Memory disturbances and dissociative amnesia in survivors of childhood abuse

March 13th, 2015

The following articles provide compelling scientific evidence in support of the phenomena of dissociation and recovered memory in survivors of childhood abuse.

Berliner, L., Hyman, I., Thomas, A., & Fitzgerald, M. (2003, June 16). Children’s memory for trauma and positive experiences. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 16(3), 229-236. (University of Washington, Seattle, WA.)

Abstract: Characteristics of children’s memory for a trauma and for a positive event were compared and relationships of memory characteristics to trauma symptoms examined in 30 children who experienced a traumatic event. Results revealed that memories for trauma tended to have less sensory detail and coherence, yet have more meaning and impact than did memories for positive experiences. Sexual traumas, offender relationship, and perceived life threat were associated with memory characteristics. Few relationships between memory characteristics and trauma symptoms were found. Therapist ratings of child memory characteristics were correlated with some child trauma memory characteristic reports. These results are consistent with other studies. Possible explanations include divided attention during the traumatic event and cognitive avoidance occurring after the event.

Bremner, J. D., Krystal, J. H., Charney, D. S., & Southwick, S. M. (1996). Neural mechanisms in dissociative amnesia for childhood abuse: Relevance to the current controversy surrounding the “false memory syndrome.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 71-82. (Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT.)

Abstract: OBJECTIVE: There is considerable controversy about delayed recall of childhood abuse. Some authors have claimed that there is a “false memory syndrome,” in which therapists suggest to patients events that never actually occurred. These authors point to findings that suggest that memory traces are susceptible to modification. The purpose of this paper is to review the literature on the potential vulnerability of memory traces to modification and on the effects of stress on the neurobiology of memory. METHOD: The authors review findings on mechanisms involved in normal memory function, effects of stress on memory in normal persons, children’s memory of stressful events, and alterations of memory function in psychiatric disorders. The effects of stress on specific brain regions and brain chemistry are also examined. RESULTS: Neuropeptides and neurotransmitters released during stress can modulate memory function, acting at the level of the hippocampus, amygdala, and other brain regions involved in memory. Such release may interfere with the laying down of memory traces for incidents of childhood abuse. Also, childhood abuse may result in long-term alterations in the function of these neuromodulators. CONCLUSIONS: John Nemiah pointed out several years ago that alterations in memory in the form of dissociative amnesia are an important part of exposure to traumatic stressors, such as childhood abuse. The studies reviewed here show that extreme stress has long-term effects on memory. These findings may provide a model for understanding the mechanisms involved in dissociative amnesia, as well as a rationale for phenomena such as delayed recall of childhood abuse.

Briere, J., & Conte, J. R. (1993, January). Self-reported amnesia for abuse in adults molested as children. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6(1), 21-31.

Abstract: A sample of 450 adult clinical subjects reporting sexual abuse histories were studied regarding their repression of sexual abuse incidents. A total of 267 subjects (59.3%) identified some period in their lives, before age 18, when they had no memory of their abuse. Variables most predictive of abuse-related amnesia were greater current psychological symptoms, molestation at an early age, extended abuse, and variables reflecting especially violent abuse (e.g., victimization by multiple perpetrators, having been physically injured as a result of the abuse, victim fears of death if she or he disclosed the abuse to others). In contrast, abuse characteristics more likely to produce psychological conflict (e.g., enjoyment of the abuse, acceptance of bribes, feelings of guilt or shame) were not associated with abuse-related amnesia. The results of this study are interpreted as supporting Freud’s initial “seduction hypothesis,” as well as more recent theories of post-traumatic dissociation.

Burgess, A. W., Hartman, C. R., & Baker, T. (1995, September). Memory presentations of childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 33(9), 9-16. (University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing, Philadelphia, PA.)

Abstract: Questions are continually raised about the accuracy and validity of very young children’s memories of traumatic events. Out of 19 children, where the median age was 2 1/2 at time of disclosure, 11 had full verbal memory, five had fragmented verbal memory traces, and three had no memory 5 to 10 years following day care sexual abuse. Data from this clinical study suggest the nature of children’s memory is four-dimensional: somatic, behavioral, verbal, and visual. Efforts need to continue to document the nonverbal components for assessment and treatment purposes.

