End Ritual Abuse The Website of Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D.

The False Memory Debate


Research Discussing Corroboration and Accuracy of Recovered Memories: An Annotated Bibliography

By Lynn Crook, August, 2002

Andrews, B., Brewin, C., Ochera, J., Morton, J., Bekerian, D., Davies, G., and Mollon, P. (1999). Characteristics, context and consequences of memory recovery among adults in therapy. Brit J Psychiatry 175:141-146.

Abstract: One-hundred and eight therapists provided information on all clients with recovered memories seen in the past three years, and were interviewed in detail on up to three such clients. Of a total of 690 clients, therapists reported that 65% recalled child sexual abuse and 35% recalled other traumas, 32% started recovering memories before entering therapy. According to therapists’ accounts, among the 236 detailed client cases, very few appeared improbable and corroboration was reported in 41%. Most (78%) of the clients’ initial recovered memories either preceded therapy or preceded the use of memory recovery techniques used by the respondents. Techniques seemed to be used more to help the clients to elaborate the memories than to facilitate their initial recovery. Clients with whom techniques had been used before the first reported memory recovery were no less likely to have found corroborating evidence than clients with whom no techniques had been used before memory recovery. Some of the data are consistent with memories being of iatrogenic origin, but other data clearly point to the need for additional explanations.

Bagley, C. (1995). The prevalence and mental health sequels of child sexual abuse in community sample of women aged 18 to 27. Child sexual abuse and mental health in adolescents and adults. Aldershot: Avebury.

Abstract: Study of women 18-24 years who had been removed from home 10 years previously by social services due to intrafamilial sexual abuse. Of the 19 women for whom there was evidence of serious sexual abuse, 14 remembered events corresponding to their records. Two remembered that abuse had taken place but could recall no specific details, and three had no memory. Two of the last three described long blank periods for the memory of childhood corresponding to the age when abuse had taken place.

Bull, D. (1999). A verified case of recovered memories of sexual abuse. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 53(2), 221-224.

Abstract: A case is presented that shows verifiable evidence of repression at work. Rachel, a 40-year-old woman with no history of mental illness and ten years of exemplary professional work, recovers memories of childhood sexual abuse by her father through a call from her youth pastor in whom she had confided as an adolescent.

Chu JA, Frey LM, Ganzel BL, Matthews JA. (1999). Memories of childhood abuse: Dissociation, amnesia, and corroboration. Am J Psychiatry 156(5):749-755.

OBJECTIVE: This study investigated the relationship between self-reported childhood abuse and dissociative symptoms and amnesia. The presence or absence of corroboration of recovered memories of childhood abuse was also studied.

METHOD: Participants were 90 female patients admitted to a unit specializing in the treatment of trauma-related disorders. Participants completed instruments that measured dissociative symptoms and elicited details concerning childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and witnessing abuse. Participants also underwent a structured interview that asked about amnesia for traumatic experiences, the circumstances of recovered memory, the role of suggestion in recovered memories, and independent corroboration of the memories.

RESULTS: Participants reporting any type of childhood abuse demonstrated elevated levels of dissociative symptoms that were significantly higher than those in subjects not reporting abuse. Higher dissociative symptoms were correlated with early age at onset of physical and sexual abuse and more frequent sexual abuse. A substantial proportion of participants with all types of abuse reported partial or complete amnesia for abuse memories. For physical and sexual abuse, early age at onset was correlated with greater levels of amnesia. Participants who reported recovering memories of abuse generally recalled these experiences while at home, alone, or with family or friends. Although some participants were in treatment at the time, very few were in therapy sessions during their first memory recovery. Suggestion was generally denied as a factor in memory recovery. A majority of participants were able to find strong corroboration of their recovered memories.

CONCLUSIONS: Childhood abuse, particularly chronic abuse beginning at early ages, is related to the development of high levels of dissociative symptoms including amnesia for abuse memories. This study strongly suggests that psychotherapy usually is not associated with memory recovery and that independent corroboration of recovered memories of abuse is often present.

Corwin, D. & Olafson, E. (1997). Videotaped discovery of a reportedly unrecallable memory of child sexual abuse: Comparison with a childhood interview taped 11 years before. Child Maltreatment, 2(2), 91-112.

