Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Traumatic memory: memory disturbances and dissociative amnesia

The following articles provide compelling scientific evidence in support of the phenomena of dissociation and recovered memory.

Included are cases involving survivors of childhood abuse, survivors of the Holocaust, and war veterans.

In addition to supporting the phenomenon in general, these articles also counter the argument that recovered memory is (a) no more than a recent cultural “fad” and (b) specific to false accusers of sexual abuse.

Bremner, J. D., Krystal, J. H., Charney, D. S., & Southwick, S. M. (1996). Neural mechanisms in dissociative amnesia for childhood abuse: Relevance to the current controversy surrounding the “false memory syndrome.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 71-82.

....CONCLUSIONS: John Nemiah pointed out several years ago that alterations in memory in the form of dissociative amnesia are an important part of exposure to traumatic stressors, such as childhood abuse. The studies reviewed here show that extreme stress has long-term effects on memory. These findings may provide a model for understanding the mechanisms involved in dissociative amnesia, as well as a rationale for phenomena such as delayed recall of childhood abuse.

....Briere, J., & Conte, J. R. (1993, January). Self-reported amnesia for abuse in adults molested as children. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 6(1), 21-31.

....A sample of 450 adult clinical subjects reporting sexual abuse histories were studied regarding their repression of sexual abuse incidents. A total of 267 subjects (59.3%) identified some period in their lives, before age 18, when they had no memory of their abuse. Variables most predictive of abuse-related amnesia were greater current psychological symptoms, molestation at an early age, extended abuse, and variables reflecting especially violent abuse

....Chu, J. A., Frey, L. M., Ganzel, B. L., & Matthews, J. A. (1999, May). Memories of childhood abuse: Dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(5), 749-755.

....Childhood abuse, particularly chronic abuse beginning at early ages, is related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms including amnesia for abuse memories. This study strongly suggests that psychotherapy usually is not associated with memory recovery and that independent corroboration of recovered memories of abuse is often present.

....DeWind, E. (1968). The confrontation with death. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 49, 302-305.

Excerpt: “Most former inmates of Nazi concentration camps could not remember anything of the first days of imprisonment because perception of reality was so overwhelming that it would lead to a mental chaos which implies a certain death.”

....Durlacher, G. L. (1991). De zoektocht [The search]. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff.

Dutch sociologist Durlacher, a survivor of Birkenau, describes his search for and meetings with another 20 child survivors from this camp. Excerpt: “Misha….looks helplessly at me and admits hesitantly that the period in the camps is wiped out from his brain….With each question regarding the period between December 12, 1942 till May 7, 1945, he admits while feeling embarrassed that he cannot remember anything….Jindra…had to admit that he remembers almost nothing from his years in the camps….From the winter months of 1944 until just before the liberation in April 1945, only two words stayed with him: Dora and Nordhausen

....Elliott, D. M., & Briere, J. (1995, October). Posttraumatic stress associated with delayed recall of sexual abuse: A general population study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8(4), 629-647. (Child Abuse Crisis Center, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrance, CA.)

Abstract: This study examined delayed recall of childhood sexual abuse in a stratified random sample of the general population (N = 505). Of participants who reported a history of sexual abuse, 42% described some period of time when they had less memory of the abuse than they did at the time of data collection. No demographic differences were found between subjects with continuous recall and those who reported delayed recall. However, delayed recall was associated with the use of threats at the time of the abuse.

....Feldman-Summers, S., Pope, K. S. (1994, June). The experience of “forgetting” childhood abuse: A national survey of psychologists. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(3), 636-639.

Abstract: A national sample of psychologists were asked whether they had been abused as children and, if so, whether they had ever forgotten some or all of the abuse. Almost a quarter of the sample (23.9%) reported childhood abuse, and of those, approximately 40% reported a period of forgetting some or all of the abuse. The major findings were that (1) both sexual and nonsexual abuse were subject to periods of forgetting; (2) the most frequently reported factor related to recall was being in therapy; (3) approximately one half of those who reported forgetting also reported corroboration of the abuse....

Herman, J. L., & Harvey, M. R. (1997). Adult memories of childhood trauma: a naturalistic clinical study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 10(4), 557-571.

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%).

....Krell, R. (1993). Child survivors of the Holocaust: Strategies of adaptation. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 38, 384-389.

Excerpt: “The most pervasive preoccupation of child survivors is the continuing struggle with memory, whether there is too much or too little….For a child survivor today, an even more vexing problem is the intrusion of fragments of memory—most are emotionally powerful and painful but make no sense. They seem to become more frequent with time and are triggered by thousands of subtle or not so subtle events

....Kuch, K., & Cox, B. J. (1992). Symptoms of PTSD in 124 survivors of the Holocaust. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 337-340.

