haas, A. P., & Singer, P. (1984). The reliving experience in Vietnam veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146, 490-495.

Archibald, H. C., & Tuddenham, R. D. (1956). Persistent stress reaction after combat. Archives of General Psychiatry, 12, 475-481.

Kubie, L. S. (1943). Manual of emergency treatment for acute war neuroses. War Medicine, 4, 582-599.

Myers, C. S. (1915, January). A contribution to the study of shell-shock. Lancet, 316-320.

Thom, D. A., & Fenton, N. (1920). Amnesias in war cases. American Journal of Insanity, 76, 437-448.

Natural Disasters and Accidents

Madakasira, S., & O’Brian, K. (1987). Acute posttraumatic stress disorder in victims of a natural disaster. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 175, 286-290.

van der Kolk, B. A., & Kadish, W. (1987). Amnesia, dissociation, and the return of the repressed. In B. A. van der Kolk (Ed.), Psychological Trauma. American Psychiatric Press, Inc., Washington, D.C.

Victims of Torture

Goldfeld, A. E., Mollica, R. F., Pesavento, B. H., & Faraone, S. V. (1988). The physical and psychological sequelae of torture: Symptomology and diagnosis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 259, 2725-2729.

Kinzie, J. D. (1993). Posttraumatic effects and their treatment among Southeast Asian refugees. In J.P. Wilson and B. Raphael (Eds.), International handbook of traumatic stress syndromes. New York: Plenum, pp.311-319.

Holocaust Survivors

Memory Disturbances and Dissociative Amnesia in Holocaust Survivors

Selected Books on Recovered & Traumatic Memories

There are many good and some great books on recovered memories of sexual abuse in particular and traumatic memories in general. Below is a short list of books that I have found very informative and enlightening. These are still worthwhile reading for therapists, students, scientists, lawyers, philosophers and anyone else interested in the many facets and implications of traumatic memory.

Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories, Lost and Found, by Lenore Terr. New York: Basic Books, 1994. Psychiatrist Lenore Terr University of California’s San Francisco Medical School helped found the field of psychological trauma with her study of children involved in the Chowchilla kidnapping incident. In this book, which is accessible to everyone interested in this topic, she recounts her experiences as a therapist working with people who have experienced amnesia and delayed recall for traumatic memories. Written by a competent and ethical therapist and researcher, this book is a matter of fact response to sweeping generalizations about professionals doing this work.

Recollections of Sexual Abuse: Treatment Principles and Guidelines, by Christine Courtois. New York: Norton, 1999. Psychologist Christine Courtois is therapist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and clinical director of The CENTER: Post-traumatic Disorders Program, at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington. She has authored ground-breaking books on adults with histories of child sexual abuse and treating incest survivors, conducts workshops nationally and internationally, and has received many awards for her writing and other work. This book was written to meet clinicians’ needs for balanced educational material on traumatic memories, and proposes guidelines and principles for treatment, including for dealing with recovered memories. More specifically, as Dr. Courtois writes in her introduction, “the intent of this book is (1) to provide explanatory material to the working clinician in a form that is accessible as well as practical; (2) to outline the middle ground and evolving standard of clinical practice and standard of care that encourages the clinician in a stance of supportive neutrality toward the patient and his/her productions in therapy, a stance that neither suggests nor suppresses exploration of memories or suspicions of past abuse; and (3) to provide this material to improve clinical practice and care of patients. . . and as risk management for the clinician” (p. xvii). As many leaders in the traumatic stress field agree, she has spectacularly achieved these goals, and this book is an invaluable resource for clinicians.

Recovered Memories of Abuse: Assessment, Therapy, Forensics,by Kenneth Pope & Laura Brown. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1996. This highly acclaimed book is an excellent practical resource for therapists, lawyers, and expert witnesses.

Three examples of the praise this book has received:

Pope and Brown have presented a careful review of memory science that both appreciates complexity and cautions against overgeneralization. . . . The book presents very pragmatic guidelines for clinicians that serve to improve the standard of care and decrease liability risk. . . . This is a very sane, ethical, and compassionate approach to a very controversial and often irrational debate. Daniel Brown, Ph.D., ABPH, Harvard Medical School

Trauma and Cognitive Science, edited by Jennifer J. Freyd & Anne P. DePrince. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, 2001. This book is based on a ground-breaking 1998 conference hosted by Jennifer Freyd and Chris Brewin, which brought together clinicians, clinical researchers, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists, in an effort to bridge gaps across these disciplines and their respective theoretical frameworks and research methodologies. As indicated by the contents below, this collection of papers addresses a variety of important issues concerning recovered memories of abuse and traumatic memories more generally.