Summary: This article presents a unique case involving the recovery of traumatic memory by a 17-year-old victim of documented child sexual abuse. The authors present the history, verbatim transcripts, and behavioral observations of a child’s disclosure of sexual abuse to Dr. David Corwin in 1984 and the spontaneous return of that reportedly unrecallable memory during an interview with Dr. Corwin 11 years later. Both the child’s disclosure at age 6 and the young woman’s sudden recall of the abuse at age 17 after several years of reported inability to recall the experience are recorded on videotape. This article includes transcripts of the interviews at ages 6 and 17.

The case was originally referred to Corwin for a court-appointed evaluation of allegations of sexual and physical abuse. The father was accusing the mother of having sexually and physically abused their daughter (Jane Doe). Corwin had three interviews with the child and also met with both parents. The evaluation along with previous documentation (Jane was seen for burns to the bottom of both feet after her mother punished her by burning them) strongly supported the child’s allegation of both physical and sexual abuse by her mother. Jane made consistent statements regarding the identity of her sexual abuser and the nature of the abuse in all three forensic interviews. Her accounts included sensory detail and she reported detailed maternal threats not to disclose. In her first interview, her disclosure was spontaneous and not in response to a question directed to sexual abuse. In addition to the interviews, the records included protective services reports, court declarations by the parents, pleadings, court decisions, reports by prior evaluators and therapists, letters from Jane’s parents, friends, and relatives, and Jane’s medical records.

Parental behavior during the interviews was also consistent with the mother having abused Jane. Before each parent left the room, Corwin asked each one to tell Jane to tell him the truth about anything he asked her. The father did so with ease. However, instead of telling Jane to tell the truth, her mother asked her to repeat what they had been talking about that morning. Psychological testing of the mother was consistent with the mother having a dissociative disorder. In addition, psychological testing on Jane’s mother indicated impulsivity, inadequate judgment, and problems with perception and thinking. The father’s psychological testing indicated emotional constraint but found no problems with perception and thinking. Based on the weight of the evidence the court gave Jane’s father full custody and denied visitation Jane’s mother.

Jane was close to her father. However, at age 16 Jane was placed in foster care after her father had a stroke and was placed in a nursing home. Jane’s foster mother recounts Jane’s difficult and rebellious early adolescence. Jane resumed contact with her mother during this time. After her father’s death, Jane wanted a closer relationship with her mother. Jane no longer had any memory of the abuse but did remember that she had alleged abuse. Her mother denied the abuse allegations and told Jane that her allegations were based on pressure by her father so he could get custody of her. Jane contacted Dr. Corwin and told him that she would like to see the videotapes of herself because she was unable to recall the actual events. Jane said: “I’ve chosen to believe that my real mom didn’t do anything, even though I don’t really remember if she did or not.”

Before showing her the videotape, Corwin asks Jane to remember everything that she can about her interviews with him at age 6. Corwin asks her if she remembers “anything about the concerns about sexual abuse.” Jane says: “No. I mean, I remember that was part of the accusation, but I don’t remember anything–wait a minute, yeah, I do.” Corwin asks her what she remembers. Jane responds, “My gosh, that’s really, really weird.” This is followed by tears and Jane’s speech becoming choked up. Jane remembers the pain of her mother vaginally penetrating with her finger during bath time. Jane only remembers only one instance of this happening and wonders if it was an intentional act. Jane also remembers making accusations about her mother photographing her with her older brother and selling the pictures.

Corwin then shows Jane the videotapes of his interviews with her when she was 6 years old. After watching the videotapes, Jane believes that the child on the tapes was telling the truth, but still wants to believe that maybe her mother hurt her accidentally and that she made it out to be worse then it really was.

The authors discuss the case noting that Jane remembered the accusation and the act of being digitally penetrated in the bathtub accurately. However, she also remembers an making an accusation that she never in fact madethe one about her mother taking and selling pictures of her and her brother (a search of available records located no allegations by Jane about her mother taking pictures). It is not known whether such an event occurred and was not recorded or if a memory contaminant attached itself to an otherwise accurate recollection. After recalling her mother’s abuse and viewing the tapes, Jane states that she wishes to continue seeing her mother and notes that she does not yet know what her feelings are about what she has remembered.

Dahlenberg, C. (1996, Summer) Accuracy, timing and circumstances of disclosure in therapy of recovered and continuous memories of abuse. The Journal of Psychiatry and Law.

