The Repression Debate
Professionals within the field of psychology have often debated the validity of repressed memories. In the 1980s, some believed that an individual was indeed able involuntarily to push a memory, especially one that was traumatic, to the unconscious, and was thus unaware of its existence. They believed that the individual could retrieve these memories in an altered state of consciousness, such as hypnosis, and recall perfectly the experience or event that took place.
The theory of repressed memories became a hot topic in the 1990s. You've likely heard of at least one case in which an individual was able to recall a repressed memory of sexual abuse years later through psychotherapy and then filed charges against his or her abuser. While some accusations were corroborated with objective evidence, many were not and relied solely on the individual's recall of the repressed memory. Many believed that such recovered memories of abuse should be believed and viewed as accurate.
However, current thinking is that there is no way to know which memories are valid and which are not, other than by outside corroboration, and the client has to learn to live with that reality. The client would never know which recovered memories were real and which were created under hypnosis, and the damage caused by that would be considerable. Because of the way memory works, recovered memories cannot be considered accurate. As stated earlier, memory makes associations, and when recalled, fills in the gaps with information that can come from a variety of sources. As a result, memory is vulnerable to the power of suggestion. Therefore, a therapist who uses leading questions about sexual abuse may cause a patient to “recover” a memory of abuse that he or she had supposedly repressed. Some believe that because objective corroborative evidence rarely accompanies repressed memories, people and the courts should be skeptical of the authenticity of repressed memories.