Cameron, C. (1994). Women survivors confronting their abusers: Issues, decisions, and outcomes. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 3(1), 7-35. (U La Verne, Behavioral Science Dept, CA.)

Abstract: Surveyed 72 women who entered therapy in the mid-1980s to deal with the long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse. 51 Ss were surveyed again in 1988 and 1992. In general, responses to the 1st survey were characterized by a desire to confront without the readiness to do so, responses to Survey 2 by completed confrontations, and responses to Survey 3 by reconfrontations. Findings support recommendations regarding helping clients to plan, practice, and carry out confrontations safely. More recognition should be given to the aftermath of confrontation, debriefing, and reconfrontation, and to survivors with specialized needs, such as women formerly amnesic to their abuse.

Chu, J. A., Frey, L. M., Ganzel, B. L., & Matthews, J. A. (1999, May). Memories of childhood abuse: Dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(5), 749-755. (Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Program, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA.)

Abstract: OBJECTIVE: This study investigated the relationship between self-reported childhood abuse and dissociative symptoms and amnesia. The presence or absence of corroboration of recovered memories of childhood abuse was also studied. METHOD: Participants were 90 female patients admitted to a unit specializing in the treatment of trauma-related disorders. Participants completed instruments that measured dissociative symptoms and elicited details concerning childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and witnessing abuse. Participants also underwent a structured interview that asked about amnesia for traumatic experiences, the circumstances of recovered memory, the role of suggestion in recovered memories, and independent corroboration of the memories. RESULTS: Participants reporting any type of childhood abuse demonstrated elevated levels of dissociative symptoms that were significantly higher than those in subjects not reporting abuse. Higher dissociative symptoms were correlated with early age at onset of physical and sexual abuse and more frequent sexual abuse. A substantial proportion of participants with all types of abuse reported partial or complete amnesia for abuse memories. For physical and sexual abuse, early age at onset was correlated with greater levels of amnesia. Participants who reported recovering memories of abuse generally recalled these experiences while at home, alone, or with family or friends. Although some participants were in treatment at the time, very few were in therapy sessions during their first memory recovery. Suggestion was generally denied as a factor in memory recovery. A majority of participants were able to find strong corroboration of their recovered memories. CONCLUSIONS: Childhood abuse, particularly chronic abuse beginning at early ages, is related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms including amnesia for abuse memories. This study strongly suggests that psychotherapy usually is not associated with memory recovery and that independent corroboration of recovered memories of abuse is often present.

Colangelo, J. J. (2009, January-February). The recovered memory controversy: A representative case study. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 18(1), 103-121. (Long Island University, Fresh Meadows, NY.)

Abstract: The recovered memory controversy has been an ongoing debate within the mental health profession for the past two decades. Disagreement remains in the field over the veracity of “forgotten” memories of childhood sexual abuse that are recalled or recovered during therapy. At the heart of the controversy are the concepts of repression and dissociation as well as the impact traumatizing events have on the encoding of memory. This article provides an overview of the central factors in the longstanding debate and presents a detailed clinical case study involving independent corroboration of memories of childhood sexual abuse recovered during treatment, which the author believes provides additional support for the potential veracity of recovered memories.

Dalenberg, C. J. (1996, Summer.) Accuracy, timing and circumstances of disclosure in therapy of recovered and continuous memories of abuse. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 24(2), 229-275. (CSPP, Trauma Research Inst, San Diego, CA.)

Abstract: Seventeen patients who had recovered memories of abuse in therapy participated in a search for evidence confirming or refuting these memories. Memories of abuse were found to be equally accurate whether recovered or continuously remembered. Predictors of number of memory units for which evidence was uncovered included several measures of memory and perceptual accuracy. Recovered memories that were later supported arose in psychotherapy more typically during periods of positive rather than negative feelings toward the therapist, and they were more likely to be held with confidence by the abuse victim.

Duggal, S., & Sroufe, L. A. (1998, April). Recovered memory of childhood sexual trauma: A documented case from a longitudinal study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11(2), 301-321. (Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN.)

