Memory, Trauma, Treatment, and the Law

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From our regular book review column.

If you want to destroy the tone of polite conversation at a dinner party, innocently ask whether psychotherapists are ever irresponsible when they encourage their clients to think about and remember bad things that happened to them during childhood. You are sure to provoke a heated debate among the dinner guests. At one end of the table will be a believer, an individual who knows from personal experience—as either a therapist or a patient—that a traumatized child can forget and later accurately remember the trauma. At the other end of the table will be a skeptic, who believes that most recovered memories are fictitious and caused by therapeutic suggestions. This argument among the dinner guests is part of a national debate, involving clinicians, researchers, patients, patient advocacy groups, politicians, legal professionals, and the media, that started in the 1990s and continues today.

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61(8):605