Letter: Lost memories of childhood abuse

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Sir: It is misleading to imply, as Lisa Appignanesi seems to do ("Between the idea and the reality ... falls the shadow", 22 February), that the case against recovering memories of childhood abuse is virtually proven.

Those who recover memories are not all deluded by mad therapists, crazy or vindictive. Painful childhood memories regained in adulthood are not all connected with incest, but with physical and emotional abuse too.

There is no clear boundary between adult survivors who have always remembered what happened to them, and those who recover memories in adulthood; it is far more common for some memories to be retained, and some to be repressed. Sometimes siblings will remember each other's abuse but not their own.

The term "recovered memory" is itself misleading, as the process of regaining full awareness of past traumatic events is an agonising one, quite unlike ordinary reflection on past events; a better term might be "relived experience".

Many adult survivors regain their memories despite their own endeavours not to. Many survivors regain memories without having been near a therapist; others may be having therapy, yet begin to recover memories outside a therapeutic setting - and they may even be reluctant to tell their therapist for fear of being thought bad or mad.

Of course there are incompetent, over-zealous therapists, and vulnerable clients who may be highly suggestible. But the idea that all recovered memories are implanted by therapists in the minds of their clients is an insult to the intelligence and integrity of both.

There is no national organisation in Britain providing support and a strong collective voice for adult survivors, who were almost invariably silenced - disbelieved, ridiculed, threatened, punished - in childhood. It would be helpful if reports on the issues that they face could avoid the tendency to echo these hostile responses.



The author was co-editor with Liz Mullinar of `Breaking The Silence - Child Abuse Survivors Speak Out'.