Abstract: A case of recovered memory of childhood trauma is reported with documented sexual trauma in early childhood, chronicled evidence of the absence of memory for traumatic experience over a period of time, and substantial evidence of ‘spontaneous’ recovery of memory. This account contains the first available prospective report of memory loss in a case in which there is both documented evidence of trauma and evidence of recovery of memory. The case emerged as part of a broadband, large-scale study of children followed closely from birth to adulthood which was not focused on memory for trauma. Prospective data gathered in a neutral research context, corroborated and supplemented by retrospective information, circumvent many limitations of previous retrospective accounts of recovered memories.

Edwards, V. J., Fivush, R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., & Nordenberg, D. F. (2001). Autobiographical memory disturbances in childhood abuse survivors. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 1(4), 247-263.

Abstract: There is growing recognition among trauma researchers, clinicians, and human rights activists of the need for greater understanding of the nature, impact, and mediators of traumatic exposure among trauma survivors from diverse cultures and contexts and a growing interest in the phenomenon of resiliency and the possibility of recovery in the aftermath of traumatic exposure. This introduction briefly describes the articles that comprise this volume, emphasizing their status both as individually unique and worthwhile contributions to this literature and as a collection of works that speak powerfully to the promise of multi-cultural research and practice and to the need for a theoretical framework able to account for wide variations in individual expressions of psychological trauma, trauma recovery, and resilience. For us as co-editors of this volume, that framework resides in the ecological perspective of community psychology and in the attention to culture and context inherent in ecological theory.

Elliott, D. M. (1997). Traumatic events: Prevalence and delayed recall in the general population. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 811-820. (UCLA Medical Center, Child Abuse Crisis Center, Torrance, CA.)

Abstract: A random sample of 724 individuals from across the United States were mailed a questionnaire containing demographic information, an abridged version of the Traumatic Events Survey (DM Elliott, 1992), and questions regarding memory for traumatic events. Of these, 505 (70%) completed the survey. Among respondents who reported some form of trauma (72%), delayed recall of the event was reported by 32%. This phenomenon was most common among individuals who observed the murder or suicide of a family member, sexual abuse survivors, and combat veterans. The severity of the trauma was predictive of memory status, but demographic variables were not. The most commonly reported trigger to recall of the trauma was some form of media presentation (i.e., television show, movie), whereas psychotherapy was the least commonly reported trigger.

Elliott, D. M., & Briere, J. (1995, October). Posttraumatic stress associated with delayed recall of sexual abuse: A general population study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8(4), 629-647. (Child Abuse Crisis Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, CA.)

Abstract: This study examined delayed recall of childhood sexual abuse in a stratified random sample of the general population (N = 505). Of participants who reported a history of sexual abuse, 42% described some period of time when they had less memory of the abuse than they did at the time of data collection. No demographic differences were found between subjects with continuous recall and those who reported delayed recall. However, delayed recall was associated with the use of threats at the time of the abuse. Subjects who had recently recalled aspects of their abuse reported particularly high levels of posttraumatic symptomatology and self difficulties (as measured by the IES, SCL, and TSI) at the time of data collection compared to other subjects.

Epstein, M. A., & Bottoms, B. L. (2002, August). Explaining the forgetting and recovery of abuse and trauma memories: possible mechanisms. Child Maltreatment, 7(3), 210-225.

Abstract: Much attention has been focused on memories of abuse that are allegedly forgotten or repressed then recovered. By retrospectively surveying more than 1,400 college women (aged 18-60 yrs), the authors investigated (a) the frequency with which temporary forgetting is reported for child sexual abuse experiences as opposed to other childhood abuse and traumas and (b) exactly how victims characterize their forgetting experiences in terms of various competing cognitive mechanisms. Rates of forgetting were similar among victims who experienced sexual abuse, physical abuse, and multiple types of traumas. Victims of other types of childhood traumas (e.g., car accidents) reported less forgetting than victims of childhood sexual abuse or multiple types of trauma. Most victims’ characterizations of their forgetting experiences were not indicative of repression in the classic Freudian sense but instead suggested other more common mechanisms, such as directed forgetting and relabeling. The implications of these findings for psychological theory, clinical practice, and law are discussed.

Erdinç, I. B., Sengül, C. B., Dilbaz, N., & Bozkurt, S. (2004). A case of incest with dissociative amnesia and post traumatic stress disorder. Turkish Journal of Psychiatry, 15(2), 161-165. (Ankara Numune Eğitim ve Araştirma Hastanesi 2. Psikiyatri Kl., Ankara.)

