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Topics in Narrative Psychology

 Therapeutic Recovery of Memory

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 Background  ||  Internet  ||  Bibliographical  ||  Theorists


Background Issues

This page deals with narative as it relates to the matter of the what is called "the therapeutic recovery of repressed memory" of sexual abuse from the vantage points of the clinical office, the experimentalist's laboratory, and the forensic arena of the courthouse, litigation and criminal prosecution. The conflict between those who believe in or oppose the reality of "repressed memory and its recovery" has come to be known colloquially as "the Memory Wars." Somehat parallel therapeutic approaches to repressed memories also have been employed with issues of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) and alien abduction (AA). Because narrative and constructivist psychologists see broad similarities across all these issues, some attention to SRA and AA is given here.

Three sets of resources are maintained here:

Theorists*Key Figures


Internet Resouces

The Internet is filled with resources on both sides of the "repressed memory/false memory" controversy. Some of these pages are maintained by individuals who make no apology for their empassioned allegience to one side or the other of this matter and, thus, offer no alternative positions among their resources. A range of resource sites are listed below.

Abuse, Memory, Science, Therapy, Ethics & Malpractice [Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D.]

Dr. Pope strongly supports the notion of recovered memory of abuse and offers a range of scientific and professional materials. "The award address Memory, Abuse, and Science: Questioning Claims about the False Memory Syndrome Epidemic and its follow-up article Science As Careful Questioning: Are Claims of a False Memory Syndrome Epidemic Based on Empirical Evidence? review systematically the claims made about recovered memories of child sex abuse in light of the documented scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed journals." (site blurb)

American Psychological Association

Child Sexual Abuse
The Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Knoxville, TN

Cognitive Neuroscience Encounters Psychotherapy: Lessons from Research on Attachment and the Development of Emotion, Memory and Narrative [Daniel J. Siegel, MD; March 1996; Psychiatric Times at Mental Health Infosource] "...presented as a plenary address at the 1996 American Association of Directors of Residency Training Annual Meeting and in greatly expanded form in Siegel's forthcoming book, Memory Matters"] This is included here because of its discussion of the constructive activities of memory in the creation of narrative which psychotherapy of abuse must constantly deal with.

False Memory Syndrome Facts [Linda Chapman, MSW] Strongly opposed to the notion of "false memory syndrome"

False Memory Syndrome Foundation Online - Cfficial site of the organization supporting the notion of "false memory syndrome".

False Memory Syndrome Foundation [Patrick Fitzgerald] A volunteer's site which appears not to be updated beyond mid-1998.

Jim Hopper, Ph.D. Homepage [Trauma Center, HRI Hospital, Brookline, MA]

Men's Issues Page

This site contains much material challenging the notion of "recovered memories"; it demonstrates a general point of view with relatively little sympathy for the "feminist" perspective.


Ritual Abuse Home Page

Sexual Assault Information Page

Bibliographical Resources

The literature on this subject is quite vast and growing rapidly. Schachter (1996, see below) is probably the best introduction to the complexities of the issues and the published literature up to 1995. Showalter (1997) has been a particularly engaging target of both hostile comment and energetic support for her critical and skeptical alignment of recovered memories of abuse (among other conditions) with the long history of hysteria in modernist psychiatry.

Bass, E., & Davis, L. (1994). The courage to heal: A guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse, featuring "Honoring the truth, a response to the backlash" (3rd ed.). New York: HarperPerrenial. [HQ72.U53 B37 1994]

The updated edition of the handbook which vigorously supports the notion of represssed memories of sexual abuse in childhood as underlying a wide range of adult psychopathologies (while equally denounced as irresponsible quackery by some in the clinical community.)

Bottoms, B. L., & Goodman, G. S. (Eds.). (1996). International perspectives on child abuse and children's testimony. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Brandon, S., Boakes, J., Glaser, D., & Green, R. (1998). Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Implications for clinical practice. British Journal of Psychiatry, 172, 296-307.

Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). Suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403-439.

Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1995). Jeopardy in the courtroom. Washington, DC: APA Books.

Clark, S. M. (1997). False memory syndrome: A feminist philosophical approach. Hypatia, 12, 1-50.

A nuanced feminist analysis of "false memory syndrome" (FMS) which addresses both the anti-feminist stance of FMS while acknowledging epistemic irresponsibility or dogmatism in some FMS proponents. A provocative and helpful advance beyond the shouting of both camps. (Available online)

Crews, F. C. (1995) Memory wars: Freud's legacy in dispute. New York: New York Review of Books. [BF175.5.R44M46 1995]. Brings together these articles from the New York Review of Books:

+Crews, F. C. (1994, November 17). The revenge of the repressed (I). The New York Review of Books, 41, 54-60.
+Crews, F. C. (1994, December 1). The revenge of the repressed (II). The New York Review of Books, 41, 49-52+.
+Crews, F. C. (1995, January 12). 'Victims of memory': An exchange. The New York Review of Books, 42, 42-48.
+Crews, F. C. (1995, March 23). Freud and memory: An exchange. The New York Review of Books, 42, 65-66.
+Crews, F. C. (1995, April 20), Freud & his defenders. The New York Review of Books, 42, 72-73.

The first two articles are actually extended, essay-length reviews of books by Bass & Davis (1994), Loftus & Ketcham (1994), Ofshe & Watters (1994), Pendergrast (1995) and Terr (?) in the debate on the therapeutic treatment of repressed memories of child abuse versus the accusation of false memory recovery. The author believes that many of these memories are induced by therapists for a variety of economic and ideological reasons and that they are uncritically accepted by the legal system. Provocative and defiant. The January 12, 1995 citation represents a set of four letters to the NYRB denouncing Crews' reviews and Crew's vigorous defense in response. The March 23, 1995 exchange of letters between M. H. Erdelyi and Crews focuses upon Freud's responses to abuse memories and the scientific status of repressed memories and psychiatric dissociation as a clinical entity. The April 20, 1995 exchange of letters between Marcia Cavell and Crews focuses upon the current status of psychoanalysis and Freud apropos the recovery of memories of abuse.

de Rivera, J., & Sarbin, T. R. (Eds.). (1998). Believed-in imaginings: The narrative construction of reality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

The introductory and 16 subsequent essays here employ a variety of research and theoretical stances to make sense of narratives of recovered memories of sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse, alien abduction, and other phenomena. The use of "imaginings" in the title echoes the constructionist activity represented by these narratives while the term "believed-in" reflects the high degree of importance or value placed by individuals upon their narrative constructions. A number of essays demonstrate very nuanced and sophisticated appreciations of narrative productions and a highly polemical tone is generally avoided in the analyses.

Duggal, S., & Stroufe, L. (1998). Recovered memory of childhood sexual trauma: A documented case from a longitudinal study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 301-321.

Erdelyi, M. H. (1996). The recovery of unconscious memories: Hypermnesia and reminiscence. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Fox, R. E. (1995). The rape of psychotherapy. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 26, 147-155.

In this general review of the current and increasingly dismal state of psychotherapy in the U.S., the author, former president of the American Psychological Association, discusses the controversies surrounding "so-called false memories" recovered in therapy through several case reports. While he is concerned that the controversy puts psychology in a negative public light, he also attests to some striking anecdotal evidence on behalf of those who support the therapeutic recovery of memories of sexual and ritual child abuse.

Fraser, S. (1994, March). Freud's final seduction. Saturday Night, 109, 18-21.

Sylvia Fraser argues that the power of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation flows from the continued denial by parents and others of the problem of child abuse which also led Freud to his seduction theory. The author speaks from the perspective she described in her own well-received story of her repressed incest memories: My Father's House: A Memoir of Incest and Healing.

Hacking, I. (1995). Rewriting the soul: Multiple personality and the sciences of memory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

A seminal text in support of the notion of recovered memories through her widely-discussed theory of traumatic dissociation and the need for patient and therapist to work together on a therapeutic trauma narrative.

