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Brenneis, C.B. (1996). Memory Systems And The Psychoanalytic Retrieval Of Memories Of Trauma. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 44:1165-1187.

(1996). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 44:1165-1187

Memory Systems And The Psychoanalytic Retrieval Of Memories Of Trauma

C. Brooks Brenneis

Increasingly, psychoanalysis has confronted the issue of recovered memories of childhood trauma. Based on trauma research, the concept of a special traumatic memory has evolved. Overwhelming psychic experience is thought to generate a defensively altered state of consciousness (specifically dissociation), which encodes memory in unassimilated visual, somatic, and behavioral, rather than linguistic modes. Analytic reevocation and interpretation of the original altered states of consciousness then permits the transformation of “early” traumatic memory into “later” explicit memory. Examined from the vantage point of contemporary cognitive research and theory, underlying flaws may be found in these propositions when they are extended to patients without explicit memory of trauma: first, dissociation is a chameleonlike process, perhaps as closely associated with suggestibility as with trauma; second, state-dependent learning does not adequately account for the absence of explicit memory; and third, implicit memory does not map onto explicit memory in any direct or simple fashion. Consequently, the clinical application of current propositions about traumatic memory to patients without explicit memory of trauma may warrant considerable caution. Provisional guidelines are offered for estimating the validity of retrieved memories of trauma.

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