Abstract: Incest is a kind of sexual abuse that causes serious disorders during childhood and adulthood. In order to overcome the trauma, abuse victims frequently use dissociative defence mechanisms. Post traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, major depression and borderline personality disorder can be seen in the victims of childhood sexual abuse. In this article we present an adolescent who was found and brought to our clinic by the Children’s Police Department while she was wandering around aimlessly. She could not remember anything about her identity or personal history. She had no apparent physical disturbances, marks of beating or wounds which could be seen externally. Her physical and neurological examinations were both normal. In her laboratory tests, there was nothing abnormal. No sign of intoxication or infection was detected. EEG and CT were also normal. After the family was found, we learned about the sexual and physical abuse and the patient was diagnosed with dissociative amnesia. The psychometric evaluations also supported our diagnosis. When the dissociation began to disappear, post traumatic stress disorder symptoms became more apparent. After she described her traumatic memories, PTSD symptoms began to recede. Through this case presentation we would like to emphasize the relationship between childhood physical and sexual abuse and dissociative disorders.

Feldman-Summers, S., Pope, K. S. (1994, June). The experience of “forgetting” childhood abuse: A national survey of psychologists. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 636-639.

Abstract: A national sample of psychologists were asked whether they had been abused as children and, if so, whether they had ever forgotten some or all of the abuse. Almost a quarter of the sample (23.9%) reported childhood abuse, and of those, approximately 40% reported a period of forgetting some or all of the abuse. The major findings were that (1) both sexual and nonsexual abuse were subject to periods of forgetting; (2) the most frequently reported factor related to recall was being in therapy; (3) approximately one half of those who reported forgetting also reported corroboration of the abuse [see comparable percentage in the Pope & Tabachnick (1995) study below]; and (4) reported forgetting was not related to gender or age of the respondent but was related to severity of the abuse.

Fish, V., & Scott, C. G. (1999, August). Childhood abuse recollections in a nonclinical population: Forgetting and secrecy. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23(8), 791-802. (Family Therapy Center of Madison, WI.)

Abstract: OBJECTIVE: This study investigated the relationship of interrupted memories of childhood abuse with the secrecy of the abuse. METHODOLOGY: Fifteen hundred people were randomly selected from the membership of the American Counseling Association and sent a questionnaire regarding childhood abuse history. Four hundred and twenty-three usable questionnaires were returned and analyzed. RESULTS: Thirty-two percent of the sample reported childhood abuse. Fifty-two percent of those reporting abuse also noted periods of forgetting some or all of the abuse. On the two survey items assessing secrecy, 76% of respondents reporting childhood abuse indicated there had been a time when no one but themselves and their abuser knew about the abuse; 47% indicated that an abuser tried to get them to keep the abuse secret. Forty percent endorsed both secrecy items. Respondents who reported forgetting abuse also reported one or both elements of secrecy more frequently than those who reported continuous memories of abuse. CONCLUSION: These findings are consistent with those of other studies that suggest that, among adults reporting childhood abuse, the experience of forgetting some or all abuse is common. Secrecy of the abuse appears to be associated with the experience of forgetting childhood abuse for many individuals.

Fivush, R., & Edwards, V. J. (2004). Remembering and forgetting childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 13(2), 1-19.

Abstract: Twelve white middle-class women who had been severely sexually abused as children by a family member were asked to provide a narrative of their abuse and discuss their subsequent remembering and forgetting of these experiences. Most claimed they had undergone periods during which they had not recalled their abuse, but also claimed that they had never forgotten their experiences at another point during the interview. Nine of the women had actively tried to forget the abusive experiences, although 8 still experienced recurrent and often relentless intrusive memories. Our findings suggest that women with continuous memories may have longer and more coherent narratives than women without continuous memories. Implications of these findings for understanding the phenomenology of memory experiences and the concept of “recovered” memories of childhood sexual abuse are discussed.

Geraerts, E., Schooler, J. W., Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., Hauer, B. J., & Ambadar, Z. (2007, July). The reality of recovered memories: corroborating continuous and discontinuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Science, 18(7), 564-568.

