The Controversy of Recovered Memories

The Controversy of Recovered MemoriesThe Controversy of Recovered Memories

The controversy associated with recovered memories has been a topic of debate for some time. This has primarily been the case when it comes to individuals who have been victimized by terrible sexual acts of violence, or other traumatic events. Like any other controversial topic, many will either dispute, or agree with the attributes associated with the topic and maintain a strong opinion on what side they chose to believe, or disbelieve.

One such topic is the debate and controversy of recovered memories and the controversy associated with individuals being able to suppress a traumatic event, or events that have occurred in their lives, and if the memory can be remembered through therapy. This debate has established different theories as to the reasons why individuals suppress memories, or if certain therapies will inhibit one’s ability to recall traumatic events. In any event, there are different theories associated with recovered memories and the relevancies, or irrelevancies associated with the theory. Research indicates the majority of therapists will have the likelihood of encountering at least “one client with recovered memories in their professional careers, and that some may see many such clients” (Pope & Brown, 1996).

Background of the Debate of Recovered Memories

The theory associated with recovered memories has been an interesting debate between clinical and cognitive psychologists for over a decade (Gerkens, 2003). Though this is a short timeframe in comparison to topics like abortion, capital punishment, etc., which have been debated on for years, the fact of the matter is the notion associated with the relevancy of recovered memories is steadily increasing amongst psychologists, to which many different theories have been connected to either prove, or disprove the theory.

The primary research that has been conducted on the theory of recovered memories has been catered towards individuals that have been subjected to traumatic sexual events that took place in their lives; with largely the debate leading towards the relativity of the individual’s ability to recover memories, or if they are self-induced by therapy (McNally & Geraerts, 2009).

Different Perspectives

 There have been many different perspectives associated with the relevancy of recovered memories. Some of the most intriguing perspectives that have been researched intensely by psychologists are that individuals will repress traumatic memories that occur to them because the event was so significant and distressing that the individual only becomes able to recall the event with the assistance of therapy and the passing of significant time (McNally & Geraerts, 2009).

The counter of this theory has been brought into light due to different legal proceedings and other legal endeavors, which have produced the term of “false memories” (Geraerts, Jelicic, & Merckelbach, 2006). The argument associated with false memories are when individuals seek treatment from an event that occurred in their life that was emotionally tragic, and the memory is recovered, it is considered a “false memory” (McNally & Geraerts, 2009).

Another perspective in regards to recovered memories, especially in regards to children who suffered from some form of sexual abuse, is that the child has the ability to develop coping skills and ultimately forget that the traumatic event that occurred (McNally, 2003). Ultimately, the memory will be recovered in time, and this memory will be recovered from a trigger, or cue that subsequently reminds the individual of the sexual abuse (McNally, 2003).

What Science Indicates

Multiple tests have been conducted on subjects especially in the area of repression of thoughts and remembering horrific events (McNally & Geraerts, 2009). However, the subject data that has been established from these subjects has been considered more plausible in comparison to strictly repression (McNally & Geraerts, 2009).

Another argument is certain analysis studies that have been conducted on individuals indicates that studies involving individuals that have been subjected to traumatic events, typically remember the events because of the highly memorable account of the event (McNally & Geraerts, 2009). This has become a popular debate, especially due to the relevancy a plausibility associated with post-traumatic stress syndrome and how individuals that suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome often recall their accounts with significant detail (McNally & Geraerts, 2009).

Different Test Results

Geraerts, Jelicic and Merckelbach (2006) conducted a study where they recruited different participants through the local newspaper, to which they invited people who believed they forgotten a recalled memory. Different controls were also included in the test and subjects were administered a semi-structured memory interview (Geraerts, Jelicic, & Merckelbach, 2006). Upon completion of the interview, if the subjects recanted an event, they were asked to provide a possible witness that could corroborate their recovered memory (Geraerts, Jelicic, & Merckelbach, 2006). Their intent was to establish if over reporting is common; however, upon completion of Geraerts, Jelicic, and Merckelbach study, they determined there was no compression between the link of individuals over reporting to individuals with continuous child sexual abuse. Doctor David Gerkens (2004) conducted a study at Texas A&M where subjects went through exercises associated with blocking and recovering memories. At the conclusion of his study, Doctor Gerkens came up with the notion that the processes of an individual blocking a memory and recovering contained a disadvantageous effect on “source memory, but not on memory items.”


When it comes to the different theories associated with recovered memories, it appears that all the test results and data attributed to the different test results come back similar in comparison. Some may argue that recovered memories are something that surface only though treatment, or through some other spontaneous purpose. Often times, regardless of test results, individual opinions play a major role during a controversial issues.

The brain is an amazing organ and the brain has the ability to remember certain life scenarios with extreme detail, but also hide certain memories as a form of coping with something that was extremely traumatic to the individual, similar to a defense mechanism. To this extent, recovered memories is a rather unfortunate, but yet amazing topic associated with psychology. Unfortunately, recovered memories events can be completely horrific and depressing, yet amazing because of the different concepts and theories that come into play when understanding how the brain may have the ability to forget something that has been so devastating to an individual.


Geraerts, E., Jelicic, M., & Merckelbach, H. (2006). Symptom overreporting and recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. Law And Human Behavior, 30(5), 621-630. doi:10.1007/s10979-006-9043-y

Gerkens, D (2003). Are recovered memories accurate?. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Retrieved from http : / /hdl .handle .net /1969 .1 /2259.

McNally, R. J. (2003). Experimental approaches to the recovered memory controversy. In M. F. Lenzenweger, J. M. Hooley (Eds.) , Principles of experimental psychopathology: Essays in honor of Brendan A. Maher (pp. 269-277). American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10477-017

McNally, R. J., & Geraerts, E. (2009). A New Solution to the Recovered Memory Debate. Perspectives On Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 4(2), 126-134. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01112.x

Pope, K. S., & Brown, L. S. (1996). Recovered memories of abuse: Assessment, therapy, forensics. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

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