Hypnosis can be used to recall every memory you have ever had! Studies have shown that the brain doesn’t store up every single memory like a computer ready to be retrieved at the push of a button. Memories are deceptive and can mislead. Here is one psychologist’s very real experience of distorted memory:
One evening in 1975 an unsuspecting Australian psychologist, Donald M. Thomson, walked into a television studio to discuss the psychology of eyewitness testimony. Little did he know that at the very moment he was discussing how people can best remember the faces of criminals, there was someone encoding his own face as a rapist.
The day after the television broadcast Thomson was picked up by local police. He was told that last night a woman was raped and left unconscious in her apartment. She had named Thomson as her attacker.
Thomson was shocked, but had a watertight alibi. He had been on television at the time of the attack and in the presence of the assistant commissioner of police.
It seemed that the victim had been watching Thomson on television just prior to being attacked. She had then confused his face with that of her attacker.
That a psychologist talking about identifying the faces of criminals should be the subject of just such a gross memory failure – and at the very moment he was publicly explaining it – is an irony hard to ignore.
Have you ever remembered something and was certain you’d remembered it correctly, only to find out later than you were completely wrong – the colour of the dress, the date of the event, the place where you met someone…it happens all the time.
Memories are stored on the basis of perception and therefore subject to distortion and fragmentation. All hypnosis does is help you review the memories you have – which includes the ones that have been modified by experiences since the memory was first laid down. It can’t make you recall memories that don’t exist.
There has been much discussion about ‘repressed memories’ and ‘false memory’. During the 1990’s there were very public cases of people who were being tried on the basis of memories being uncovered through age regression. Age regression is a legitimate technique that helps your client revert back to a previous time, particularly childhood, where an initial sensitising event may have occurred that has resulted in a phobia or trauma. The therapist must be very careful not to suggest or lead the client during regression since this can lead to false memory, indistinguishable from other events in the client’s collection of memories from his past.
It was shown in all these cases that the therapists had in fact created complex and emotionally devastating memories by unwitting suggestion and even when there was some evidence that the client’s memories could have been based on real events, the memories were so distorted and fragmented that they couldn’t be held up as evidence in court.
If something bad happens to us we tend to remember it. We might not choose to think about it because of the emotional trauma involved and bringing it back into short-term memory may create a panic attack or a fight and flight response as we try to ‘run away’ from the event. The memory isn’t buried – it’s just that our sense of preservation means we choose to keep it hidden. Not all traumatic experiences need to be discovered and resolved – if they are not causing difficulties for the person, memories can be left where they are.
So – in summary, hypnosis can only help you to recover memories you already have and those memories may be distorted by time and the natural workings of the brain.