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Investigating Repressed Memories: Does Hypnosis Really Work?

By HERWriter
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There is no doubt that sexual abuse happens in families of all nationalities and cultures regardless of financial status. Sexual abuse doesn’t discriminate between the rich and poor, or between black and white. There is also no doubt that dealing with the memories and confronting those individuals who have violated a child or person’s trust is extremely difficult and can tear families apart. It’s tough enough when the allegations are true, but can be even tougher if the allegations aren’t.

With a topic as serious as this, it is hard to believe that people would make false allegations and that therapists would take advantage of people’s vulnerability and plant such disturbing memories and experiences and convince their patients that they have been violated. Why would anyone want to do that?

Unfortunately, therapists appear to be doing this, victims are not always victims, the memories “recovered” are not always reliable, and families continue to be ripped apart.

The Controversy

The psychiatric/psychological community at large recognizes the extreme psychological trauma that accompanies sexual abuse; what they remain largely divided on is how the brain processes such experiences, and that victims can experience a form of “amnesia” or memory repression related to those abusive events. But it is really difficult to pinpoint precisely what a person’s mind does with this repressed information and how it affects a person’s life. There’s no question that these experiences shape how victims form and maintain relationships with others, and view themselves.

The claim by proponents of repression therapy technique therapists is that victims exhibit behaviors that are indicative and likely resultant from child sexual abuse experiences that the victim can’t remember. The only way for the victim to become whole is to “recover” those memories and deal with them and confront the individual or individuals who abused them.

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EmpowHER Guest

A very good article. Memory repression is a real phenomenon and it can result in disfunction. Recognized by the majority of psychiatrict experts in DSM IV and the soon to released DSM V as Dissociative Amnesia. Hypnosis, relaxation techniques, have proven very effective at breaching the wall of repression constructed by our subconcious minds. There have been cases of theraputic coaching and memories which were contructed and not recovered. False memories can result even without suggestions from therapists. And breaching the wall of repression does not mean we have somehow entirely removed the subconscious mind's influence. We forgot for a reason, and those same reasons may continue to intefere with our ability to accurately recall. There are aspects of the truth that may continue to be too painful to remember. A comment was made, "If a client 'recovers' a memory that seems alien to them, it is likely to be false as there are limits to repression." I think I understand and agree but the comment could be misinterpreted. In a sense all recovered memories have a very distinct feeling of having been alien. That is the nature of dissociation. I think it would be better to say "If a client 'recovers' a memory that seems totally out of character to them, it is likely to be false as there are limits to repression." Although I tend to agree with this statement, it does have its own limitations. We don't always know, or can't remember, what we are capable of.

October 15, 2012 - 10:23am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for your comments.

October 18, 2012 - 1:11pm
EmpowHER Guest

I run a hypnotherapy practice in Eastbourne called Together Therapy. I agree with the concerns re false memories, a problem since the days of Freud, It is sometimes caused by the therapist subconsciously adopting a hypotheses and then inadvertantly going down a track that leads to an "inevitable" conclusion.

If a client "recovers" a memory that seems alien to them, it is likely to be false as there are limits to repression.

April 22, 2011 - 4:14am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

That's what I was trying to get at.

Since no one really knows exactly how the mind works in retaining or repressing memories.

This was a really hard article to write because I know a lot of abuse victims seek out hypnosis as part of trying to fill in some gaps, I didn't want to demean or belittle their experience or memories...but still raise the concern of perhaps some of those memories being the result of someone even hinting at the abuse and the victim's mind fashioning very vivid "memories" around that suggestion...instead of just coaxing what is actually there to come out.

You really need to have a hypnotherapist who knows what they're doing.

Thank you for your comment.

April 22, 2011 - 5:22am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.