Using Hypnosis for Repressed Childhood Abuse Memories

Repressed Memory Recovery: Useful Tool or Misleading Practice? — Therapy Blog

Using Hypnosis for Repressed Childhood Abuse Memories

Repression describes the unconscious act of burying distressing memories or feelings. Once buried, these memories are no longer a part of a person’s awareness, unless they someday retrieve, or uncover, the memories.

Psychologists have long debated the recovery of repressed memories and whether memories that people retrieve are real.

An Overview of Repression Psychology

Memory repression, a psychological concept introduced by Sigmund Freud, is a controversial topic. According to Freud, a person faced with something too difficult to accept might unconsciously reject that information. They then effectively forget what happened, though Freud found some people seemed to later recall lost memories, particularly under hypnosis.

The late 1980s and 1990s saw a rise in allegations of child abuse in the United States as many people began to recall, often with the help of counselors, memories of abuse and other traumatic events they said they had repressed. The number of claims that surfaced led many psychologists and other experts to question whether these memories were valid.

Researchers cannot ethically study repression of traumatic memories in a controlled setting, so it’s difficult to know exactly how repression works. Studies of people who have recovered repressed memories have yielded inconclusive results.

Some repressed “memories” were eventually found to be false, while others may have been real memories that truly were repressed.

One study from 1992 found that, among 100 women who had experienced abuse, 38 either did not remember the abuse or denied it.

According to the American Psychological Association, abuse and trauma can affect children and adults in different ways.

Children, for example, may have trouble storing their memories after experiencing abuse, which can affect how they remember what happened. Other mechanisms such as dissociation may also affect memory.

If a person dissociates, they may not have access to their memory for some time, perhaps years. But this is not the same as repression.

Do Repressed Memories Hide Psychological Trauma?

According to repression theory, repressed or suppressed (consciously forgotten) traumatic memories may contribute to emotional distress and potentially affect behavior and mental health.

There’s no hard evidence either for or against the repression of traumatic memories. Many researchers and mental health professionals do agree it may be possible to repress and later recover memories, but many also generally agree this is most ly quite rare. Some experts believe memories may be repressed, but that once these memories are lost, they can’t be recovered.

Some experts believe memories may be repressed, but that once these memories are lost, they can’t be recovered.

Many people have recalled memories while already working with a therapist or counselor, and some recalled memories under hypnosis. Some experts believe this implies retrieved memories are often suggested and therefore ly to be false.

Other people have recalled memories of abuse or another traumatic event on their own before reaching out for counseling or other support as a result.

While some of these individuals may have experienced mental health issues that contributed to their desire to seek help, not every person experienced psychological distress before recalling memories.

Research on repressed memories and trauma has yielded inconclusive results. A 2012 study showed people may falsely remember details of traumatic events, and other research has supported this. Extensive research has also shown it’s possible to suggest false memories to people, who later recalled these fake memories as vividly as their true memories.

The results of a 2017 research review indicate people with posttraumatic stress (PTSD), depression, or a history of trauma may be more ly to create false memories when they’re exposed to information that relates to their experience.

On the other hand, a 2015 study looking at the retrieval of stressful memories in mice found that mice only remembered an electric shock when they returned to the same brain state.

This suggests memories could possibly be repressed until the brain returns to a similar state of stress.

This knowledge has implications for treatment, study authors say, since when memories can’t be accessed they may put a person at risk for mental health concerns and affect treatment outcomes.

The position of the APA is that most people who experience abuse or other trauma in childhood remember at least part of what happened.

The APA does not deny the possibility of repressed memories of abuse and recommends people who believe they may have recovered memories of abuse reach out to a therapist or counselor.

A trained, ethical mental health professional can offer help and support without immediately denying or validating the recovered memory.

False Memory Syndrome: An Obstacle on the Path to Memory Recovery

Attempting to recover repressed memories poses issues for consideration. Many retrieved memories of childhood sexual abuse were recalled through hypnosis or guided visualization. Some mental health experts believe these techniques are not highly reliable. Attempts to retrieve repressed memories also created new symptoms in some people getting help for other mental health issues.

Multiple studies have shown it’s possible to implant false memories in people, who then believe and describe the memories even more vividly than actual memories. It’s generally impossible to determine whether most recovered memories are true or false.

People often recall what happened in clear detail, and they may be impacted by what they remember. A 2018 study, on the other hand, found that recovered memories in people not receiving mental health treatment were often vague or unclear.