Abstract: Although controversy surrounds the relative authenticity of discontinuous versus continuous memories of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), little is known about whether such memories differ in their likelihood of corroborative evidence. Individuals reporting CSA memories were interviewed, and two independent raters attempted to find corroborative information for the allegations. Continuous CSA memories and discontinuous memories that were unexpectedly recalled outside therapy were more likely to be corroborated than anticipated discontinuous memories recovered in therapy. Evidence that suggestion during therapy possibly mediates these differences comes from the additional finding that individuals who recalled the memories outside therapy were markedly more surprised at the existence of their memories than were individuals who initially recalled the memories in therapy. These results indicate that discontinuous CSA memories spontaneously received outside of therapy may be accurate, while implicating expectations arising from suggestions during therapy in producing false CSA memories.

Herman, J. L., & Harvey, M. R. (1997). Adult memories of childhood trauma: a naturalistic clinical study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 10(4), 557-571.

Abstract: The clinical evaluations of 77 adult psychiatric outpatients reporting memories of childhood trauma were reviewed. A majority of patients reported some degree of continuous recall. Roughly half (53%) said they had never forgotten the traumatic events. Two smaller groups described a mixture of continuous and delayed recall (17%) or a period of complete amnesia followed by delayed recall (16%). Patients with and without delayed recall did not differ significantly in the proportions reporting corroboration of their memories form other sources. Idiosyncratic, trauma-specific reminders and recent life crises were most commonly cited as precipitants to delayed recall. A previous psychotherapy was cited as a factor in a minority (28%) of cases. By contrast, intrusion of new memories after a period of amnesia was frequently cited as a factor leading to the decision to seek psychotherapy. The implications of these findings are discussed with respect to the role of psychotherapy in the process of recovering traumatic memories.

Herman, J. L., & Schatzow, E. (1987, Winter). Recovery and verification of memories of childhood sexual trauma. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 4(1), 1-14. (Women’s Mental Health Collective, Somerville, MA.)

Abstract: 53 women outpatients (aged 15-53 yrs) participated in short-term therapy groups for incest survivors. This treatment modality proved to be a powerful stimulus for recovery of previously repressed traumatic memories. A relationship was observed between the age of onset, duration, and degree of violence of the abuse and the extent to which memory of the abuse had been repressed. 74% of Ss were able to validate their memories by obtaining corroborating evidence from other sources. The therapeutic function of recovering and validating traumatic memories is explored in relation to case material.

Hovdestad, W. E., & Kristiansen, C. M. (1996, Summer). A field study of “false memory syndrome”: Construct validity and incidence. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 24(2), 299-338. (Carleton University, Department of Psychology, Ottawa, ON, Canada.)

Abstract: False memory syndrome (FMS) is described as a serious form of psychopathology characterized by strongly believed pseudomemories of childhood sexual abuse. A literature review revealed four clusters of symptoms underlying the syndrome regarding victims’ belief in their memories of abuse and their identity as survivors, their current interpersonal relationships, their trauma symptoms across the lifespan, and the characteristics of their therapy experiences. The validity of these clusters was examined using data from a community sample of 113 women who identified themselves as survivors of girlhood sexual abuse. Examining the discriminant validity of these criteria revealed that participants who had recovered memories of their abuse (n = 51), and who could therefore potentially have FMS, generally did not differ from participants with continuous memories (n = 49) on indicators of these criteria. Correlational analyses also indicated that these criteria typically failed to converge. Further, despite frequent claims that FMS is occurring in epidemic proportions, only 3.9%-13.6% of the women with a recovered memory satisfied the diagnostic criteria, and women with continuous memories were equally unlikely to meet these criteria. The implications of these findings for FMS theory and the delayed-memory debate more generally are discussed.

Loftus, E. F., Polonsky, S., & Fullilove, M. T. (1994, March). Memories of childhood sexual abuse: Remembering and repressing. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18(1), 67-84. (University of Washington, Psychology Department, Seattle, WA.)

Abstract: Women involved in outpatient treatment for substance abuse were interviewed to examine their recollections of childhood sexual abuse. Overall, 54% of the 105 women reported a history of childhood sexual abuse. Of these, the majority (81%) remembered all or part of the abuse their whole lives; 19% reported they forgot the abuse for a period of time, and later the memory returned. Women who remembered the abuse their whole lives reported a clearer memory, with a more detailed picture. They also reported greater intensity of feelings at the time the abuse happened. Women who remembered the abuse their whole lives did not differ from others in terms of the violence of the abuse or whether the violence was incestuous.

