SCIENCE is starting to shed light on the bitter debate over "false" vs "repressed" memories of abuse.
There is now wide acknowledgment that false memories can develop and be brought out or even created during therapy.
There is also a growing body of evidence from more than a dozen prospective studies that memory impairment is common during or because of traumas ranging from earthquakes to rape. And studies are documenting down to the molecular level how memory can be impaired by trauma.
"We are learning that when a person, particularly a child, is severely traumatized, it is not so much the external event but the internal experience of what is happening" that determines the extent of trauma and possibility of memory impairment, says Charles R. Marmar, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California—San Francisco, School of Medicine and president of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.