Adult memories of childhood trauma: A naturalistic clinical study

Authors

  • Judith L. Herman,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, and the Victims of Violence Program, Department of Psychiatry, The Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
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  • Mary R. Harvey

    1. Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, and the Victims of Violence Program, Department of Psychiatry, The Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
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Abstract

The clinical evaluations of 77 adult psychiatric outpatients reporting memories of childhood trauma were reviewed. A majority of patients reported some degree of continuous recall. Roughly half (53%) said they had never forgotten the traumatic events. Two smaller groups described a mixture of continuous and delayed recall (17%) or a period of complete amnesia followed by delayed recall (16%). Patients with and without delayed recall did not differ significantly in the proportions reporting corroboration of their memories from other sources. Idiosyncratic, trauma-specific reminders and recent life crises were most commonly cited as precipitants to delayed recall. A previous psychotherapy was cited as a factor in a minority (28%) of cases. By contrast, intrusion of new memories after a period of amnesia was frequently cited as a factor leading to the decision to seek psychotherapy. The implications of these findings are discussed with respect to the role of psychotherapy in the process of recovering traumatic memories.

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