Melchert, T. P. (1996, October). Childhood memory and a history of different forms of abuse. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 27(5), 438-446. (Texas Tech University, Department of Psychology, Lubbock, TX.)

Abstract: A widespread professional and public controversy has recently emerged regarding recovered memories of child sexual abuse, but the prevalence and nature of these memories have received limited empirical examination. This study (N = 553 nonclinical participants) found that very similar proportions of those with histories of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse reported that they had periods without memory of their abuse (21%, 18%, and 18%, respectively). The responses of approximately one half of these participants suggested that they lacked conscious access to their abuse memories, whereas the responses from the others suggested that they had conscious access to their memories. A great deal of variance was found in the reported quality of general childhood memory and the offset of infantile amnesia, and the findings also suggest that it is normative to recover memories of childhood. Each of these variables was also unrelated to the experience of child abuse.

Melchert, T. P. (1999, November). Relations among childhood memory, a history of abuse, dissociation, and repression. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(1), 1172-1192.

Abstract: The author of this study investigated several questions regarding the relationships between a history of child abuse memories, childhood memory in general, repression, and dissociation. Of the total sample (n = 560 undergraduate students), one quarter reported a history of child abuse, and 18% of these reported a period when they lacked memories of their abuse. These participants endorsed a variety of descriptions of their recovered memories, many of which do not suggest a lack of conscious access to the memories. General quality of childhood memory was found to be unrelated to a history of abuse, and most participants, regardless of their abuse history, reported recovering memories from their childhood in general. Repressive personality traits were found to be unrelated to recovering abuse memories, but dissociative traits were found to be weakly associated with recovering abuse memories.

Melchert, T. P., & Parker, R. L. (1997, February). Different forms of childhood abuse and memory. Child Abuse & Neglect, 21(2), 125-135. (Department of Psychology, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX.)

Abstract: Recently a heated controversy emerged regarding recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse, but the prevalence and nature of these memories as well as the relationship between a history of child abuse and childhood memory generally have received limited empirical examination. This study (N = 429 nonclinical participants) found that similar proportions of those reporting histories of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse reported that they had periods without memory for their abuse (19.8%, 11.5%, and 14.9%, respectively). These participants, however, appeared to be referring to both a lack of conscious access to their abuse memories as well as the intentional avoidance of the memories for some period. There was a great deal of variance found in the reported quality of general childhood memory, but this was unrelated to reporting a history of child abuse. In addition, it appears to be normative to recover previously forgotten childhood events, and this too was found to be unrelated to history of child abuse.

Milchman, M. S. (2008). Does psychotherapy recover or invent child sexual abuse memories? A case history. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 17(1), 20-37.

Abstract: This case describes bodily experiences that appeared to cue child sexual abuse memories during psychotherapy by a woman who was amnesic for her childhood and suffered from chronic dissociative states. Though corroboration was unavailable, she became increasingly confident about her returning memories. Special efforts were made to avoid making suggestions. The article proposes the theory that integrates the construct of the self with the relationship between bodily experiences and memory narratives. It suggests that: (1) amnesia and recovering memories involve normal and abnormal memory mechanisms; (2) remembering during psychotherapy is complex; (3) psychotherapy need not be suggestive; (4) inaccessible memories may act as constraints on suggestibility; and (5) narrative recall may depend on the connection of bodily experiences with self-reflection.

Palesh, O. G., & Dalenberg, C. J. (2006). Recovered Memory and Amnesia in Russian College Students. In M. V. Landow (Ed.), College Students: Mental Health and Coping Strategies. Nova Science Publishers. 153-165.