Herman, J. L., & Schatzow, E. (1987). Recovery and verification of memories of childhood sexual trauma. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 4, 1-14.

An oft-cited research study of 53 women out-patients in which the authors claim a 74% validation rate of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse through external confirmatory sources. Vigorously challenged by Ofshe & Watters (1994).

Kotre, J. (1995). White gloves: How we create ourselves through memory. New York: Free Press. [BF378.A87K67 1995]

A popular examination of the psychological research literature regarding the autobiographical memory system. Demonstrates in fluent and persuasive fashion the malleability of memory and the centrality of meaning-making over the lifespan and the inadequacy of archeological or photographic metaphors for memory recall.

Lindsay, D. S., & Read, J. D. (1994). Psychotherapy and memories of childhood sexual abuse: A cognitive perspective. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, 281-338.

+Loftus, E. (1993). The reality of repressed memories. American Psychologist, 48, 518-537.

Loftus, E. F., & Ketcham, K. (1994). The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of sexual abuse. New York: St. Martin's Press. [RC455.2.F35 L64 1994]

+Neisser, U. (1994). Self-narratives: True and false. In U. Neisser and R. Fivush (Eds.), The remembering self: Construction and accuracy in the self-narrative (pp. 1-18). New York: Cambridge, University Press.

Ofshe, R., & Watters, E. (1994). Making monsters: False memories, psychotherapy, and sexual hysteria. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. [RC455.2.F35 W3 1994]

Pendergrast, M. (1995). Victims of memory: Incest accusations and shattered lives. Hinesburg, VT: Upper Access Books. [RC455.2.F35 P46 1995]

Rice, J. S. (1996). A disease of one's own: Psychotherapy, addiction, and the emergence of co-dependency. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

The emergence of "co-dependency" as a popular quasi-psychological category and topic for multiple best-selling publications during the 1980s receives a focused analysis as a cultural system of discourse in this work originally written as a dissertation at the University of Virginia. Though not directly concerned with the therapeutic recovery of memory as a topic, this study provides an important backdrop or context within which to understand the emergence of "repressed memory" as a clinical issue. The claims of Melody Beattie, John Bradshaw, Anne Wilson Schaef, and Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse and others are seen to advance a new theory of addiction resting upon a foundation of "liberation psychotherapy."

Rubin, D. C. (Ed.). (1995). Remembering our past: Studies in autobiographical memory. New York: Cambridge University Press.

A collection of 13 essays from major researchers and theorists of memory. Includes chapters on autobiographical remembering and narrative (C. R. Barclay), pliability of autobiographical memory (Belli & Loftus), and autobiographical memory in court (Wagenaar) among others. An update of editor's previous Autobiographical Memory (1986, Cambridge University Press).

Sarbin, T. R. (1995). A narrative approach to "repressed memories". Journal of Narrative and Life History, 5, 51-66.

Schacter, D. L. (1996). Searching for memory: The brain, the mind, and the past. New York: Basic Books.

Harvard University professor Daniel L. Schachter provides a popular but quite comprehensive survey of what clinical and research psychology can tell us about memory. Across ten chapters he details both normal and pathological or unusual functions of memory. Of particular importance to narrative psychology are chapters 3 ("Of Time and Autobiography"), 4 ("Reflections in a Curved Mirror: Memory Distortion"), and 9 ("The Memory Wars: Seeking Truth in the Line of Fire"). Schacter's conclusions regarding the therapeutic recovery of repressed memories is nuanced and grounded in the research and clinical literatures. However, he clearly finds little scientific support for the notion that years of horrific abuse (his term) are repressed in some special way only to be recalled years later. His book contains extensive and quite informative endnotes and an excellent 35-page bibliography.

