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Cogn Behav Ther. 2004;33(2):97-101; discussion 102-4, 109-11.

Is traumatic amnesia nothing but psychiatric folklore?

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Some psychotherapists believe that certain experiences are so overwhelmingly traumatic that some victims become incapable of remembering their worst trauma except under special circumstances (e.g. therapy) many years later. Unfortunately, clinicians who endorse this concept of traumatic amnesia often misinterpret the very studies they adduce in support of it. More specifically, they misinterpret other, unrelated memory phenomena as evidence for traumatic amnesia, such as ordinary forgetfulness, psychogenic amnesia, organic amnesia, incomplete encoding of traumatic experiences, non-disclosure of remembered trauma, and simply not thinking about something for a long time. The purpose of this article is to dispel confusions rampant in this literature.

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