The Recovered Memory Controversy

There must be several hundred books on sexual abuse of children and claims of recovered memories by adults of their having abused as children. Keep in mind that the reality of sexual abuse and the reality of one's memories of the same may be different. There is no doubt that there is sexual abuse of children and some reasonable debate about how trustworthy children's reports of such abuse are. However, the most controversial issue is whether one should trust recovered memories of such abuse. The debate on this issue has become fierce with many therapists (but probably not a majority of clinical psychologists) favoring the existence of repressed memories and almost all memory experts being quite skeptical of the existence of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, let alone the validity of recovered memories. An additional controversial issue is whether there are cases of ritual Satanic abuse.

Bass, Ellen and Davis, Laura. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (3rd edition). (*) A large and hugely influential book that has become the bible of the recovered memories movement. This latest edition features an unconvincing rebuttal to the many critics of this movement.

Crews, Frederick. The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute (*). New York Review Books. 1995. Basically consists of two lengthy and famous articles on Freud and the recovered memory controversy written originally for the New York Review. Crews argues that Freud was wrong in general and particulars because he was not a good or even honorable scientist and that the recovered memory movement is thereby built on a shaky foundation. Includes also letters to the editor mostly highly critical of Crews and supportive of Freud, psychoanalysis, and recovered memories. For a more extended and even harsher critique of Freud and believers in psychoanalysis, see Malcolm Macmillan's Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc (North-Holland, 1991)

Franklin, Eileen, & Wright, W. Sins of the Father. Crown, 1991. The notorious case of Ms. Franklin who recovered a repressed memory that her father killed her childhood friend over twenty years before. Her testimony was the only evidence used to convict her father. For suggestions that the memory probably was fabricated see Loftus, and Ofshe & Watters below and MacLean, Harry, Once Upon a Time (HarperCollins, 1993).

Fredrickson, Renee. Repressed Memories. (*) Fireside, 1992. An impassioned plea for the existence of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse and guidelines for how to deal with them.

Freyd, Jennifer. Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Harvard University Press, 1996. A distinguished cognitive psychologist presents the case for repressed and recovered memories of childhood abuse.

Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery. (*) Basic Books, 1992. A Harvard psychiatrist who strongly supports the notion that many patients have repressed memories of sexual abuse. She explicitly makes this a feminist issue.

Loftus, Elizabeth & Ketcham, Katherine. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse. St Martin's Press, 1994. Loftus is justly famous for her path-breaking research showing that memories can be induced and altered by subsequent events, and this book is critical of the whole idea of repressed memories of sexual abuse although Loftus does not rule out the possibility of repression and recovered memories. There are descriptions of interesting case studies.

Noblitt, James R., & Perskin, Pamela Sue. Cult and Ritual Abuse: Its History, Anthropology, and Recent Discovery in Contemporary America. Praeger, 1995. Highly sympathetic to the idea that there is a network of Satanic ritual abusers -- written by a therapist who has treated alleged victims of such abuse.

Ofshe, Richard & Watters, Ethan. Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria. Charles Scribner's, 1994. A deeply troubling (and angry) book that attacks the whole notion of repressed memories and psychotherapists for encouraging such reports. Ofshe is a leading expert on cults and has won a Pulitzer Prize for a previous book on Synanon. He was also the person who showed that Paul Ingram's memories of having abused his own daughters were probably false (See Remembering Satan below).

Pendergrast, Mark. Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives. (*) Upper Access, 1995. A comprehensive treatment of the phenomenon and its psychological and cultural context by a writer who himself has been accused of abusing his daughters. While quite lengthy, it is well written, and is generally still the best treatment of the topic.

Pezdek, Kathy, & Banks, William. The Recovered Memory/False Memory Debate. Academic Press, 1996. A collection of articles by psychologists, some technical, which support both sides of the debate to varying degrees.

Pope, Harrison. Psychology Astray: Fallacies in Studies of "Repressed Memory" and Childhood Trauma (*) Upton Books, 1997. A psychiatrist discusses the logic of research designed to "prove" the reality of recovered memory cases. Since the tone is dispassionate and the writing style quite lucid, this is a good place to begin for criticisms of the recovered memory movement.

Wright, Lawrence. Remembering Satan. Knopf, 1994. Originally a two-part New Yorker series, this is a fascinating discussion of the Ingram family and how assertions of childhood abuse by his daughters convinced even the accused, Paul Ingram, that he had abused them. This is a page-turner.

Yapko, Michael. Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma. Simon & Schuster, 1994. A sensitive and balanced critique of the whole controversy. The author does not reject the idea that abuse can be repressed or that such memories can be recovered during therapy, but he is highly critical of therapists who actively push the idea of repressed sexual abuse memories and who uncritically use hypnosis to gain access to them.