Abstract: Seventeen patients who had recovered memories of abuse in therapy participated in a search for evidence confirming or refuting these memories. Memories of abuse were found to be equally accurate whether recovered or continuously remembered. Predictors of number of memory units for which evidence was uncovered included several measures of memory and perceptual accuracy. Recovered memories that were later supported arose in psychotherapy more typically during periods of positive rather than negative feelings toward the therapist, and they were more likely to be held with confidence by the abuse victim.

Duggal S, Stroufe LA. (1998). Recovered memory of childhood sexual trauma: A documented case from a longitudinal study. Journal of Traumatic Stress 11(2): 301-21.

Summary: A child with documented history of sexual abuse, who had no recall of this event in extensive interviews as a teenager, recalls memories outside of therapy at age 19. Includes prospective and restrospective data, multiple corroboration of sexual trauma in early childhood, prospective evidence of memory loss in oral and written measures in consecutive assessments, and evidence of spontaneous recovery of memory.

Duggal, S., & Sroufe, L. A. (1998). Recovered memory of childhood sexual trauma: A documented case from a longitudinal study. Journal of Trauma Stress,11(2), 301-321.

This account contains the first available prospective report of memory loss in a case in which there is both documented evidence of trauma and evidence of recovery of memory. The subject “Laura” participated in a prospective longitudinal large-scale study of children followed closely from birth to adulthood which was not focused on memory for trauma. Laura spontaneously reported a recovered memory during a routine interview. The memory was corroborated by historical records of a therapist who worked with the family when the subject was 4 years old. There was abundant evidence suggesting that Laura was being abused by her father during visitations. However, there was no report of penetration, only fondling. Without physical evidence, CPS did not feel there was enough evidence to prosecute the father. However, because the father was a drug addict and alcoholic, it was decided that Laura would only see her father during supervised visitations. As a young child, Laura entered short-term therapy to deal with her anxiety and anger towards her father along with her sexualized and regressive behaviors. Evidence in the historical records shows that Laura’s memory for the abuse persisted until she was at least age 8. The last clear evidence of memory of trauma is in the therapy records from third grade. Her mother did not discuss the abuse unless Laura brought up the subject. As a result, the subject was not discussed again.

At age 16, Laura filled out a questionnaire which asked if she had ever been sexually abused. At this time, Laura indicated in writing that she had never been sexually abused. It is noted that her denial does not appear related to poor rapport with the interviewer or embarrassment, as she was open and answered multiple questions about drug/alcohol abuse, family relationships, and dating relationships which contained sensitive questions without any apparent discomfort. At 17, Laura again denied any terrible or unusual experiences including sexual abuse. Visitation had been increased with her father as Laura indicated that she felt good about spending time with her father.

At age 18, Laura had a conversation with boyfriend in which they discussed their earliest memories. Her boyfriend asked her about her earliest memory with her father. Laura reported that this question elicited a strange reaction: “I told him and then all of sudden I got this really overwhelming feeling, like that was, that was really weird and like, and I just shut up and didn’t say anything more”

Partial recall of the memory returned in the school office while talking with a trusted teacher about her father’s drinking. Her recall consisted largely of her father kissing her along with a compelling sense that there was a sexual component to the interaction with her father. At the same time, she felt a fear of her father that she didn’t ever remember feeling before.

The memory was not suggested by a therapist and there were no apparent rewards for remembering the abuse which created a great deal of pain and confusion for Laura, especially concerning her feelings about her father.

Feldman-Summers, S., & Pope, K. S. (1994). The experience of forgetting childhood abuse: A national survey of psychologists. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 636-639.

Abstract: A national sample of psychologists were asked whether they had been abused as children and, if so, whether they had ever forgotten some or all of the abuse. Almost a quarter of the sample (23.9%) reported childhood abuse, and of those, approximately 40% reported a period of forgetting some or all of the abuse. The major findings were that (a) both sexual and nonsexual abuse were subject to periods of forgetting; (b) the most frequently reported factor related to recall was being in therapy; (c) approximately one half of those who reported forgetting also reported corroboration of the abuse; and (d) reported forgetting was not related to gender or age of the respondent but was related to severity of the abuse.

Summary: 330 psychologists. 24% physical and 22% sexual abuse. Of those abused, 40% did not remember at some time. 47% had corroboration. 56% said psychotherapy aided in recall. Differences between those who first recalled abuse in therapy and those who recalled it elsewhere were not significant.

Herman, J. L., & Harvey, M. R. (1997). Adult memories of childhood trauma: A naturalistic clinical study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 10, 557-571.

