Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Myth of Repressed Memory- Elizabeth Loftus - Book Review

The Myth of Repressed Memory   

False memories and

Allegations of

Sexual Abuse


  Elizabeth Loftus &

  Katherine Ketcham

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

The Myth of Repressed Memory is a classic worth reading. Those of us who are psychotherapists along with colleagues in healthcare, spiritual care, and the justice system are well aware that so many people have been abused sexually and otherwise as children and adults. We hear their stories and sense their anguish.

Those of us who have studied memory, cognition, and neuropsychology as a part of our preparation for clinical work also know about the fallibility of memory and the work of Elizabeth Loftus. Those of us who were working when Loftus’ memory research trickled across America became acutely aware of the impact of her studies on prosecuting attorneys and their referrals for assessment.

Although the book is old in the sense that many are well aware of the malleability of human memory and the problems with the ideas of repressed memories pervasive among therapists a few decades ago, it is still worth reading because people have not yet learned the lessons of humility when it comes to the inaccuracies of old memories, the limitations of interviewing techniques to discover truth, and the harm that can be done when psychotherapists stray from the tether of evidence-based effective interventions.

I recommend clinicians and graduate students in the behavioral sciences read The Myth of Repressed Memories. It is an exercise in scientific thinking and a cautionary tale of the harm that can be done in the name of therapy.


In my hardback edition, there are 13 chapters and 269 pages. Following are some things we can learn by reading this work from 1994.

1. We can appreciate what it is like for a psychological scientist conducting research that has implications for society in general, and individuals in particular. Dr. Loftus was challenged in so many ways. The challengers attacked her character as well as the quality of her work. Although she had many supporters and has won many awards, highly intelligent scientists like Loftus do hurt.

2. It is incredibly difficult to combat beliefs when educated clinicians accept unproven beliefs as fact and write compelling stories about ways to evaluate and help people who suffer from the considerable distress associated with childhood trauma or other conditions.

The truth is that many girls and boys have been sexually abused as children. And they have struggled with the memories of that abuse for years. In addition, many recall traumatic events when memories are triggered later in life. Unfortunately, some clinicians are too often guided by untested ideas rather than science. In the case of “repressed memories,” considerable harm was done to clients and their families. A take home point is to be careful with ideas that have not been supported by evidence.

3. Clinicians often learn from case studies. This book contains real cases of families that were torn apart when unsupported memories were brought out using questionable strategies as presented in chapter 9, Digging for Memories.

4. Spirituality can become problematic when vulnerable people want to do what is right but are bullied into accepting the views of interviewers whose views of spirituality encourage a confession to unsubstantiated allegations. See the case of Paul Ingram in chapter 12.


There’s more to learn from this valuable work. Perhaps a few points are worth considering.

Many girls and boys have been abused. Abuse can be physical and emotional. Abuse can be sexual and nonsexual.

Ending abuse must continue to be a community and national priority. We must protect children and adults.

Many women and men suffer severe symptoms linked to childhood abuse. Nothing in this book undermines the reality that many people struggle because of abuse.

Treating people who suffer from mental distress, regardless of the cause, is an important component of total health care.

Our memories are imprecise and subject to change each time we recall a past event and in response to questions about a memory.

Sometimes we can recall events that happened but get important details wrong. Sometimes those details can make a difference in our lives or those of others.

Sometimes we can recall events that never happened. This is strange but it happens.

Memory errors that involve other people can destroy important friendships and relationships—especially when the memory includes a crime.

Naïve interviewers can create false memories or extract false confessions. And experienced interviewers do not necessarily obtain the truth.

 Related reviews

A related story of a false identification of a man accused of rape is Picking Cotton. See book review.

Evangelical scholar Craig Keener considers the role of memory and cites Loftus’ work in his look at the gospels in the recent textbook, Christobiography: Memory, history, and the reliability of the gospels. See book review.

 The Malleability of Memory: A Conversation with Elizabeth Loftus



Loftus, E. & Ketcham, K. (1994). The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of sexual abuse. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Positive Psychology - A Book Review



The scientific and practical explorations  

 of human strengths


C. R. Snyder &

 Shane Lopez

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

"What is right about people?" The authors welcome their readers with the ubiquitous challenge of the positive psychology movement to consider what is right rather than what is wrong with people (p. 3). The authors designed the book as a textbook to provide a comprehensive overview of topics in the field. This is the third collaboration of the two University of Kansas authors. Unfortunately, it will be their last because senior author, C. R. (Rick) Snyder died January 17, 2006, a little more than a month after delivering the final draft of the manuscript (xxv),

Readers will experience an extensive tour of the expansive landscape of positive psychology with 19 chapters organized in 8 parts followed by 60 pages of references, along with author and subject indexes. Part I contains chapters 1-4, which provide an overview of positive psychology along with summary chapters on Eastern and Western philosophical foundations for the field. As with any summary, the knowledgeable reader will find the sweeping generalizations a bit too simplistic. The three chapters of part Il reflect the authors' views about the ways positive psychology may influence individual lifestyles and human development, as well as the role of culture in determining what is positive. I view parts Ill to V as the heart of positive psychology. These sections represent the common cognitive-behavioral triad of en10tion (Part Ill, two chapters about positive emotional states and experiences), cognition (Pan IV, three chapters on topics such as self-efficacy, optimism, and hope), and behavior (Part V, two chapters that examine positive interpersonal behaviors such as gratitude, love, and flourishing).

Part VI contains ideas for self-improvement and suggestions for prevention of mental health problems as well as primary enhancement of physical and psychological health, Part Vll examines the possibilities of positive influences in the common environments of school (Chapter 16), work (Chapter 17), and the community (Chapter 18).

In Part VIll, the authors organized an interesting agglomeration of visionary statements by well-known positive psychologists (e.g., Ed Diener, David Myers, Shelley Taylor). Of particular interest to JPC readers will be the comments by Kenneth Pargament and Ev Worthington. Pargament appears to see a growing role for faith and religion when he opines that "spirituality is what makes us uniquely human" (p. 489). In addition, Worthington envisions the need to address the impact of growing levels of stress disorders and problems such as violence associated with projected increases in population primarily located in urban environments. This section could have been enhanced if the authors had provided either a synthesis of the opinions or an analysis suggesting the weight they would assign given their perspective on the science. However, the blog-like motif is interesting and certainly consistent with the current zeitgeist. The entry by P. Alex Linley of the University of Leicester serves as a denouement assuming the paradox of a successful failure of positive psychology. That is, if the positive psychology movement succeeds, then psychology will balance both positive and negative aspects of functioning and, thus, obviate the need for a distinctive positive psychology.

Although the work was designed as a textbook, readers who are clinicians will find the book useful on several counts. First, the authors have produced a comprehensive introduction to positive psychology, which is having a significant impact on research and practice both in the academy and in industry and government. Second, the book contains a number of activities and rating scales that could prove useful in clinical practice. Third, readers who are asked to speak on various topics will find the book a good starting point for an introductory talk, The stories and exercises can be engaging, and the 59 pages of references provide solid leads to additional information.

As a textbook, it is most suitable for seniors or first year graduate students. The writing style has some limitations. For example, the authors often write in a plodding, passive style reminiscent of journal articles before 2000. Overall, the limitations are mere quibbles because the book is a trove of information. I would certainly recommend it to professors and clinicians alike.

Book Reference

Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S. (2007). Positive psychology: the scientific and practical explorations  of human strengths. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Note, A newer edition is available See the Fourth Edition

A Related Book

Living well: 10 Big Ideas for a Meaningful Life


Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge—including this book review:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton