Memory recovery in therapy: Recommendations to clinical psychologists & counselors
The false memory and recovered memory literature is marked by controversy. It examines the phenomenon a variety of patients have exhibited: purportedly “losing” memories of trauma, only to recover them later in life (Gavlick, 2001). In these cases, temporary memory loss is attributed to psychological causes (i.e. a traumatic event) rather than known damage to the brain (Gavlick, 2001). While some assert that the creation of false memories through therapeutic practice is a serious concern and founded associations like the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) in the U.S. and the British False Memory Society (BFMS) in order to advocate against psychological malpractice, other researchers contend that the evidence for “false memory syndrome,” or the recovery of untrue memories, is weak (Brewin & Andrews, 1998; Pope, 1996). The debate arose largely in the 1990s, though a consensus in the literature still has not been reached.
Clearly, the debate is of considerable concern to both clients and therapists. Psychologists and counselors must understand the memory research in order to best serve their clients and better represent themselves professionally without inappropriately using memory recovery techniques (Farrants, 1998; Gavlick, 2001). The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy suggested in its Notes for practitioners: Recovered memories of abuse publication that therapists must be “aware of research and knowledge in relevant areas such as memory and repression” and that they have a “duty to inform themselves of current theory and knowledge” (1997, p. 1; Burman, 2002). This paper seeks to update practitioners who are in clinics rather than researching on the latest research regarding recovered and false memories, connect the findings to cognitive processes, and provide suggestions for reliable therapeutic approaches.
In order to fully appreciate the importance of recent findings in the recovered and false memory research, it is necessary to understand the context of the false memory controversy. As Brewin and Andrews explain (1998), there is doubt in the literature about whether people can forget significant experience and then recover what are essentially accurate memories of the events. The strongest doubts are related to recovered memories of repeated childhood sexual abuse and are voiced by a number of researchers including Loftus (1993) and Pendergrast (1995) (Brewin & Andrews, 1998). In the 1980s, the concept of recovering memories of sexual abuse became acceptable and recovered memories peaked in the US during the early 1990s (Brahams, 2000). During this time, the American Psychological Association concluded that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them, while also acknowledging that it is possible to remember abuse that had been forgotten or to construct memories for an event that never occurred...