QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
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Can hypnosis recover memories of a traumatic
experience blurred by alcohol, drugs and time?
This is a very interesting and complex question. In recent years
we have heard and seen much publicity around the issues of repressed memories
and their recovering in psychotherapy. While at first hesitant to respond
to a question with so many complexities and contradictions, this writer
has decided to approach this issue from the standpoint of relevancy to
success in psychotherapy and forensic hypnosis. The goal here is to clarify
the underlying issues and point to further resources on this subject.
Crasineck and Hall (1985) suggest that one of the most important
contributions of hypnosis to the treatment of certain problems is it usefulness
in recovering repressed material. While no one refutes the idea that some
people are able to recover lost memories during an hypnotic encounter,
the questions arise with regard to the quality and usefulness of the recovered
material. The therapeutic issue here is whether or not these recovered
memories can be sucessfully integrated into the conscious ego structure
of the subject (person recovering the memory under hypnosis). Simply recovering
repressed memories is not enough. In fact, recovering repressed material
without adequate therapeutic presentation and integration can do more harm
Another key issue to be explored is the relevancy of recovered material
to actual events that may or may not have occurred. This is an issue of
forensic psychology. At the present time, it is the opinion of this writer
that few therapists (and hypnotic subjects) are sophisticated enough in
their technique as to produce the reliable recovery of repressed material
that is unaltered by such problems as "leading questions," "unintended
suggestion," and general distortion. The foregoing statement does not go
as far as to invalidate the quality of repressed material, but merely suggests
that beyond the spontaneous and involuntary emergence of repressed material,
such memories are prone to various forms of distortion and misinterpretation.
Having said that, there is much we are learning about this important
issue. The theory of state-dependent memory, learning and behavior
suggests that what is learned and remembered is dependent upon one's mental,
emotional and physical state at the time of learning. This idea is very
important to issues being discussed here. Plainly spoken, if a learning
experience occurs in a given "state of being" (a given context) then that
experience may be recalled in that context. Further, this information may
not be available to one's conscious awareness outside of this "given" context.
Such is the nature of a repressed memory.
Many researchers and practitioners of hypnosis report that memories
acquired through hypnosis are forgotten in the waking state but are available
once again when hypnosis is reintroduced. Milton H. Erickson, M.D. ( 1943,
1948) provides us with a number of clinical accounts of how traumatic amnesias
(forgetting/memory loss) can be resolved through what he called "inner
resynthesis" in hypnotherapy. Later, Overton (1978) reviewed forty years
of research on this subject, establishing state-dependent memory and learning
as a valid experimental basis of dissociation in areas of study relating
to mood altering drugs and psychophysiology in general.
In the 70s, Hilgard formulated the neodissociative theory of hypnosis
which implies that state-dependent memory and learning is a kind of mental
dissociation, or intense episode of day-dreaming. Later, McGaugh (1983;
1989) and Izquierdo (1984) reported that state-dependent memory formation
may be influenced by "stress hormones" secreted in the brain and body.
More recently, research advanced by Shors, Weiss, & Thompson (1992)
and Rossi (1993) supports this view.
Marcus S. Robinson, D.C.H. is an author, consultant and trainer in the field clinical
hypnotherapy. He is the author of several books and numerous articles convering the issues of personal
growth, professional development, and therapeutic hypnosis. His interests include the interdisciplinary
study of consciousness, mind-body healing, and personal productivity and effectiveness.
Dr. Robinson lives in Rochester, New York with his wife and son where maintains a consulting and
training practice. He holds a doctorate degree from the American Institute of Hypnotherapy.