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Mitchell, S.A. (1996). Introduction. Psychoanal. Dial., 6(2):151-153.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 6(2):151-153

Introduction

Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

The longest running, most impassioned controversy in the history of psychoanalysis has been the controversy, or, rather, series of controversies, over memories of childhood sexual seduction. Freud's original seduction theory of neurosis stirred up quite a ferment in Viennese medical circles; Freud's abandonment of the seduction hypothesis (leading to the theory of infantile sexuality) was a key turning point in his theorizing and has been a focal point of debate between Freudians and interpersonalists of various stripes since the 1920s, including recent attacks of various sorts on Freud's character; differences over the veridicality of sexual memories was a central feature of the split between Freud and Ferenczi and a major element in the latter's posthumous banishment to the gulag of psychoanalytic history until the recent revival of Ferenczi's reputation.

The last decade has witnessed a renewed airing of the horrors of childhood sexual abuse, the clinical importance of the recovery of memories of that abuse, and the validation of those memories. That shift away from the traditional psychoanalytic emphasis on the fantasy nature of seduction memories has generated a hotly contested wave of accusations that the memories uncovered by therapeutic and analytic processes of various sorts are an iatrogenic product of the therapists' politically laced, gender-embattled zeal.

To date, much more heat than light has been generated by the manner in which proponents of different positions on these issues have addressed each other. In the hope of raising the level of discourse to an engagement of real issues, Psychoanalytic Dialogues is publishing two original papers, by Adrienne Harris and by Jody Messler Davies, on the “false memory syndrome” and its accompanying controversies. Making their way through the thickets of political, gender and power issues, these authors attempt to address complex problems of epistemology, therapeutics, and clinical responsibility.

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