Showalter, E. (1997). Hystories: Hysterical epidemics and modern culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

A decidedly negative assessment of recovered memories. As the publisher's description notes: "Showalter takes on the history of mass cultural hysteria, from witch hunts to mesmerism, and discusses today's versions--ranging from chronic fatigue or Gulf War Syndrome to recovered memories--and the attendant publicity." Gathered together under the common umbrella of epidemic "hystories" are the increasingly odd conditions of chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War syndrome, recovered memory, multiple personality disorder, Satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction. Without denying the real pain and distress of individuals experiencing any of these "hystories" Showalter challenges explanations offered for their appearance. She posits a continuing resistence to the reality of psychological mechanisms which promote toxic responses within culturally-mediated formats.

Spence, D. P. (1994). Narrative truth and putative child abuse. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 42, 289-303.

Special Issue: The Science and Politics of Recovered Memory. (1998). Ethics and Behavior, 8, (Whole issue #2) Professional journal with articles strongly supportive of recovered memory.

+Woodward, K. L. (1994, March). Was it real or memories? Newsweek, 54-55.

   Alien Abduction

Bryan, C. D. B. (1995). Close encounters of the fourth kind: Alien abduction, UFOs, and the conference at M. I. T. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

This sympathetic (perhaps, too uncritical) report provides an overview of the June 1992 conference at the Masschusetts Institute of Technology organized by Harvard psychiatrist, John Mack (see Mack, 1994, below) and others on the topic of possible contact between humans and extraterrestrial beings. Many inteviews and stories of participants or research subjects are detailed.

Kenny, M. (1998). The proof is in the passion: Emotion as an index of veridical memory. In J. de Rivera and T. R. Sarbin (Eds.), Believed-in imaginings: The narrative construction of reality (pp. 269-293). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Mack, J. E. (1994). Abduction: Human encounters with aliens. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. [BF2050.M33 1994]

Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, John E. Mack, reports the stories of 13 (of more than 100) interviewees who he judges present credible reports of encounters with aliens.

Paley, J. (1997). Satanist abuse and alien abduction: A comparative analysis theorizing temporal lobe activity as a possible connection between anomalous memories. British Journal of Social Work, 27, 43-70

Persinger, M. A. (1992). Neuropsychological profiles of adults who report "sudden remembering" of early childhood memories: Implications for claims of sex abuse and alien visitation/abduction experiences. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 75, 259-266.

Schnabel, J. (1994). Chronic claims of alien abduction and some other traumas as self-victimization syndromes. Dissociation: Progress in the dissociative disorders, 7, 51-62

Spanos, N. P., Burgess, C. A., & Faith, M. (1994). Past-life identities, UFO abductions, and satanic ritual abuse: The social construction of memories. International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Hypnosis, 42, 433-446.

Special Issue: Psychological Inquiry, vol. 7, issue #2, 1996:

Video Resources

A wide range of films and television documentaries have been produced over the past ten years on the effects of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse upon children by parents and parental figures. The reality of "repressed memories" is both accepted and strongly challenged by differing presentations.

Bikel, O. (Producer). (1991). Innocence lost. [Film]. (Available from PBS Video).

In Edenton, North Caroline, the day-care center became the center of a tumultuous personal and legal battle following charges of sexual abuse. This two-hour FRONTLINE (PBS) documentary traces what happens within a community split apart. [Originally broadcast on May 7, 1991]

Bikel, O. (Producer). (1993). Innocence lost: The verdict (Parts 1 and 2). [Film]. (Available from PBS Video).

