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Brenner, I. (1997). Recovered Memories of Abuse. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 45:1285-1287.

(1997). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45:1285-1287

Recovered Memories of Abuse

Ira Brenner

January 20, 1997. We are indebted to C. Brooks Brenneis (JAPA 44/4), for his latest contribution to the analytic literature on issues related to the retrieval and accuracy of memory. His review of the research into explicit and implicit memory, as well as his challenge of some of our basic assumptions, requires us to critically reevaluate how we regard what patients tell us they remember, as well as what we help them reconstruct. Unfortunately, he has not presented any of his own clinical data, drawing instead on his interpretation of previously published analytic reports and cognitive and neurobiological studies. Because of the premium he places on scientific thinking and precision, I feel compelled to comment on his paper, but I will limit my remarks to two aspects: (1) the way in which he characterizes my work on dissociation (JAPA 42/3) and (2) the issue of memories of abuse never conscious until recalled in treatment.

While I am genuinely appreciative that Brenneis brings attention to my work, I think that he has taken my comments out of context and somewhat distorted my position. He seems to view me (along with some rather esteemed colleagues) as an analyst who has merely extrapolated from trauma research “to subjects thought to have been traumatized but for whom there is no direct memory of trauma” (p. 1166). First of all, I do not work with “subjects.” I am a clinician, and I work with patients, not research subjects. While I may be caught up on semantics, I do not know if his choice of words reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of the analytic relationship, which could affect his views. Second, he reasons that since no clear statement of the effect was made in my reports or the others he cites, these patients must not have had any preexisting conscious memory of trauma. He then builds a case through his impressive command of the current research on “false memory syndrome,” refuting those, including myself, who he believes maintain that “a more or less exact fit exists between implicit memory and unavailable explicit memory” (p. 1171).

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