The topic of Recovered Memories is very controversial, and has caused substantial debate on their validity.

Essentially, a recovered memory is a memory that a person has allegedly recovered, having in the past forgotten about the event.

In this article, we look deeper at this topic, and look at the key themes and controversy that surrounds it.

Memories come in a range of forms

Recovered Memories

There is debate among psychologists as to whether or not recovered memories are a possibility, or if they are always a fabrication.

Supposedly, people are capable of forgetting an event, and then years later remembering it. These are often seemingly traumatic events.

Memories are often allegedly recovered during talking therapy sessions. These often take place years after the events. The process by which these memories come to the fore can vary.

Proponents of recovered memory suggest that traumatic memories can be forgotten, due to the trauma involved. This would allow such memories to be recovered.

This topic overlaps with Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind. He suggested there are numerous ways in which the unconscious mind can be reached – which can result in past memories being discovered. Moreover, he suggested that traumatic memories are repressed by the mind – as a defence mechanism to protect the mind from trauma.

But such methods have been questioned. In more recent years, many of Freud’s ideas have been discredited, as psychology has moved away from recovered memories.

In fact, the American Psychiatric Association has warned its members about the potential dangers of implanting memories into patients.

Example of a recovered memory

Typically, a recovered memory would come through a talking therapy session. For example, a patient who has been experiencing mental health problems may receive Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy.

During a session, the patient may suddenly “remember” a supposed memory that has taken place in the past. They may do this seemingly out of the blue.

Some have suggested that some therapists “implant” memories, or word questions in a suggestive way to try and almost “create” a memory.

Studies show that around 80% of civil and criminal cases which involved allegations of childhood abuse involved memories occurring in therapy [1].

There are many questions over how these memories come to the fore. This feeds into the wider issue of whether or not you believe recovered memories are possible.

Sometimes, cases of Amnesia are possible – where a person suffers a partial or complete loss of memory. When this does reappear though, it is often through something suddenly reminding them of the event – rather than through therapy.

Famous cases of recovered memory

During the 1990s, recovered memory was an enormous topic, with hundreds of people seemingly having recovered past memories of being abused as children.

At the time of recovered memory becoming entrenched in society and the media, a mass hysteria developed regarding supposed issues of satanic ritual abuse.

When such people confronted their alleged abusers, cases often ended up going to court. Families have been torn apart, and lives ruined.

To those who criticise the idea of recovered memory, the term “False Memory Syndrome” has been used. This describes the state of mind where someone allegedly is suffering from a false memory.

One of the most infamous cases involved the Freyd family, which resulted in the controversial False Memory Syndrome Foundation being formed.

Other famous cases involve Gary Ramona, Patricia Burgus, George Franklin, and the infamous McMartin Preschool Satanic Ritual Abuse allegations.

Summary

As discussed, recovered memory is a difficult topic. Perhaps the biggest issue is that in any case, without irrefutable evidence to suggest otherwise – there is simply no knowing who is telling the truth.

For some, recovered memories are possible, and are crucial. But for others, recovered memories are not possible, and instead such ideas move more towards the realm of false memory.

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References

[1] Dodier, O., Pathis, L., & Payoux, M. (2019). Reports of recovered memories of childhood abuse in therapy in France. Memory. 27 (9): p1283-1298. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09658211.2019.1652654.