Potential subjects with confirmed or suspected organicity, bipolar or obsessive compulsive disorder were excluded. One group (N=78) had been detained in various concentration camps for greater than 1 month. A second group (N=20) had been detained in Auschwitz and had been tattooed. A third group (N=45) had not been in labor camps, ghettos, or had hidden in the illegal underground. Psychogenic amnesia was found in 3.2% of the totals sample, in 3.8 of the general concentration camp survivors, and in 10% of tattooed survivors of Auschwitz. 17.7% (N=22) of the total sample had received psychotherapy.

....Loftus, E. F., Polonsky, S., & Fullilove, M. T. (1994, March). Memories of childhood sexual abuse: Remembering and repressing. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18(1), 67-84. (University of Washington, Psychology Department, Seattle, WA.)

Abstract: Women involved in outpatient treatment for substance abuse were interviewed to examine their recollections of childhood sexual abuse. Overall, 54% of the 105 women reported a history of childhood sexual abuse. Of these, the majority (81%) remembered all or part of the abuse their whole lives; 19% reported they forgot the abuse for a period of time, and later the memory returned.

....Melchert, T. P. (1996, October). Childhood memory and a history of different forms of abuse. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 27(5), 438-446. (Texas Tech University, Department of Psychology, Lubbock, TX.)

Abstract: A widespread professional and public controversy has recently emerged regarding recovered memories of child sexual abuse, but the prevalence and nature of these memories have received limited empirical examination. This study (N = 553 nonclinical participants) found that very similar proportions of those with histories of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse reported that they had periods without memory of their abuse (21%, 18%, and 18%, respectively).

....Musaph, H. (1993). Het post-concentratiekampsyndroom [The post-concentration camp syndrome]. Maandblad Geestelijke volksgezondheid [Dutch Journal of Mental Health], 28(5), 207-217.

Amnesia exists for certain Holocaust experiences, while other experiences are extremely well remembered.

....van der Hart, O., Bolt, H., & van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Memory fragmentation in dissociative identity disorder. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 6(1), 55-70. (Department of Clinical Psychology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.)

Abstract: This study examined the quality of self-reported memories of traumatic experiences in participants with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and compared them with their memories of non-traumatic, but emotionally significant life experiences. Systematic interview data were gathered from 30 DID patients in The Netherlands. All participants reported a history of severe childhood abuse; 93.3% reported some period of amnesia for the index traumatic event, and 33.3% reported periods of amnesia for significant non-traumatic childhood experiences. All participants who had been amnestic for their trauma reported that their memories were initially retrieved in the form of somatosensory flashbacks. This suggests that, like PTSD patients, DID patients at least initially recall their trauma not as a narrative, but as somatosensory re-experiencing.

....Wagenaar, W. A., & Groeneweg, J. (1990). The memory of concentration camp survivors. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 4, 77-87.

Abstract: This study is concerned with the question whether extremely emotional experiences, such as being the victim of Nazi concentration camps, leave traces in memory that cannot be extinguished. Relevant data were obtained from testimony by 78 witnesses in a case against Marinus De Rijke, who was accused of Nazi crimes in Camp Erika in The Netherlands. The testimonies were collected in the periods 1943–1947 and 1984–1987. A comparison between these two periods reveals the amount of forgetting that occurred in 40 years. Results show that camp experiences were generally well-remembered, although specific but essential details were forgotten. Among these were forgetting being maltreated, forgetting names and appearance of the torturers, and forgetting being a witness to murder.

....Williams, L. M. (1994, December). Recall of childhood trauma: A prospective study of women’s memories of child sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(6), 1167-1176. (University of New Hampshire, Family Research Lab, Durham, NH.)

Abstract: One hundred twenty-nine women with previously documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked detailed questions about their abuse histories to answer the question “Do people actually forget traumatic events such as child sexual abuse, and if so, how common is such forgetting?” A large proportion of the women (38%) did not recall the abuse that had been reported 17 years earlier. Women who were younger at the time of the abuse and those who were molested by someone they knew were more likely to have no recall of the abuse.

....Yehuda, R., Schmeidler, J., Siever, L. J., Binder-Brynes, K., & Elkin, A. (1997). Individual differences in posttraumatic stress disorder symptom profiles in Holocaust survivors in concentration camps or in hiding. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 10, 453-465.

46% of 100 survivors report amnesia on PTSD measures.

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