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Are Repressed Memories Reliable

Since the late 1980s, a number of clinicians have argued that many adults who were traumatized as children had repressed all memories of these events, and that these memories could be recovered only in the course of psychological therapy. In a seminal text, Bass and Davis argued that such repression is not unusual, and advised therapists to accept their ‘recovered memories’ of sexual abuse, and to suspend disbelief even if they found some parts of their history doubtful. Memories have been recovered in considerable detail up to 40 years after the alleged trauma. Individuals may describe partial or complete memory loss for periods of months or years while they are growing up. Surveys have found that between 20 and 60 per cent of women in or having completed therapy have reported periods of forgetting some or all of the abuse they have experienced. Individuals identifi ed as abusers, often parents or other family members, frequently deny the episodes and claim that they have been wrongfully accused: that is, that the recovered memories of abuse are false memories. False or true, the impact these accusations can have on families is often profound.

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