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, 14 (6), 1072-1095

The Return of the Repressed: The Persistent and Problematic Claims of Long-Forgotten Trauma

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The Return of the Repressed: The Persistent and Problematic Claims of Long-Forgotten Trauma

Henry Otgaar et al. Perspect Psychol Sci.

Abstract

Can purely psychological trauma lead to a complete blockage of autobiographical memories? This long-standing question about the existence of repressed memories has been at the heart of one of the most heated debates in modern psychology. These so-called memory wars originated in the 1990s, and many scholars have assumed that they are over. We demonstrate that this assumption is incorrect and that the controversial issue of repressed memories is alive and well and may even be on the rise. We review converging research and data from legal cases indicating that the topic of repressed memories remains active in clinical, legal, and academic settings. We show that the belief in repressed memories occurs on a nontrivial scale (58%) and appears to have increased among clinical psychologists since the 1990s. We also demonstrate that the scientifically controversial concept of dissociative amnesia, which we argue is a substitute term for memory repression, has gained in popularity. Finally, we review work on the adverse side effects of certain psychotherapeutic techniques, some of which may be linked to the recovery of repressed memories. The memory wars have not vanished. They have continued to endure and contribute to potentially damaging consequences in clinical, legal, and academic contexts.

Keywords: false memory; memory wars; recovered memory; repressed memory; repression; therapy.

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The author(s) declared that there were no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship or the publication of this article.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Number of Dutch legal cases mentioning repression, recovered memory, or dissociative memory from 1990 to 2018.

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