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Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Trauma and memory

Richard McNally's new book, Remembering Trauma gets a very positive review by Sally Satel in the current edition of The New Republic.

I haven't read Remembering Trauma yet. Judging from Satel's review, both McNally and Satel conflate two questions: Are recovered memories of childhood abuse reliable? When therapists and clients claim that certain psychological symptoms are the result of a traumatic episode, are those claims overblown?

Satel is not friendly to trauma psychology in general, including the claims of Vietnam vets and natural disaster victims. I have nothing to add to a discussion about whether recovered abuse memories are reliable. McNally argues that we should be very suspicious about recovered memories, and he may be entirely correct. But this point doesn't justify Satel's blustery condescension toward trauma victims, many of whom have never forgotten the life event that led to their post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

One of the reviewers of McNally's book at Amazon writes in part:

"In the 80's, when some of the books he cites so contemptuously, were written, survivors of trauma and their therapists were fighting to be heard. Denial of trauma was universal. PTSD had just been re-recognized in 1980. Gross Stress Reaction was the DSMI (1952) diagnosis, but that dissappeared in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual II, which came out in 1968. He's so evenhanded, he doesn't even mention that, nor that psychiatrists were trained to disbelieve allegations of sexual abuse and to think the child wanted it. Kids want attention, love and affection, not sex... Vietnam vets were being told that war hadn't messed them up, although in 1965 Archibald and Tuddenham had published a study about how WWII had messed up those vets. Battered wives supposedly liked it or they wouldn't go back... Only weaklings were affected by trauma."

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