Conference talk: New Challenges in Repressed Memory Skepticism (Lawrence Patihis)

I recently attended the Zoom Psychology and Law Symposium (hosted by Henry Otgaar at Maastricht University) and listened to this very interesting talk by Lawrence Patihis at Portsmouth University.

I particularly found the points below very interesting.

  • Psychologists believing in repressed memories as a phenomenon typically no longer use that term, but instead talk about it as ‘trauma’, ‘dissociation’, and among the therapies that are open to the possibility of repressed memories is ‘trauma-informed therapy’. Patihis points out that there is a terminology wild west and that it’s therefore difficult to know, without substantial digging, whether a particular psychologist/counselor or the type of therapy employed may dig up memories of trauma that supposedly have been buried in the mind for a long time.

  • Description of two recent cases (2016, about 20:00 min into the recording; 2019/2020, 22 min 15 seconds into the recording) where memories of sexual abuse had been recovered in counseling but later identified as false memories by the witnesses themselves who chose to retract the allegations.

  • The most recent case of retraction (2019/2020) that Patihis described concerned a counselor found by the client through the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. They say that they have two peer-reviewed journals, one of them at Frontier (but I think it might be section [nowadays?] rather than a full journal). This counselor allegedly put her client under severe pressure, claiming that the client had repressed memories of sexual abuse and that she won’t get better before admitting it.

From the ISSTD website:

The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation is an international, non-profit, professional association organized to develop and promote comprehensive, clinically effective and empirically based resources and responses to trauma and dissociation and to address its relevance to other theoretical constructs.

  • Apparently there is an increase in number of people claiming to be suffering from trauma. From an article in one of ISSTD’s journals: “The term trauma-informed is trending. Google searches for the term trauma-informed care have been measurable since at least 2004, with a noticeable uptick since 2011.” Patihis argues that the reason might be that as something get rarer we tend to look more intensively for its presence and broaden our definition of it. He refers to this interesting paper published in Science in 2018:
  • About 8% of adults in U. S. who reported attending counseling came to remember abuse they had previously not had any memories of (undergraudates, Patihis et al, 2020; age representative national sample, Patihis & Pendergrast, 2018, open report, open data & open materials in the latter).

  • By the end of the talk, Patihis discussed publishing about recovered memories in peer-reviewed journals (e.g. those run by ISSTD) as idea laundering, and made some implicit(?) connections to the increasingly frequent references to students (and faculty members) experiencing words and opinions as traumatic. This make me think of the recent case of Dr. Kirsty Miller who publicly opposed that the British Psychological Society has got engaged in identitarian leftist ideas (see here for more info on that case).