Recovered Memories: False, Factual And Narrative


Recovered memories (i.e. memories that have been repressed due to their traumatic nature but later, often with the intervention of a therapist, breakthrough into conscious awareness (having previously been, in effect, largely buried in the unconscious.


Unfortunately, ‘recovered memories can sometimes be false (this can happen, for example, if a therapist is biased towards interpreting what a client is telling him/her in a particular way and, as a result, inadvertently planting, through suggestion and implication, a false memory, or the seeds of false memory, into the client’s mind. It is worth repeating that this does not have to be deliberate on the part of the therapist but can be a by-product of his/her preconceptions about what lies at the heart of his/her client’s psychological difficulties.


Other recovered memories, of course, can be factually correct (their truth may be confirmed by documented evidence or by reliable witnesses, for example.


However, as Martha Stout, Ph.D. points out in her deeply insightful book: The Myth Of Sanity – Divided Consciousness And The Promise Of Awareness, there also exists a third type of recovered memories which can be referred to as NARRATIVE MEMORIES.

These are memories that are neither wholly factual nor wholly false. Instead, the information they contain may be a mix of factual truth, symbolism, metaphor, and representation, rather like dreams can be. In other words, just because the information contained within narrative memories may not be complete and entirely factual, it can still be highly meaningful and cast much light upon the nature and quality of one’s traumatic experiences.

Do We Need To Remember Our Traumatic Experiences In Order To Recover From The Effects Of These Experiences?

According to Stout,  is not necessary to accurately recall all the traumatic events one encountered in precise detail (which, of course, is impossible, anyway) to recover from the effects of the trauma as long as sufficient information is brought into consciousness to allow one to build up a comprehensible personal narrative (i.e. a life story that makes sense).
The Importance Of  Exercising Caution When Considering Attempting To Recover Repressed Traumatic Memories.
When working with a therapist to explore the possibility of having repressed traumatic memories and, if they are suspected to exist, to attempt to bring them into conscious awareness, it is essential that the therapist is highly trained, experienced, and trauma-informed, not least to avoid the possibility of ‘recovering’ false memories created by a therapist who inadvertently implants these memories (e.g. by asking ‘leading questions or by bias in favor of a particular theory. Furthermore, attempted recovery of traumatic memories needs to be undertaken in a delicate and gentle fashion, in an environment in which one feels psychologically and emotionally safe, and with a therapist with whom there is a strong bond of trust and rapport.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE) is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.