Memory distortion and false memory creation

Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1996;24(3):281-95.


The 1990s have brought to public attention thousands of cases that began when a grown-up daughter or son walked into a therapist's office seeking help for depression, low self-esteem, or any of a number of life's problems. Many of these cases grew to involve memories of childhood sexual abuse recovered while in therapy--memories that did not exist, or at least were not remembered, before therapy began. Many of these cases also involved families torn violently apart. What should we make of these new-found memories? Are they true memories that were successfully revived in therapy? Are they false memories that were unwittingly planted? Are they symbolic expressions--historically false but representing some deep underlying truth? Insights from cognitive psychology may shed some light. Much of the litigation that has resulted from the emergence of "repressed memories" has been hazardous to the patients, and their families, as well as to the therapists who treat them.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Dissociative Disorders / psychology*
  • Dissociative Disorders / therapy
  • Dreams / psychology
  • Female
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Repression, Psychology*