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Repressed Memory Argument Goes On

September 12, 1993

"In the Mind's Eye" (Aug. 25) reported on the sharp differences among members of the American Psychological Assn. over the validity of reports of repressed memory of childhood abuse.

In connection with an ongoing research program, I have recently been investigating the recovery group movement, which has been the source of a large number of these reports.

It is not generally understood that this began as an ideological movement--which is the conviction that all mental and emotional problems spring ultimately from childhood abuse. The major figure in initiating and developing this idea was Alice Miller, who began her career in Switzerland in the 1960s and '70s as an orthodox Freudian psychoanalyst and became a disciple of the founder of primal scream therapy.

Alice Miller is convinced that memory of childhood abuse is often repressed, frequently with the collusion of "bad" psychotherapists. She expresses her views in her books with great conviction. But the reviews of her work by authorities in the field have been largely negative. No one wishes to deny that childhood abuse occurs, or that repression occurs, but there are strong reservations about reducing the causes of mental and emotional ills to one thing.

DOUGLAS M. PARROTT

Riverside

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The whole issue of the validity of repressed memories has arisen to obscure the issue of child abuse and to make it possible for even fewer perpetrators to be confronted with and convicted of their horrible crimes.

The article does not point out that one of the major stages in recovering memories of childhood abuse is denial. Survivors deny these memories by repressing them for long periods of time and then by believing that they are making them up. To confront the fact that one has been abused by a parent, a relative, or an adult authority figure is unpleasant, repulsive, terrifying. It is only when the gut feelings grow, the corroborating memories continue, and the ugly truth keeps surfacing, that a survivor can fully accept the reality of memories. To even suggest repressed memories are fraudulent attempts by bitter individuals seeking revenge against otherwise wonderful loving adults is to miss the point.

And I think it is misleading to portray therapists as individuals who implant repressed memories in the minds of their clients. I think it is more common for therapists to stay away from child abuse issues until the client brings it up.

CLAUDIA THOMPSON

Los Angeles

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As I read Elizabeth Loftus' questioning of the memory of incest survivors, and the late retrieval of traumatic memories, I was struck by the testimony of Reginald Denny about his beating. He has no memory of it. Years from now when his memories start to surface, they may be inaccurate, fuzzy, unclear, but we know they will reflect real events.

My daughters began to have memories of abuse many years after their father died. They live in different parts of the country and were not in touch with each other about what was happening to them as the memories began. Each had different experiences, but in the end the memories were the same. They compared notes only after they were in therapy.

The pain is unbearable, but we are working together to heal and repair what we can. I cannot imagine how much worse it would be if, rather than supporting them in their recovery, I were to deny the abuse.

NAME WITHHELD

Los Angeles

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Why does the psychological researcher Elizabeth Loftus insist that buried memories of traumatic events cannot be suddenly recalled? Researchers have not conducted anything that resembles an investigation of the memory repression phenomenon.

Why is the experience of people labeled anecdotal? Researchers have not even counted the number of adults who testify to having this experience. They have neither defined the criteria for evidence nor outlined a methodology of research.

Loftus does well to criticize unethical or ill-trained members of her profession and to question the use of drugs, hypnosis and suggestion. But what Loftus and others do when they provoke an empty debate is not science, nor is it an attempt to frame the problem, let alone to understand another human being. It is simply the denial of a phenomenon--and with it, a denial of the physical and emotional pain and the terror, which abuse victims face on a daily basis.

PHYLLIS SLADEK JR.

Santa Barbara

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