review of the sexual abuse experience may be hindered for many survivors as
some memories may remain repressed. These survivors may be certain, or may strongly
suspect, that the abuse occurred but have little or no recall of the actual events.
Other survivors report vague memories that do not seem real. Marked memory deficits
typically occur in survivors whose abuse was characterized by early onset and
violent or sadistic episodes (Herman and Schatzow, 1987).
retrieval of repressed memories can result in intense affective responses and
trauma symptomatology, the process is considered necessary for recovery (Herman
and Schatzow, 1987). Such retrieval allows survivors to understand experiences
(e.g. reactions to 'trigger' events, disturbing dreams) that previously made little
sense to them and to reintegrate the abuse into their life history in a meaningful
way. Memory retrieval may also often result in eventual relief from post-traumatic
stress symptomatology (Herman and Schatzow, 1987).
Techniques to precipitate memory retrieval or to confirm
memories that do not seem real can be used in counseling. As with other processes
that precipitate intense emotional responses, memory retrieval techniques should
be paced, should be the survivor's choice, and should be accompanied by the support
and reassurance of the counselor. When using any of these techniques, counselors
may discuss with survivors what they hope to accomplish, what they imagine the
experience will be like for them, how they might feel if the technique is not
successful, and how they might handle their possible affective response to retrieval
if it occurs. Counseling interventions that can be useful in memory retrieval
include the following.
Clients are advised to bring to counseling
sessions old family photographs, scrapbooks, diaries, and other memorabilia from
the period that they believe the abuse occurred. The counselor and the client
then focus on any memories that are evoked by viewing and discussing these materials.
some instances, counselors may recommend that survivors return to the scene of
the abuse to precipitate memory retrieval. Going back to one's home town and visiting
the family home of one's childhood can be a powerful experience. Counselors discuss
with the survivor any memories that were provoked by this visit. In some cases,
counselors actually accompany survivors on these visits to provide support.
may facilitate the validation or retrieval of memories by suggesting that
survivors contact family or friends who might have some knowledge of family functioning
at the time of the abuse. Asking siblings about their childhood experiences, for
example, and finding that they were also abused can result in retrieval of memories
or confirmation of survivors' suspicions that they were abused. Sometimes, simply
reminiscing with significant others from the past, without discussing the abuse
per se, can provoke repressed memories.
In some instances,
counselors may refer survivors to a specially trained hypnotist to uncover deeply
repressed traumatic memories of the abuse (Faria and Belohlavek, 1984; Urbancic,
1987). The use of hypnosis with survivors is controversial as they may perceive
hypnosis as a loss of control, a salient concern of most survivors. However, in
some cases, hypnosis, conducted by a practitioner who is trained in working with
abuse survivors and who uses naturalistic methods that allow survivors to control
their own trance, can be successful (Malmo, 1990).
may be referred to a survivors' group to aid in memory retrieval. The stimulation
of hearing the abuse experiences of other survivors in a group situation is extremely
effective in precipitating memory retrieval for survivors with partial repression
of abuse experiences as well as for those who have complete amnesia (Herman and
Schatzow, 1987). (The use of survivor groups as an adjunct to counseling will
be discussed in detail later.)
- Draucker, Claire, Counselling Survivors of
Childhood Sexual Abuse, Sage Publications: London, 1992
Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information
about retrieving repressed memories. Write three case study examples regarding
how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
The use of what technique with sexual abuse survivors is controversial
as the client may perceive these issues as a loss of control and a salient concern
of most survivors? Record the letter of the correct answer the .