Recovered Memories

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The history of recovered memories dates as recently as the 1980’s. Repressed memories are essentially “memories of traumatic, serious, extended, or repeated childhood sexual abuse can be ‘repressed’ or otherwise completely lost, and can be recovered under expeditious circumstances, years and even decades later” (Tully, 1996). Judith Herman published a report in 1981 where women claimed they had massive repression (Tully, 1996). The variety of methods that were originally used by Herman and eventually began catching on included “individual & group therapy, dream analyses, hypnotic age regression, and induced ‘flashbacks’ to recover such memories, keeping journals and ‘bodywork’ (interpreting subjective physical sensations as if they were body memories)” (Tully, 1996) and were often used with “suggestive, leading and encouraging responses by therapists to initial and fragmentary utterances of their patients” (Tully, 1996). There are those that agree and disagree with the methods, whether the methods are valid and if the things recovered are actually memories of what happened or if the things recovered have been suggestively planted. That is the heart of how recovered memories came to be controversial, are these actually recovered or planted? The heart of the recovered memory controversy is “Freud’s concept of repression” (Colangelo, 2009). Freud first after acknowledged the same misgivings that many after him have had, the recovered memories may be made up of things that actually happened and things that did not actually happen (Colangelo, 2009).

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In the Raymaekers et al. 2012 article about the classification of recovered memories, they discuss whether the memories that have been recovered can be reliably classified into one of three categories (Raymaekers et al., 2012). The authors have identified three categories that recovered memories can be classified into: recovered in therapy, spontaneously recovered, and reinterpretation of memories they have always had access to. Memories recovered in therapy are memories that people “gradually become to believe that they have experienced childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and further think they have forgotten about it for a long period of time, typically these memories are recovered via suggestive therapeutic practices” (Raymaekers et al., 2012). For the second category of recovered memories, these are typically “suddenly recalled and are done so outside of the therapy setting and are usually accompanied by feelings of shock and surprise” (Raymaekers et al., 2012). The third category of memories are simply memories that have always been accessible and have been recently been revaluated. Raymaekers et al. admit that dividing memories into any of the three categories is wholly subjective. Raymaekers et al. discuss the interview subjects, the classifications, and the expert classifiers. This particular article states that classification of recovered memories is subjective, however the way that they set out to prove that point was also done with subjective methods, making this a circular argument. This articles fallacy is considered a circular argument because it uses the thing it is trying to prove within the argument. In this particular logical fallacy, the authors state that recovered memories are subjective and to prove that statement they use subjective methods, then declare then declare the memories subjective. While they did use subject matter experts, there was no way for them to control for each expert coming to the same conclusion, or even the same expert coming to the same conclusion each and every time.

The McNally et al. 2009 article views recovered memories less in the subjective fashion but as something that can be clearly classified in one of three ways. McNally et al. identify that traditionally people have repressed their memories via two traditional ways and have brought them back to the forefront in very specific ways and for very specific reasons: “Memory repression happens because these experiences have been so emotionally traumatic, and they become capable of recalling the CSA only when it is psychologically safe to do so many years later” (McNally et al., 2009) the flip side of that argument is that they are in fact “false memories that have been fostered by therapists” (McNally et al., 2009). The third new bucket that McNally argues is necessary for memory classification are for those that “did not experience their childhood sexual abuse as traumatic and have either forgotten about the abuse for years or they have forgotten their previous recollections and have spontaneously recalled the memory outside of therapy” (McNally et al., 2009). McNally goes on to say that the classification of various interpretations of the repressed memories “does not stand up to empirical scrutiny” (McNally et al., 2009). This brings us back to the circular argument fallacy. In this article, the authors note that the collection of repressed memories and how they are classified do not stand up to empirical scrutiny, but do not provide the empirical scrutiny that they are unable to withstand.

Comparing he two articles, the McNally et. al article, on its face presents as the stronger argument. While both articles are in their own way presenting arguments for recovered memories, each set of authors choose to focus on the classification and use of those memories differently. The McNally article does a good job of going into why or how the three classifications came about and in turn discussing the current science behind each classification. They present their evidence and arguments each in turn and each with a clear and concise presentation of the classification. In the Raymaekers article, they set out to prove that the three classifications are subjective, and they do so by have a group of people present various memories and those memories are analyzed and classified by various subject matter experts. The Raymaekers article presents its fallacy almost at the very outset. Overall, the McNally article provides a better context for why the three categories are in play and how each of the categories serves a purpose and ultimately, why each category should be accepted as a valid category for recovered memories.

There are virtually no articles that argue that recovered memories should be valued or used within contemporary psychology, having two articles that argue both sides of the classification for these recovered memories is more in line with the current school of thought. Recovered memories has a short and troubled history. As we continue to move forward, it will always be important for us to understand how these memories should be classified in a systematic way so that the focus can be placed on how the memories are removed and not on specifically the memory itself. While the memory is and can continue to be important, it is seemingly important to note, that the greatest controversy within the recovered memories movement comes from how these memories are brought (back) to the forefront of the memory. There has seemed to be less of an issue with what is remembered versus how it is remembered. Recovered memories is important and relevant to the world today, because the historical narrative changes when you have a person that is telling you something the way it actually happened, versus how they remember it happening, versus how they remember it happening as it relates to other potentially traumatic things that were happening at the same time. It essentially calls into questions whether we are getting these memories from reliable narrators or if the memory has be inadvertently planted there by a well-meaning therapist or if the memory is actually nothing and they person remembers it as non-consequential because it actually is or was non-consequential.

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Recovered Memories. (2021, Apr 05). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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