The return of the repressed: the persistent and problematic claims of long-forgotten trauma

Henry Otgaar*, Mark L. Howe, Lawrence Patihis, Harald Merckelbach, Steven Jay Lynn, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Elizabeth F. Loftus

*Corresponding author for this work

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Can purely psychological trauma lead to a complete blockage of autobiographical memories? This long-standing question about the existence of repressed memories has been at the heart of one of the most heated debates in modern psychology. These so-called memory wars originated in the 1990s, and many scholars have assumed that they are over. We demonstrate that this assumption is incorrect and that the controversial issue of repressed memories is alive and well and may even be on the rise. We review converging research and data from legal cases indicating that the topic of repressed memories remains active in clinical, legal, and academic settings. We show that the belief in repressed memories occurs on a nontrivial scale (58%) and appears to have increased among clinical psychologists since the 1990s. We also demonstrate that the scientifically controversial concept of dissociative amnesia, which we argue is a substitute term for memory repression, has gained in popularity. Finally, we review work on the adverse side effects of certain psychotherapeutic techniques, some of which may be linked to the recovery of repressed memories. The memory wars have not vanished. They have continued to endure and contribute to potentially damaging consequences in clinical, legal, and academic contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1072-1095
Number of pages24
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number6
Early online date4 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • false memory
  • memory wars
  • recovered memory
  • repressed memory
  • repression
  • therapy


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