The clinical evaluations of 77 adult outpatients reporting memories of childhood trauma were reviewed. A majority of patients reported some degree of continuous recall. Roughly half (53%) said they had never forgotten the traumatic events. Two smaller groups described a mixture of continuous and delayed recall (17%) or a period of complete amnesia followed by delayed recall (16%). Patients with and without delayed recall did not differ significantly in the proportions reporting corroboration of their memories from other sources. Idiosyncratic, trauma-specific reminders and recent life crises were most commonly cited as precipitants to delayed recall. A previous psychotherapy was cited as a factor in a minority (28%) of cases. By contrast, intrusion of memories after a period of amnesia was frequently cited as a factor leading to the decision to seek psychotherapy. The implications of these findings are discussed with respect to the role of psychotherapy in the process of recovering traumatic memories.

Herman, J. L., & Schatzow, E. (1987). Recovery and verification of memories of childhood sexual trauma. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 4, 1-14.

Abstract: Fifty-three women outpatients participated in short-term therapy groups for incest survivors. This treatment modality proved to be a powerful stimulus for recovery of previously repressed traumatic memories. A relationship was observed between the age of onset, duration, and degree of violence of the abuse and the extent to which the memory of the abuse had been repressed. Three out of four patients were able to validate their memories by obtaining corroborating evidence from other sources. The therapeutic function of recovering and validating traumatic memories is explored.

Kluft, R. (1995). The confirmation and disconfirmation of memories of abuse in DID patients: A naturalistic clinical study. Dissociation: Progress in the Dissociative Disorders, 8(4), 253-258.

Abstract: Reviewed the charts of 34 dissociative identity disorder (DID) patients in treatment for instances of the confirmation or disconfirmation of recalled episodes of abuse occurring naturalistically in the course of their psychotherapies. 19 Ss had instances of the confirmation of recalled abuses. 10 of the 19 had always recalled the abuses that were confirmed. However, 13 of the 19 obtained documentation of events that were recovered in the course of therapy, usually with the use of hypnosis. Three patients had instances in which the inaccuracy of their recollection could be demonstrated. Results suggest that stances that are either extremely credulous of retrieved recollections or extremely skeptical of retrieved recollections are inconsistent with clinical data.

Lewis, D., Yeager, C., Swica, Y., Pincus, J. and Lewis, M. (1997). Objective documentation of child abuse and dissociation in 12 murderers with dissociative identity disorder. Am J Psychiatry, 154(12):1703-10.

OBJECTIVE: The skepticism regarding the existence of dissociative identity disorder as well as the abuse that engenders it persists for lack of objective documentation. This is doubly so for the disorder in murderers because of issues of suspected malingering. This article presents objective verification of both dissociative symptoms and severe abuse during childhood in a series of adult murderers with dissociative identity disorder.

METHOD: This study consisted of a review of the clinical records of 11 men and one woman with DSM-IV-defined dissociative identity disorder who had committed murder. Data were gathered from medical, psychiatric, social service, school, military, and prison records and from records of interviews with subjects’ family members and others. Handwriting samples were also examined. Data were analyzed qualitatively.

RESULTS: Signs and symptoms of dissociative identity disorder in childhood and adulthood were corroborated independently and from several sources in all 12 cases; objective evidence of severe abuse was obtained in 11 cases. The subjects had amnesia for most of the abuse and underreported it. Marked changes in writing style and/or signatures were documented in 10 cases.

CONCLUSIONS: This study establishes, once and for all, the linkage between early severe abuse and dissociative identity disorder. Further, the data demonstrate that the disorder can be distinguished from malingering and from other disorders. The study shows that it is possible, with great effort, to obtain objective evidence of both the symptoms of dissociative identity disorder and the abuse that engenders it.

Martinez-Taboas, A. (1996). Repressed memories: Some clinical data contributing toward its elucidation. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 50(2), 217-30.

Abstract: Recently there has been considerable controversy about the validity of memories recovered during psychotherapy. In the last two decades, a plethora of studies have been published that leave no reasonable doubt that many children are victimized and abused. Proponents of false memory syndrome have taken the position that “memories” that surface in the course of psychotherapy are not the product of real traumas, but are instead,”pseudomemories” implanted by therapists through techniques such as hypnosis and abreactions. In response to these claims, the author presents two well documented and corroborated cases of dissociated or delayed memories of child sexual abuse in patients with a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The patients had absolutely no conscious memory of their childhood abusive experiences and in both cases the author obtained definite and clear cut independent corroboration of the realities of the abuse. The amnesia was documented and memories were recovered in the course of treatment. Only through the publication of clear cut cases can the debate about repressed memories be settled in an empirical way.

