Clinical researcher Jim Hopper's website is all quite good. -HMW
Amnesia for childhood sexual abuse is a condition.
The existence of this condition is beyond dispute.
Repression is merely one explanation
– often a confusing and misleading one –
for what causes the condition of amnesia.
At least 10% of people sexually abused in childhood
will have periods of complete amnesia for their abuse,
followed by experiences of delayed recall.
(Conservative estimate based on published research. See below.)
I am a researcher and therapist with a doctorate (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology. I am a licensed clinical psychologist, and for 15 years I have been a therapist to men and women abused in childhood, providing individual and group treatment. I have studied the characteristics of traumatic memories and the effects of psychological trauma on biological systems involved in emotion regulation. My collaborators include Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a leader in the psychological trauma field at The Trauma Center and Boston University. I am currently Instructor at the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at the Neuroimaging Center of McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
In this position I am focusing studies of substance abuse in people with histories of child abuse and PTSD. The contents of this page reflect my level of experience and expertise, as well as opinions I have formed over the years.
I have published this page to direct people to quality scholarly work on traumatic memory, especially:
1. Research evidence showing that it is NOT RARE for people who were sexually abused in childhood to experience amnesia and delayed recall for the abuse. This body of work shows that claims to the contrary are contradicted by scientific evidence.
2. Research and theoretical works by qualified specialists who increasingly agree that: a) traumatic and nontraumatic memories have some different characteristics; b) the construct of "dissociation" best explains many traumatic memories, e.g., those involving fragmentary sensations and feelings which are disconnected from verbal narratives, and associated with amnesia and delayed recall. These works show that making claims about traumatic memory based on generalizations from research on nontraumatic memory, and focusing on the constructs of "repression" and "repressed memory," can often be confusing distractions and misleading tactics.
To accomplish these two goals, this page does not need to be comprehensive, nor up-to-date on the latest research - though I will occassionally make additions, and am always open to suggestions.
Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge some very important issues that this page, with its limited goals related to recovered memories and dissociation, does not address, except in passing. Please read every item and the entire list very carefully.
Issues not addressed on this page:
1. Every instance of recall is a process of reconstruction, and therefore involves some degree of distortion.
2. This process of reconstruction is never random, and is always influenced by factors internal and external to the person attempting accurate recall.
3. There is strong evidence that people can sincerely believe they have recovered a memory or memories of abuse by a particular person, but actually be mistaken.
4. There is strong evidence that such memories have led to accusations about particular events that never happened and accusations of people who never committed such acts.
5. In some cases mistaken memories and accusations have caused extraordinary pain and damage to individuals and families.
6. One of the preventable causes of these tragedies is incompetence by therapists, who sometimes contribute to the creation of false memories and/or believe them without good reason.
7. Currently, there are no reliable statistics on the occurences listed as numbers 3 through 6 above. Along these lines, see two articles by Dr. Kenneth Pope: "Questioning Claims About the False Memory Syndrome Epidemic," and "Science as Careful Questioning: Are Claims of a False Memory Syndrome Epidemic Based on Empirical Evidence?" (For more information about these articles and online ordering of copies, follow the link to Pope's site in the "Additional Resources" section of this page.)
8. Most of these issues are addressed at the Web site of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. I do not endorse that organization, their Web site, nor their treatment of these issues, which is clearly extreme in many ways. But I do encourage you to consider all positions, to contrast what you learn here with the materials presented at the FMSF site, and to come to your own conclusions.
Finally, I strongly encourage you to seek out and read some of the scholarly works cited below. These will help you to make your own judgements rather than relying on what you hear or read in the popular media, or what is available on the Internet – including this page. It is my aim and hope, however, that reading this page will give you powerful knowledge and tools for thinking more critically about whatever else you hear and read on this topic.