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Stern, D.B. (1996). Dissociation and Constructivism: Commentary on Papers by Davies and Harris. Psychoanal. Dial., 6(2):251-266.

(1996). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 6(2):251-266

Dissociation and Constructivism: Commentary on Papers by Davies and Harris Related Papers

Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D.

Dr. davies and dr. harris have divided up between them the two sets of issues that dominate contemporary discussions of memories of childhood sexual abuse. On one hand, we have the clinical problem, which most of Davies's paper addresses: How do we help these people? On the other hand, we have the conceptual issue, which is the topic of most of Harris's paper: How should we understand the issues of memory in these difficult cases? Unfortunately, however, we are not free to focus all our energies on these thorny problems, because it has become necessary for anyone who wants to take on the issues in this field to deal with their detractors, the proponents of the so-called false memory syndrome, who claim that most memories of childhood sexual abuse recovered in the course of psychotherapy are perpetrated—consciously or unconsciously—by egregiously overzealous psychotherapists.

We have needed Harris's paper for some time now. It is not difficult for a clinician to take issue with the more extreme advocates of the false memory syndrome, because most of us have simply seen enough in our practices to be convinced that false memories of sexual abuse—at least in the absence of a therapist's explicit or implicit encouragement of such memories, which I think everyone involved in this debate deplores—are the rare exception. But rebutting the false memory argument requires a good deal more than clinical experience and contrary convictions; it requires a close examination of the relevant research findings and the thinking that support the perspective.

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