This is quite different from descriptions of reportedly retrieved memories.

False memory syndrome describes a person’s belief that recovered “memories” are real when they are not, to the extent that it may affect their life and emotional health.

Research has found that some people, particularly those already getting help for certain mental health concerns, may be more suggestible and more ly to develop false memories if certain events are suggested.

Because recovered memories of sexual abuse can have a serious impact on an individual’s life, many experts consider determining whether recovered memories might be true a matter of importance.

If Repression Isn’t the Answer, What Is?

People who experience certain mental health concerns or emotional distress may wonder what contributed to their symptoms. Risk factors for a number of mental health conditions include childhood abuse and trauma.

Many people diagnosed with certain concerns, such as borderline personality, do have a past history of abuse or neglect.

But this factor may be linked to these conditions so strongly that some believe it’s always the cause, not merely one of many possible contributing factors.

One study found many people who thought they would probably seek therapy in the future also believed they had repressed memories of abuse that therapy could help them recover. Study authors say this relationship suggests these people are at higher risk for creating false memories in therapy, simply by believing they could have these memories.

It’s important to remember many factors contribute to the development of mental health issues. Trauma can play a part, but it isn’t always the cause. Genetics, brain chemistry, present patterns of relating to others, and environmental factors can all affect mental health and lead to emotional distress.


It’s not yet known exactly how or why some people might repress traumatic memories and later recover them. Memory repression is a controversial topic, and scientists and psychologists have a range of opinions on the subject.

Seeking support is important, whether the recalled memory is true or false. If you experience emotional distress or other mental health symptoms, it’s important to reach out.

If memories of abuse affect you negatively, a therapist or counselor can help you work toward healing. A good therapist will remain unbiased during treatment. They won’t accuse you of making up the memory.

But they also won’t assure you the memory must be true.

Mental health experts encourage both mental health professionals and people seeking help to approach the possibility of repressed memories with caution. Researchers do not discount all recovered memories, but “recovered” memories may be false, particularly when retrieved through guidance or suggestion.


  1. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Memories of childhood abuse. Retrieved from
  2. Chiu, C. D. (2018). Phenomenological characteristics of recovered memory in nonclinical individuals. Psychiatry Research, 259, 135-141. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2017.10.021
  3. Depue, B. E. (2010). False memory syndrome. The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. Retrieved from
  4. False memory syndrome. (2013). Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from
  5. Garssen, B. (2007). Repression: Finding our way in the maze of concepts. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30(6), 471-481. Retrieved from
  6. Jovasevic, V., Corcoran, K. A., Leaderbrand, K., Yamawaki, N., Guedea, A. L., Chen, H. J., Shepherd, G. M. G., & Radulovic, J. (2015). GABAergic mechanisms regulated by miR-33 encode state-dependent fear. Nature Neuroscience, 18(9), 1,265-1,271. Retrieved from
  7. Kaplan, R., & Manicavasagar, V. (2001). Is there a false memory syndrome? A review of three cases. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 42(4), 342-348. doi: 10.1053/comp.2001.24588
  8. Laney, C & Loftus, E. F. (2005). Traumatic memories are not necessarily accurate memories. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(13). Retrieved from
  9. Loftus, E. F. (1993). The reality of repressed memories. The American Psychologist, 48(5), 518-537. Retrieved from
  10. McElroy, S. L., & Keck, P. E. (1995). Recovered memory therapy: False memory syndrome and other complications. Psychiatric Annals, 25(12), 731-735. doi: 10.3928/0048-5713-19951201-09
  11. Otgaar, H., Muris, P., Howe, M. L., & Merckelbach, H. (2017). What drives false memories in psychopathology? A case for associative activation. Clinical Psychological Science, 5(6). Retrieved from


7 Steps To Recover Your Repressed Memories

Using Hypnosis for Repressed Childhood Abuse Memories

You repressed your memories and you want them back? Here’s what you should know.

The environment we live in, society, our jobs, and our families all affect us and are affected by us and our actions.

The extreme stress we come across every day but don’t pay attention to; the little details that bother us but we push to the back of our heads; the abuse we might witness.

All of these could haunt us in the future. “How?” you ask.

Repressing your memories is your ANSWER.

You unconsciously block your memories. You shut down whatever memory that might be bothering you by creating a little box in your head, where you store all the painful, severely stressful memories.