Van der Kolk, BA, & Fisler, R. (1995). Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: Overview and exploratory study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8, 505-525.

Summary: 46 adults with in depth interviews. Of the 36 with childhood trauma, 42% suffered significant or total amnesia at some time. Corroborative evidence was available for 75%.

Viederman M. (1995). The reconstruction of a repressed sexual molestation fifty years later. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43(4): 1169-1219.

Summary: Reconstruction of a previously completely repressed memory of sexual molestation. Six years following termination of analysis, the patient wrote a letter describing a confirmation of the event, now sixty years past, from the sole other survivor of the period who had knowledge of what had happened.

Westerhof, Y., Woertman, L. Van der Hart, O., & Nijenhuis, E.R.S. (2000). Forgetting child abuse: Feldman-Summers and Pope’s (1994) study replicated among Dutch psychologists. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 7, 220-229.

Abstract: In a replication of Feldman-Summers and Pope’s (1994) national survey of American psychologists on ‘forgetting’ childhood abuse, a Dutch sample of 500 members of the Netherlands Institute of Psychologists (NIP) were asked if they had been abused as children and, if so, whether they had ever forgotten some or all of the abuse for soem significant period of time. As compared to the 23.9% in the original study, 13.3% reported childhood abuse. Of that subgroup, 39% (as compared to 40% in the original study) reported a period of forgetting some or all of the abuse for a period of time. Both sexual and non-sexual physical abuse were subject to forgetting, which in 70% of cases was reversed while being in therapy. Almost 70% of those who reported forgetting also reported corroboration of the abuse. The forgetting was not related to gender or age, but was associated with the reported early abuse onset. These results were remarkably similar to the resulats of the Feldman-Summers and Pope’s original study.

Widom, C. and Shepard, R. (1996). Accuracy of adult recollections of childhood victimization: Part 1. Psychological Assessment, 8(4), 412-421.

Abstract: Using data from a study with prospective-cohorts design in which children who were physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected about 20 years ago were followed up along with a matched control group, accuracy of adult recollections of childhood physical abuse was assessed. Two hour in-person interviews were conducted in young adulthood with 1,196 of the original 1,575 participants. Two measures (including the Conflict Tactics Scale) were used to assess histories of childhood physical abuse. Results indicate good discriminant validity and predictive efficiency of the self-report measures, despite substantial underreporting by physically abused respondents. Tests of construct validity reveal shared method variance, with self-report measures predicting self-reported violence and official reports of physical abuse predicting arrests for violence. Findings are discussed in the context of other research on the accuracy of adult recollections of childhood experiences.

Widom, C. and Shepard, R. (1997). Accuracy of adult recollections of childhood victimization. Part 2. Childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Assessment 9: 34-46.

Summary: A prospective study in which abused and neglected children (court substantiated) [N=1,114] were matched with non-abused and neglected children and followed into adulthood. There was substantial underreporting of sexual abuse, when compared to court and medical records. Victimization recall was checked by comparing crimes disclosed in victimization surveys found in police records. The question should be not whether reports of childhood sexual abuse are valid or not, but what is the best way to ask questions to make answers more valid.

Williams, L. M. (1995, October). Recovered memories of abuse in women with documented child sexual victimization histories. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 8(4).

Abstract: This study provides evidence that some adults who claim to have recovered memories of sexual abuse recall actual events that occurred in childhood. One hundred twenty-nine women with documented histories of sexual victimization in childhood were interviewed and asked about abuse history. Seventeen years following the initial report of the abuse, 80 of the women recalled the victimization. One in 10 women (16% of those who recalled the abuse) reported that at some time in the past they had forgotten about the abuse. Those with a prior period of forgetting the women with “recovered memories” were younger at the time of abuse and were less likely to have received support from their mothers than the women who reported that they had always remembered their victimization. The women who had recovered memories and those who had always remembered had the same number of discrepancies when their accounts of the abuse were compared to the reports from the early 1970’s.


Brown, D., Scheflin, A., and Whitfield, C. (1999). Recovered memories: the current weight of the evidence in science and in the courts. The Journal of Psychiatry & Law 27/Spring 1999.

L. Crook, 8/02

End Ritual Abuse The Website of Ellen P. Lacter, Ph.D.

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