The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice

Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work


Normal Memory Processes Can Explain "Forgetting" of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Susan A. Clancy and Richard J. McNally - Harvard University

Twenty-seven adults reporting "recovered memories" of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) were interviewed to determine (1) whether they perceived their CSA to be traumatic (e.g., terrifying, life threatening) at the time it occurred, (2) why they believe they "forgot" their CSA memories, and (3) whether they report current psychological symptoms, negative life effects, or both related to their abuse. Only 7% of the group described the abuse as traumatic at the time it occurred. Eighty-nine percent endorsed ordinary forgetting mechanisms (e.g., avoidance, lack of rehearsal, retrieval failure) to explain why they had forgotten their abuse. Seven subjects met criteria for current CSA-related PTSD and all reported multiple negative life effects related to their abuse (i.e., difficulty trusting others, sexual problems, shame). Data are consistent with the hypothesis that (1) CSA that is "forgotten" and then "remembered" was not necessarily traumatic at the time it occurred, (2) CSA can be forgotten via normal forgetting mechanisms, and (3) it may be the retrospective interpretation of the event as traumatic, rather than the event itself, that mediates any subsequent impact.

You can read the full text of this article in
The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, vol. 4, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2005-06).
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