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Thursday, May 15, 2003  


A fascinating article in The New Republic by Sally Satel ("author of PC, M.D.--How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine") She reviews Remembering Trauma by Richard J. McNally.

Some snippets:

"Until the mid '90s, debates about trauma and memory were hampered by vitriolic accusations issuing from both sides and by the scarcity of clinically relevant scientific data," McNally writes. "Now, an outpouring of research has clarified many of the most contentious issues." Can survivors put trauma completely out of their minds? Do the workings of memory differ for traumatic events? How does emotional stress affect memory? How do shame and guilt magnify the traumatic potential of an event? These are just a handful of the important questions that McNally systematically tackles.

… The conclusion of McNally's research, and of the research of others, is that memories of horrible experiences are rarely, if ever, repressed—that is, exiled from consciousness without the victim knowing it and actively kept out of her awareness. On the contrary, those who endure shocking ordeals almost always remember them, even if they choose not to think about them or desperately wish to forget them.

… The cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has been vilified for publishing groundbreaking data on the malleability of memory. As a sought-after expert witness in repressed memory cases, she has been accused of sympathizing with child molesters.

… In July 1999, Congress unanimously passed House Resolution 107, which "condemns and denounces" three psychologists, Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman, for a "severely flawed" study, and the Senate then approved it unanimously. The psychologists' offense was publishing an empirical paper in the prestigious journal Psychological Bulletin concluding that child sex abuse does not inevitably lead to lasting psychological harm. McNally presents new evidence showing that the psychologists' conclusion—which was by no means an irresponsible reading of the data they examined—might not hold up, but he is fierce about protecting their scientific freedom.

Now McNally, too, risks excommunication from the Church of Traumatology, for the charge of blaming the victim. For he presents evidence showing that emotional breakdown after a tragedy is the exception, not the rule.

… The best evidence that MPD [multiple personality disorder] can be invented is the skyrocketing of its prevalence following the release in 1977 of the film Sybil, the true story of a woman who supposedly had sixteen discrete personalities. Prior to the movie, there were between 50 and 200 recorded cases of documented multiple personality disorder. By the 1990s, estimates climbed as high as 20,000 to 40,000.

… . Patients who are psychotic or profoundly depressed do not get better when the insurance money runs out, or when there is reason to evade responsibility—two circumstances that Spiegel has observed routinely in MPD cases. Nor are white women of North America disproportionately affected, as they are by MPD.

… In a second type of experiment, memories were injected outright. The best known of this genre is Loftus's lost-in-the-mall study. She told subjects that she had learned from relatives that when they were five years old, they were lost in a shopping mall, rescued by a shopper, and reunited with their family. Unknown to the subjects, Loftus contacted the relatives before relating the made-up vignette. Not only was Loftus able to convince one-quarter of the subjects that they had experienced the event, some even added embellishing details to the "memory."

… This mode of discourse [about 'post-Vietnam syndrome'] set the Vietnam veteran apart from soldiers that came before him. … Civil War soldiers also succumbed to mental breakdown, but because their war is portrayed as a righteous crusade to end slavery, it elicits images of heroes and prompts battle re-enactments. Only an unjust conflict such as Vietnam, [Eric T. Dean Jr.] argues, could prepare the cultural imagination to accept the idea of soldiers as psychiatric victims, tragic misfits, and tormented losers.

And I haven't got to the end of the review yet.

9:21 AM

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