At one point, you needed to do this in order to survive whatever happened to you, but that’s just a temporary fix.

You see, this box is closed and you threw the key down the ocean. However, you can get it back. That’s correct, you can recall your repressed memories.

You might be asking yourself, “why would I ever want to recall these horrific memories?”. “If I wanted them, I wouldn’t have blocked them in the first place.” However, that’s where you’re wrong.

Repressed memories affect you and your daily life in ways you may not be paying attention to, but the damage is there.

It may lead you to hate and avoid certain places, people, and even sensory stimuli such as smells and sounds, it can also cause mental health issues if you further repress it down the line leading to:

Extreme behavioral changes, nightmares, depression, hypervigilance (constant alertness), distractibility and difficulty concentrating, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and constant irritability.

In addition to all of that, some studies have found that repressing your memories can even trigger anterograde amnesia (short-term memory loss).

How to recover your repressed memories

These internal conflicts that are stored in your unconsciousness might randomly come back to you on their own in forms of “flashbacks”, triggered by something in the environment.

For example, you might be watching a TV program, and then a certain scene is played that has similarities with the repressed memory, which triggers those flashbacks.

Another example would be talking with a friend who had a similar experience, and then it suddenly happens; you remember everything immediately.

The thing is: waiting for those vague stimuli to recover your memories could take 2 weeks, 2 months, or even 20 years from now, depending on your traumatic event.

But if you’re looking for an active way to get them back, I’ll provide you in this article with some steps you could follow on your own or with the help of the therapist.

You should know that your mind will deliver when it’s ready, but with the help of a mental health expert, you can set yourself free and detach yourself from whatever these repressed memories are linking you to whether it’s irrational mood swings or an addiction to a certain drug.

You can recover your memories by trying out some of these techniques:

1. Reading self-help books

Some of these books include methods on how you can exactly get your memories back. There are cases where individuals going through a self-help book alone got visualizations of a past traumatic event. Some of these books are:

  • The courage to heal: A guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis.


  • Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse (Fireside/Parkside Recovery Book) by Renee Fredrickson.


  • Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life by Jasmin Lee Cori.


  • Healing Trauma, A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D.


2. Automatic -Trance- Writing

Automatic writing is encouraged by a therapist but can be done alone. You can write freely without thinking about what you are writing in order for this to work, you can do it first thing in the morning before you’ve had your coffee or very late at night when you’re too tired to think critically.

3. Revisit locations

Physically revisiting the location of a past experience can trigger vivid memories. When you go back to a place attached to an unknown pain or distress, you should try to think of how this place made you feel before it became a repressed memory. This may induce some fear, sadness, or anxiety related to it.

Don’t worry though! It will eventually lead to a connection with your past self, which is a critical step in the process.

Revisiting these locations and experiencing their accompanying emotions might be difficult, but it’s a necessary step towards getting your memories back.

4. Getting the help of an online therapist

Online therapy has flourished over the past few years; it has become a credible and reliable source for mental health information and therapy.

What I most about these online communities is that you can ask for help wherever and whenever, un conventional therapy, which involves a strict schedule, and for you to physically be there.

However, this doesn’t mean that conventional therapy is not worth it anymore. On the contrary, conventional therapy is still the number one method to get help with any mental issue. It just means that online therapy has become a viable option to consider.

There are many websites out there that offer their counseling services with different approaches and therapy plans. Due to all the diversity and the complicated terminology, it has become a challenge to choose the right plan for you.

The good news is that many of these websites will help you deal with whatever you’re suffering from.

One of these websites that I personally trust is Their therapists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as their basic psychotherapeutic approach for treating mental health problems.

The different thing about this website is that not only does it provide you with a therapist, but it also offers other productive activities such as Live chat, Yoga, Worksheets, etc. It’s all part of their complete online therapy toolbox.

The better news is that if you use the link below, you’ll get a 20% discount on your first monthly subscription.


Regardless of the therapy you choose, your therapist will use the techniques cited below to recover your repressed memories.


The Truth About Hypnosis and Memory

Using Hypnosis for Repressed Childhood Abuse Memories
I had a memory of visiting Alcatraz as a child. It turned out it was a false memory

I've always been sceptical of the idea of 'repressed' or 'recovered' memories, partly due to a story of my own which I'll tell you in a moment.

