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Tuch, R. (2015). Response to Alberini. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 63(2):331-333.

(2015). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 63(2):331-333

Response to Alberini Related Papers

Richard Tuch

Cristina Alberini cites Freud's concept of retranscription to support recent research suggesting that memory is less indelible than had commonly been thought. While at first glance the concept of retranscription might seem to lend weight to the idea that reconsolidation can result in a lessening of one's affective response when a memory of traumatic experience springs to mind, consideration of the clinical examples cited by Freud as examples of Nachträglichkeit (the outcome of the process of retranscription) leads to a very different conclusion. Rather than demonstrating how maturation and subsequent learning (including clinical intervention) might moderate the intensity of one's affective response to the memory, Freud's theory in fact does the exact opposite: it explains how a past experience may become traumatic over time. Retranscription is the mechanism Freud proposes to account for the effect new knowledge and/or developmentally based tendencies to react more strongly to certain sorts of stimuli (particularly sexual stimuli) can have when remembering past events that originally had been well tolerated but subsequently become traumatic due to the realization of what it was that was happening at the time about which one had previously been unaware.

In Project for a Scientific Psychology, Freud (1895) writes: “Here we have the case of a memory arousing an affect which it did not arouse as an experience, because in the meantime the change [brought about] in puberty had made possible a different understanding of what was remembered” (p. 356); he refers to this as “deferred action.” Freud (1893) employed this reasoning two years earlier in his “single-session analysis” of Katharina, a “rather sulky-looking girl of perhaps eighteen” (p. 125) who had consulted him as he rested at an inn during a hike in the Alps. Katharina had been experiencing panic attacks that Freud, in short order, analyzed to be the result of early experiences during which her father (initially disguised in print as her “uncle”) made sexual advances. Katharina was ignorant at the time about the meaning of her father's behavior until she subsequently witnessed something similar two years hence, when she encountered her father sexually involved with her cousin.

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