Three hundred and one participants from Moscow State Linguistics University participated in a survey. Two hundred and one participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the Dissociative Continuum Scale, Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale, the Traumatic Events Survey, the Violence History Questionnaire, questions regarding memory status and attitudes towards child abuse. An additional one hundred participants completed a demographic questionnaire, the Dissociative Continuum Scale and the Violence History Questionnaire. Among participants who reported child abuse experiences (n = 45), twenty-one reported partial or full amnesia of the abuse. The frightening and shameful parents factor generated from the Traumatic Events Scale was the most consistent predictor of amnesia and recovered memory. Subjective experience of fear and terror during trauma (Criterion A trauma of PTSD) and chronicity of trauma also accounted for a significant amount of variance in predicting amnesia and recovered memory. Participants’ alcohol use and recency of trauma did not predict recovered memory. Participants in the study who reported trauma and history of child abuse had more dissociative symptoms and were more depressed than non-traumatized participants.

Pope, K. S., & Tabachnick, B. G. (1995). Recovered memories of abuse among therapy patients: A national survey. Ethics & Behavior, 5(3), 237-248. (Norwalk, CT.)

Abstract: A survey of 205 female and 173 male psychologists found that 73% of them had had at least 1 patient who claimed to recover previously forgotten memories of childhood sex abuse. There were gender differences regarding patients who claim to have recovered memories of abuse. Patients who are alleged to have sexually abused a child who recovered memories of the abuse after a period of being unable to remember it do not show such differences except that 3 times as many men were reported to have been the object of a civil or criminal complaint on the basis of the recovered memory. Data suggest that when recovered memories seem to implicate male and female patients as perpetrators or victims of childhood sex abuse, therapist’s gender is a significant variable only for women patients who recover memories of having been abused. Therapists’ theoretical orientation was not relevant. [Note: In this study, the therapists reported 2,452 patients (out of a total of 273,785 whom they had treated over the course of their career) who reported recovering memories of childhood abuse. This represents about 8 or 9 patients out of every 1,000. According to the therapists, about 50% of the patients who claimed to have recovered the memories had found external validation, a percentage that coincides with that obtained in the Feldman-Summers & Pope, 1994 study.]

Roe, C. M., & Schwartz, M. F. (1996, Summer). Characteristics of previously forgotten memories of sexual abuse: A descriptive study. Journal of Psychiatry & Law, 24(2), 189-206.

Abstract: Investigated the childhood sexual abuse memories of 52 women 21-55 yrs old who had been hospitalized for treatment of sexual trauma, been sexually abused prior to age 18, and reported a period of amnesia before recalling abuse memories. Ss completed a questionnaire about their first suspicions of having been sexually abused, their first memories of sexual abuse, other memories of abuse, and details of their abuse history. Ss were more likely to recall part of an abuse episode, as opposed to an entire abuse episode, following a period of no memory of the abuse. Additionally, first memories tended to be described as vivid rather that vague. Descriptive statistics are used to present and summarize additional findings.

Roesler, T. A., & Wind, T. W. (1994, September). Telling the secret: Adult women describe their disclosures of incest. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 9(3), 327-338. (National Jewish Center for Immunology & Respiratory Medicine, Denver, CO.)

Abstract: A questionnaire survey of 755 adults sexually abused as children, asking about the circumstances of their disclosure to the 1st person they told, resulted in 286 responses (228 from female victims of incest). Ss were asked basic demographic information, details about their abuse, who they told first, the reaction of the 1st person told, and reasons why they delayed telling or finally did tell. The women telling their parents first were likely to tell in childhood. Those telling friends, other family members, or partners were more likely to tell in early adulthood. Survivors telling therapists revealed the abuse at a later age. Those revealing the incest to parents in childhood received a worse reaction than did those waiting until adulthood. When women disclosed to parents prior to age 18, the incest continued for more than 1 yr after the disclosure in 52% of the cases. Women who disclosed as children were more often met with disbelief or blame.

van der Hart, O., Bolt, H., & van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Memory fragmentation in dissociative identity disorder. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 6(1), 55-70. (Department of Clinical Psychology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.)

Abstract: This study examined the quality of self-reported memories of traumatic experiences in participants with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and compared them with their memories of non-traumatic, but emotionally significant life experiences. Systematic interview data were gathered from 30 DID patients in The Netherlands. All participants reported a history of severe childhood abuse; 93.3% reported some period of amnesia for the index traumatic event, and 33.3% reported periods of amnesia for significant non-traumatic childhood experiences. All participants who had been amnestic for their trauma reported that their memories were initially retrieved in the form of somatosensory flashbacks. This suggests that, like PTSD patients, DID patients at least initially recall their trauma not as a narrative, but as somatosensory re-experiencing. Surprisingly, however, DID participants also recalled emotionally charged non-traumatic life events with significant somatosensory components, a phenomenon that has not been previously reported. This finding raises important issues regarding basic memory processing abnormalities in DID patients.

Widom, C. S., & Shepard, R. L. (1996, December). Accuracy of adult recollections of childhood victimization: Part 1. Childhood physical abuse. Psychological Assessment, 8(4), 412-421. (State University of New York, School of Criminal Justice, Albany, NY.)

Abstract: Using data from a study with prospective-cohorts design in which children who were physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected about 20 years ago were followed up along with a matched control group, accuracy of adult recollections of childhood physical abuse was assessed. Two-hour in-person interviews were conducted in young adulthood with 1,196 of the original 1,575 participants. Two measures (including the Conflict Tactics Scale) were used to assess histories of childhood physical abuse. Results indicate good discriminant validity and predictive efficiency of the self-report measures, despite substantial underreporting by physically abused respondents. Tests of construct validity reveal shared method variance, with self-report measures predicting self-reported violence and official reports of physical abuse predicting arrests for violence. Findings are discussed in the context of other research on the accuracy of adult recollections of childhood experiences.

Williams, L. M. (1994, December). Recall of childhood trauma: A prospective study of women’s memories of child sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(6), 1167-1176. (University of New Hampshire, Family Research Lab, Durham, NH.)

Abstract: One hundred twenty-nine women with previously documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked detailed questions about their abuse histories to answer the question “Do people actually forget traumatic events such as child sexual abuse, and if so, how common is such forgetting?” A large proportion of the women (38%) did not recall the abuse that had been reported 17 years earlier. Women who were younger at the time of the abuse and those who were molested by someone they knew were more likely to have no recall of the abuse. The implications for research and practice are discussed. Long periods with no memory of abuse should not be regarded as evidence that the abuse did not occur.

Williams, L. M. (1995, October). Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8(4), 649-673.

Abstract: This study provides evidence that some adults who claim to have recovered memories of sexual abuse recall actual events that occur in childhood. One hundred twenty-nine women with documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked about their abuse history. Seventeen years following the initial report of the abuse, 80 of the women recalled the victimization. One in 10 women (16% of those who recalled the abuse) reported that at some time in the past they had forgotten about the abuse. Those with a prior period of forgetting – the women with “recovered memories” – were younger at the time of abuse and were less likely to have received support from their mothers than the women who reported that they had always remembered their victimization. The women who had recovered memories and those who had always remembered had the same number of discrepancies when their accounts of the abuse were compared to the reports from the early 1970s.

Wilsnack, S. C., Wonderlich, S. A., Kristjanson, A. F., Vogeltanz-Holm, N. D., & Wilsnack, R. W. (2002, February). Self-reports of forgetting and remembering childhood sexual abuse in a nationally representative sample of US women. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26(2), 139-147.

Abstract: Objective: The purpose of this article is to describe patterns of forgetting and remembering childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in a nationally representative sample of US adult women. Method: The respondents were a national probability sample of 711 women, aged 26 to 54 years, residing in noninstitutional settings in the contiguous 48 states. In a 1996 face-to-face interview study, trained female interviewers asked each respondent whether she had experienced any sexual coercion by family members or nonfamily members while growing up; whether she believed that she had been sexually abused (by family members or others); and whether she had ever forgotten the CSA experiences and, if so, how she had subsequently remembered them. Results: Twenty-one and six-tenths percent or respondents reported having sexually coercive experiences while growing up; of these, 69.0% indicated that they felt they had been sexually abused. More than one-fourth of respondents who felt sexually abused reported that they had forgotten the abuse for some period of time but later remembered it on their own. Only 1.8% of women self-described as sexually abused reported remembering the abuse with the help of a therapist or other professional person. Conclusions: The findings indicate that, among women who report CSA, forgetting and subsequently remembering abuse experiences is not uncommon. According to the women surveyed, however, very few (1.8%) of those who felt abused recovered memories recovered memories of CSA with help from therapists or other professionals. As one of the few studies of CSA memories in a nationally representative sample, this study suggests that therapist-assisted recall is not a major source of CSA memories among women in the US general population.

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