Some people think hypnosis can be used to 'find out what happened' in a person's past when they don't already know.

There are three assumptions here:

  1. That hypnosis is a reliable way of accessing memories you don't currently have
  2. That 'repressed' memories are common
  3. That 'uncovering' what happened somehow cures the problem.

Before we get going, in case you don't read any further, let me tell you this: I think you should steer clear of any therapist who claims they can help you by 'uncovering' memories.

Why? Because they are working from an outmoded, unscientific, and potentially very dangerous false premise.

But let's start with that true, but false, story of mine.

My golden memory

I had a memory of something that never was.

My memory seemed real. Had I been pressed, even in a court of law, I would have sworn it was true.

I had a clear snapshot memory of being 14, on holiday with my parents in San Francisco. In my mind I was standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, looking out over the bay at the infamous island jail of Alcatraz.

I told people for years I'd been to San Fran. Only I hadn't. I wasn't lying — just mistaken.

I happened to mention this memory to my mother 20 years after the (non-)event. She looked at me curiously and said, «We went to LA and San Diego, but we never went to San Francisco. What are you talking about?» Not satisfied, I sought backup from my dad and sister — who both confirmed we hadn't gone to San Fran!

Was I crazy? I remembered it… didn't I?

Implanted memories are not just science fiction

Fortunately, lots of good research on the unreliability of memory has been done,1 which makes me feel somewhat less weird about my own self-created memory.

In a now famous study that became known as the 'Lost in The Mall Experiment', it was found that memories of an experience which never took place, namely, being lost in a shopping mall, could be implanted in the minds of young children.2 What's more, the memory could be long lasting.

I even found a video on in which the subject of such an experiment describes a vivid memory of being lost in a shopping mall, which, as we know, never happened. The researchers managed to 'implant' this memory by having Chris' family write journal entries in which they described this event alongside other, real events, then having Chris read these journals.

So what made people conduct this seemingly strange research? Well, it was done because something really worrying had started to happen.

Ignorant therapeutic practice can ruin lives

The 1990s saw a growing mania in therapy to 'recover' memories, and many lawsuits stemming from the resulting accusations.

3,4,5 Therapists who assumed that present-day emotional difficulties could only signify suppressed past childhood abuse would sometimes lead their clients with assumptive language, eventually leading the client to also assume they had suffered past abuse. Past abuse which may never have happened.

People tend to recall most of what happened to them, especially if it was awful as what I describe in this piece.

There is little evidence that people repress or 'bury' terrible memories, nor that 'recovering' them will magically solve current problems.

6 Alarmingly, a 2007 study found that when clients suddenly recalled previously non-existent memories during therapy, the account was less ly to have any corroborating evidence than if the memories had been recalled without any 'help'.7

But I want to make one thing clear.

If a person has always had a memory, there is little reason to doubt them

We should always assume that people who recall terrible things happening to them, when they've always had those memories, aren't mistaken. But we should be wary of memories that never existed before 'coming up' during psychotherapy, especially when there is no corroborating evidence.

A therapist needs to understand how memory works in the mind but also how language can shape both expectation and experience. It's amazing how even the subtlest nuances of language can mould memory, as this next example clearly shows.

Was it a smash, or a bump? How language shapes memory

Researcher Elizabeth Loftus found that language can shape memory.8 In her experiments, subjects were shown films of motor vehicle accidents then asked to answer questions about them.

Questions such as «How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?» resulted in research subjects overestimating the speed at which the vehicles had been travelling compared with when words bumped or collided were used.

When retested a week later, participants were asked «Did you see the broken glass?» Those who had been exposed to the word smashed were much more ly to say «yes» even though there had been no broken glass.

Language can shape experience and also create, or at least greatly mould, memory. Therapists, particularly those who have been trained in the 'recovered memory' ideology, may ask leading questions or use unwitting presuppositions. They may use words 'uncomfortable', 'painful', or even 'traumatic' when the client hasn't used these words.

Using hypnosis to try to 'uncover' memories is even more dangerous because of the creativity and suggestibility that occur during the hypnotic trance state.

And that goes double for traumatic memories.

Why post-traumatic stress disorder is not a condition of memory suppression

If you go along to a practitioner for help dealing with a painful memory you have always had, that's one thing. But going along because they have offered to help you 'find out why' you have difficulties is another.

We evolved to recall painful memories in order to avoid such situations in the future.