Memory, Trauma Treatment and the Law, by Daniel Brown, Alan W. Scheflin, & D. Corydon Hammond. New York: Norton, 1997. When published this book was the most comprehensive and acclaimed on this topic. Brown, Scheflin and Hammond’s encyclopedic volume is a remarkably thorough treatment of many crucial issues, including memory, suggestibility, therapy, and the law. It is an expensive and massive book, and still authoritative in many ways.

Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse, by Jennifer Freyd. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Freyd is a University of Oregon research psychologist. In this acclaimed book she advances her theory of why it is adaptive for some children not to remember childhood abuse experiences.Freyd focuses on the issue of betrayal, and argues that the need for mental and physical survival, not merely the avoidance of painful feelings, leads children abused by caregivers to block out information about the abuse.

Here are excerpts from the New York Times Book Review:

Betrayal Trauma is a thoughtful, judicious and thorough scholarly analysis of a subject that has hitherto generated more heat than light. . . Although the mechanisms involved [in memory loss and retrieval] are far from fully understood, Ms. Freyd marshals the psychological, neurological and cognitive-science literature with impressive skill to suggest several plausible possibilities. Her work serves as a salutary reminder that if treated as serious science rather than media hoopla the recovered-memory debate could provide a significant window on mind-brain relationships; anyone interested in the latter will find much stimulating material here. . . She has a complex enough case to argue; she argues it fairly and with virtuoso skill, blending vivid anecdote with statistical evidence, first-person accounts with research reports, in a highly literate and engaging style. Partisan passions, alas, are seldom quenched by reason. But unblinkered readers will surely agree that Ms. Freyd’s book places recovered memories squarely on the cognitive-science agenda. Her diagnosis of their source may well turn out to be correct. Derek Bickerton, New York Times Book Review

Sexual Abuse Recalled: Treating Trauma in the Era of the Recovered Memory Debate, edited by Judith Alpert. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1995. This collection of thoughtful and informative essays addresses the range of clinical issues encountered in this work, from therapeutic practice and ethics, to scientific bases and legal concerns.Contributors include Judith Alpert, Bessel van der Kolk, Laura Brown, and Daniel Brown. Richard Kluft, an expert on dissociation and dissociative identity disorder, says this about the book:

Dr. Alpert and her contributors have produced a foundation resource document for therapists who labor to console and heal patients struggling with issues of trauma. By restraining from indulgence in unseemly polemics. . . they bring thoughtful insight to the study of recollections of sexual traumatization and to the management of such memories in treatment. This is not a gratifying text for the true believer who seeks confirmation of a particular point of view, but it is an excellent text for the honest clinician or scholar willing to grapple with an extremely complex and challenging problem in a candid and circumspect manner. We owe Dr. Alpert and her colleagues a debt of gratitude.

Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, by Lawrence Langer. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1991. Boston University scholar Lawrence Langer has spent years studying videotapes from the Holocaust Archive at Yale University. Langer’s research has focused on Holocaust survivors’ oral testimonies. Based on this work he has formulated a distinction between what he refers to as “common memory” and “deep memory.” Langer’s insights may shed light on memories of the most extreme forms of child abuse.

Common memory has meaningful continuity with the present for its possessor, and can be linked to the present by a storyline. Common memory can be communicated to a listener who can imagine a relevant past in common with the speaker. It can be communicated to another as a narrative that is, by its nature, comprehensible to its audience. In contrast, deep memory cannot be integrated into a narrative continuous with the present, even by its possessor. Indeed, deep memory ultimately cannot be understood by another person, since a listener has no basis for imagining the past it depicts.

Langer conveys the experience of watching videotapes of oral Holocaust testimonies:

We wrestle with the beginnings of a permanently unfinished tale, full of incomplete intervals, faced by the spectacle of a faltering witness often reduced to a distressed silence by the overwhelming solicitations of deep memory. Witnesses’ chronic frustration and skepticism about the audience’s ability to understand their testimony is almost a premise of these encounters. Written texts, on the other hand, are designed to avert this possibility – otherwise, one assumes, they would not be published. Indeed, the initial problem surfacing in these oral testimonies with sufficient regularity to call it a ‘theme’ is exactly the opposite: whether anything can be meaningfully conveyed” (1991, p.21).