Repressed Memories

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“Repressed memories are a figment of the imagination”. Critically discuss this statement.

The concept of repression – which is the bone of contention between those who believe in the mission of recovery therapy and those who denounce it – presumes a peculiar power of the mind (Loftus and Ketchum, 1994). The current dispute regarding the existence of repression has mainly focused on whether people remember or forget trauma. Repression, however, is a multidimensional construct, which, in addition to the memory aspect, consists of pathogenic effects on adjustment and the unconscious (Rofe´, 2008). The challenges of memory recovery have not escaped judicial attention. Courts have increasingly found repressed memory testimony to be challenging in terms of its admissibility as valid and reliable evidence (Lipton, 1999).

Sigmund Freud (1914) viewed repression as the “foundation stone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests” (p. 297). It is therefore no wonder that “Hundreds of psychoanalytic investigations have been interpreted as either propping up or tearing down this cornerstone” (Gur and Sackeim, 1979, p. 167). However, despite research efforts, the psychology community is polarized regarding the validity of this concept. On the one hand, in line with harsh criticism against psychoanalysis in general, numerous investigators question the validity of repression, claiming that it needs to be abandoned (Bonanno and Keuler, 1998; Court and Court, 2001; Pendergrast, 1997; Piper, Pope, and Borowiecki, 2000; Pope, Oliva, and Hudson, 1999). On the other hand, psychoanalysis continues to be one of the central theories of psychopathology, and many investigators believe that repression is a valid concept (Bowers and Farvolden, 1996; Brown, Scheflin, and Whitfield, 1999; Cheit, 1998; Eagle, 2000a, 2000b; Talvitie and Ihanus, 2003; Westen, 1998a, 1999). The debate has focused mainly on clarifying whether people remember or forget trauma. However, repression as portrayed in psychoanalytic literature is a multidimensional concept, which comprises of memory, pathogenic effect, and the existence of an autonomous unconscious entity. Additionally, because psychoanalytic repression plays a central role in accounting for both the development and treatment of neurotic disorders (Breuer and Freud, 1895), an evaluation of repression necessitates examining clinical evidence that assesses the utility of this concept in the understanding of neurosis.

In the ensuing essay, the above-mentioned concepts will be evaluated and critically discussed in order to arrive at a more acute understanding of the existence/non-existence of repression. Thereafter, these findings with respect to their impact and significance on interviewing and testimony and implications in the legal frameworks will be discussed.

According to the psychoanalytic doctrine of repression, people have a tendency to forget trauma, and these traumatic experiences can be authentically retrieved by special means (Breuer and Freud, 1895). Some researchers claim that studies that examine the memory component are irrelevant in evaluating the psychoanalytic component of repression, as Freud (1915a) altered the focus of repression from memory to the inhibition of instinct (Boag, 2006a). This is important, as the debate around the existence of repression has almost entirely been focused on the motivation to forget trauma (Brown et al., 1999; Court and Court, 2001; Erdelyi, 2006; Piper et al., 2000; Pope et al., 1999; Wilson and Dunn, 2004). Studies have shown that trauma can enhance memory (McNally, 2003; Piper et al., 2000; Pope et al., 1999). Studies have also shown that partial or temporal amnesia may be a result of deliberate forgetting, rather than repression (Epstein and Bottoms, 2002; Pope et al., 1999; Porter and Birt, 2001). Anderson and Green (2001) indicate that intentional forgetting (consciously forcing something out of one’s mind) is extremely strong. Loftus,...
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