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Researchers, Clinicians Still Differ Over Repressed Trauma Memories

Researchers, Clinicians Still Differ Over Repressed Trauma MemoriesA new study discovers a gap continues to exist between clinical psychologists and psychological researchers over the ability to retrieve traumatic memories.

Although skepticism about repressed traumatic memories has increased over time, researchers discovered a difference continues to exist about whether such memories occur and whether they can be accurately retrieved.

The findings are published in Psychological Science.

“Whether repressed memories are accurate or not, and whether they should be pursued by therapists, or not, is probably the single most practically important topic in clinical psychology since the days of Freud and the hypnotists who came before him,” says researcher Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine.

According to Patihis, the new findings suggest that there remains a “serious split in the field of psychology in beliefs about how memory works.”

Controversy surrounding the debate over repressed memory — sometimes referred to as the “memory wars” — has gone on for a good 20 years.

While some believed that traumatic memories could be repressed for years only to be recovered later in therapy, others questioned the concept, noting a lack of scientific evidence in support of repressed memory.

In the new study, Patihis and colleagues wanted to investigate whether and how beliefs about memory may have changed since the 1990s.

To find out, the researchers recruited practicing clinicians and psychotherapists, research psychologists, and alternative therapists to complete an online survey.

They discovered that mainstream psychotherapists and clinical psychologists are more skeptical about recovered memories and more cautious about trying to recover repressed memories than they were 20 years ago.

Nevertheless, there is still a clear gap as 60-80 percent of clinicians, psychoanalysts, and therapists agreed (to some extent) that traumatic memories are often repressed and can be retrieved in therapy.

But less than 30 percent of research-oriented psychologists believe the concept is valid.

Furthermore, researchers also discovered belief in repressed memory is still prevalent among the general public.

This marked divide, with researchers on the one hand and clinicians and the public on the other, is worrying because of the implications it has for clinical practice and for the judicial system.

“Therapists who believe that traumatic memories can be repressed may develop treatment plans that differ dramatically from those developed by practitioners who do not hold this belief. In the courtroom, beliefs about memory often determine whether repressed-memory testimony is admitted into evidence,” the researchers write.

Patihis and colleagues propose that tailoring the education of the next generation of researchers and practitioners may be an effective way to narrow the gap.

“Broader dissemination of basic and applied memory research within graduate programs in clinical psychology and training programs in other mental-health professions may be a helpful step, although research will be needed to determine the effectiveness of this approach for narrowing the research-practice gap,” the researchers conclude.

Source: Association for Psychological Science


Therapist working with patient photo by shutterstock.

Researchers, Clinicians Still Differ Over Repressed Trauma Memories

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Researchers, Clinicians Still Differ Over Repressed Trauma Memories. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 16 Dec 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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