Anthony McCarthy – False Memory Syndrome and Recovered Memory Therapies – Introduction

THE LETTER 15 (Spring 1999) pages 97-99

At a conference entitled The Logic of Phantasy it is timely that some space be given over to a discussion of the issues raised by the phenomenon known as False Memory Syndrome. The three papers presented here on the subject all approach the problem from different angles but come to similar conclusions. The False Memory Syndrome debate has arisen almost a hundred years after Freud’s first psychoanalytic writings. The central issue has been highly publicised in the media. It has been alleged that patients in therapy have developed memories of having been sexually abused in childhood which are false, that is, the abuse did not occur. The result has been an attack on all forms of psychotherapy including psychoanalysis and a questioning of fundamental psycho­analytic concepts such as repression. All three papers here suggest a return to Freud and in particular to his writings about the relationship between memory and phantasy.

Unlike the polarised positions accompanied by certainty which has typified much of the writings in the media and both psychological and psychiatric journals, Freud has always written clearly of the uncertainty and ambiguity of memory. What is memory? What is the difference between recall and recapitulation? What is the difference between narrative truth and historicity? What is the relationship between phantasy and memory? Do phantasies conceal recollections or do recollections conceal phantasies?

Although false memories occur not just in therapy, it has been predominantly in therapy that the issue has arisen and this has brought into question many psychotherapeutic if not psychoanalytic techniques. However, psychoanalysis cannot afford to be complacent and as always a crisis like this does return us to Freud and help us appreciate yet again the…

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