This isn't to say that suppression of painful memories is impossible, or that something terrible didn't happen to someone when they were so young they hadn't yet started forming memories,9 or that we can't fail to lay down memories when we are extremely drunk.10 But it is to say that post-traumatic stress disorder is not a condition of memory suppression. It's a condition of too much and too vivid recall, in which the past feels present.

When we are traumatized, the stress we experience can be so extreme that the memory is laid down in the amygdala, the part of the brain that produces the fight-or-flight or terror response.

What's more, it stays 'locked' in this part of the brain (instead of the parts that house less-emotional memories) as a survival pattern, ready to reactivate at even the faintest reminder of the original, triggering incident.

The problem isn't one of too little or no memory, but of too much, too often. In fact, traumatic memory can feel so strong it's almost a regression back to the original trauma.

I recall working with a survivor of World War II who wanted help processing a traumatic memory of an horrific military experience that had plagued him for 50 years. Whenever he spontaneously recalled it, he said, it felt he was «right back there,» «reliving» it. Traumatic memories tend not to fade more neutral or even happier memories do.

All this isn't to say that sometimes a person will recall something they hadn't thought about in a long, long time. This is a memory they've always had, though, not a new or 'recovered' one.

Using hypnosis to implant false memories

I taught in a hypnotherapy and psychotherapy diploma course at Brighton University for 10 years. I and the other teachers believed it was important to address the myths around memory early on.

We showed our students a video clip in which esteemed hypnosis researcher Dr Orne records a session with a young woman. He asks her whether she slept well the night before, and she says she did. He then hypnotizes her and suggests she was awoken in the night by the sound of an explosion » a car backfiring». She accepts this suggestion.

Now he awakens her and again asks how she slept the night before. This time she tells him she remembers being woken up in the night by an explosion noise — » a car backfiring.»

When Dr Orne then plays her the tape of her earlier conviction (prior to his suggestions) that she had not been woken up, she is, understandably, quite confused.

Not everyone would have responded as she did, but it's clear that during hypnosis the mind can become even more suggestible and creative.

And if a therapist doesn't (a) understand this when they use hypnosis and (b) understand how hypnosis can happen spontaneously quite outside of their control, then there is a risk that memories which did not exist before therapy may be manufactured by the therapy.

Hypnosis has so many life-enhancing benefits when it's used well. But it is not a truth serum, and it certainly isn't a reliable way to access so-called 'buried memories'.

So, memory is malleable. But memory also has two other features that you need to know about.

Using hypnosis to affect the physical

Memory is a hypnotic process. And in fact many hypnotherapists induce hypnosis in their clients simply by asking them to focus on a particular memory (a good one!). Recall is hypnotic because it has us focusing inward and perhaps even creating images in our minds.

But there's something else about memory and recall.

When we recall, especially during the powerful state of hypnosis, we do so not just with our minds but with our whole bodies.

If I recall a time I was very angry, my blood pressure may rise (people with chronic heart conditions are encouraged not to recall times when they were very angry) and I may begin to breathe quicker and feel hotter.

Harvard University professors found that, in healthy people, simply recalling a time when they were highly angry caused a six-hour dip in antibody immunoglobulin A, which is cells' first line against infection.11

Recall is so hypnotic that it can cause physical changes.

But we can use this to our advantage.

The wonderful power of remembered wellness

Hypnotherapists often use hypnosis to revivify wonderful times from the past for people so they can take those feelings and experience them more in their present and future life.

The fact is we don't just remember with our minds, but with our bodies too.

If I recall reclining on a Caribbean beach my blood pressure may go down; my hands and feet may feel warmer; I may begin to produce more serotonin in my brain, making me feel better; and so on.

Remembered wellness is a technique that uses the physical aspect of memory.12 Starting to recall times you felt relaxed (and healthy and well if you are currently unwell), totally mentally and physically comfortable and happy, can start to influence the way you feel now and possibly even your physical health.

So, hypnosis should never been used to try to find out what did or didn't happen. Memories can be shaped, even created, through language, whether the therapist understands this or not, and memory is in itself an hypnotic experience that affects the whole body, not just the mind.

I'm happy to say that I have now genuinely been to San Francisco. Really, I have! I've looked out across the bay to Alcatraz for real. I've even visited the famous ex-prison itself. I have the pictures to prove it.

I can finally count that as a real memory.


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