Part 1: In 1992, one of the largest child sexual abuse cases in the country concluded its first trial, sentencing Robert Fulton Kelly, owner of the Little Rascals day-care center in Edenton, North Carolina, to twelve consecutive life terms. This program, a follow-up to the 1991 FRONTLINE broadcast "Innocence Lost," is the first to document on this scale the history and outcome of a child molestation case. Using footage from the original broadcast with added material never used, the program outlines the earliest history of the case in light of the trial testimony. [Originally broadcast on PBS Frontline, July 20, 1993; 120 minutes]
Part 2: The program continues, focusing on the testimony of the twelve children who took the stand, the questioning by prosecutors and defense attorneys, and the jurors' decisions on what they heard. With unusual access to parents, residents, the defendants, and five members of the jury, as well as actual courtroom testimony of the experts, the children, and their parents, the program reveals the deeply troubling ambiguities that remain unresolved after the guilty verdict is found and raises questions about the ability of our society and our legal system to face the challenges child sexual abuse cases present. [Originally broadcast on PBS Frontline, July 21, 1993; 120 minutes] [from the WGBH FRONTLINE homepage index]

Bikel, O. (Producer). (1995). Divided memories (Parts 1 and 2). [Film]. (Available from PBS Video)

Part 1 (The Hunt for Memory): Today, a raging debate over the validity of repressed memory about sexual abuse divides the therapeutic community, the women's movement, and thousands of accusers and accused. Producer Ofra Bikel examines the complicated issue of repressed memory, looking at what we know about memory and the way it works. Tracing the repression debate back to Sigmund Freud, Part 1 examines the different kinds of therapies used to help patients remember, including age-regression therapy, past-life therapy, and hypnosis. [Originally broadcast on PBS Frontline, April 4, 1995; 120 minutes]
Part 2 (A House Divided): looks at the effects that remembered abuse has had on the families involved and explores how we distinguish real memories from those which are not true. "We know that sexual abuse is a real problem," says Producer Ofra Bikel. "But when the memories are not real, what makes the 'victim' so ready to believe they are? What cultural forces have made the explanation of sexual abuse so easy to accept?" [Originally broadcast on PBS Frontline, April 11, 1995; 120 minutes] [from the WGBH FRONTLINE homepage index]

Bradshaw, J. (Producer/Host). (1990). Bradshaw on Homecoming: Entire Series. [Film]. (Distributed by Kinetic, Inc.)

A ten-part series [five episodes detailed below] by the author who blames much of modern human psychological distress to the untreated needs of a "wounded inner child". Enormously popular when it was used by PBS as a fund-raiser.

Childhood Sexual Abuse.1990. [Film]. (Distributed by Films for Humanities and Sciences)

How adult women deal with the effects of sexually abusive fathers. The patterns of abuse, signs, and approaches to reporting abuse/treating the abuser are detailed. (27 min.)

Jamie's secret. (1992). [Film]. (Distributed by Pyramid Film & Video)

The problem of sexual abuse of a boy by his father and how the teenage Jamie eventually confronts his father in a legal context. (24 min.)

Kauffman, S. (Producer/Director). Surviving the family. [Film]. (Distributed by Carousel Films, Inc.)

Sarah has flashbacks of sexual abuse by her father following the sensory memory occasioned by the smell of bleach in a laundry. (17 min).

Multiple personalities: The search for deadly memories. (1993). [Film].

Documentary explores multiple personality disorder through extended interviews and individual profiles of two women, Gretchen, a single woman in her 30s, and Barb, a 34-year-old married woman, and one man, John, a police officer. "Alters" (alternate personalities in the same individual) speak on film and demonstrate vividly how different they are. Clients seen in therapy as repressed memories are recovered from childhood. Certain scenes in therapy as memories are unearthed are quite graphic. (Originally broacast on HBO, 1993; 59 min.)

Planned Parenthood Association of Cincinnati (Producer). (1991). Four men speak out on surviving child sexual abuse. [Film]. (Distributed by Varied Directions, Inc.)

The effects of abuse on four male survivors and how they are moving toward recovery. (29 min.)

Tollini, T. (Producer/Director). (1985). Breaking silence. [Film]. (Distributed by New Day Films) (58 min.)

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When citing this document, please use this reference:

Hevern, V. W. (1999, January). Narrative Psychology: Internet and Resource Guide [Online]. Syracuse, NY: Author. Available: <>

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is copyright © 1996-1999 by Vincent W. Hevern, SJ, all rights reserved.

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