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The Science and Folklore of Traumatic Amnesia 

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Richard J. McNally, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

For many years some mental health professionals have asserted that traumatic events can be too painful for some individuals, especially children, to acknowledge and synthesize. As a result, it is believed that the brain has ways of keeping such material out of consciousness, i.e., repression. Proposed mechanisms include dissociation at the time of the event and/or inhibition of normal retrieval mechanisms subsequent to the event.

In this video Dr. McNally summarizes and critiques the evidence generally cited in support of the notion of repression of traumatic memories. He then presents his own experimental research on mechanisms that are hypothesized to account for repression. He also describes studies he has conducted that clarify the distinction between repressed and recovered memories and how it is possible to have the latter without the former.

This video also includes a brief interview with Dr. McNally in which he discusses how memories are stored in the brain as well as his thoughts about working with clients who want to focus on the past and work on their personal narratives. In the interview Dr. McNally also addresses his fascinating research on the characteristics of those nonpsychotic individuals who may be prone to develop extraordinary false memories (e.g., abuse by space aliens).

Learning Objectives: After viewing this program, you will be able to...

1) explain the distinction between repressed and recovered memories.

2) summarize the evidence for and against the notion of repression of traumatic memories.

This program is appropriate for a broad range of mental health professionals including psychologists, social workers, and counselors. It is taught at an intermediate level.

CE credit: 1.5 hours

Dr. McNally does not receive funding from any corporate or private entities.

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