UCI News

Therapists, psychology researchers still split on repression of traumatic memories, study shows

Skepticism about repressed traumatic memories has increased over time, but a new study by UC Irvine scientists shows that psychology researchers and practitioners are still divided over their validity.

December 13, 2013

lp_june_2013Skepticism about repressed traumatic memories has increased over time, but a new study by UC Irvine scientists shows that psychology researchers and practitioners are still divided over their validity. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. “Whether repressed memories are accurate or not, and whether they should be pursued by therapists or not, is probably the single most practically important topic in clinical psychology since the days of Freud,” says  Lawrence Patihis (pictured), a graduate student in psychology & social behavior at UC Irvine. Study results, he says, suggest that there remains a “serious split in the field of psychology in beliefs about how memory works.” The divide is troublesome because of its implications for clinical practice and the judicial system. “Therapists who believe that traumatic memories can be repressed may develop treatment plans that differ dramatically from those developed by practitioners who do not hold this belief. In the courtroom, beliefs about memory often determine whether repressed-memory testimony is admitted into evidence,” the researchers write. Study co-authors include Elizabeth Loftus and Ian Tingen of UC Irvine; Lavina Ho of Pennsylvania State University; and Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University.