Does Freudian repression exist?

Psychologist Yacov Rofé has written a damning article in the Review of General Psychology summarising the evidence from studies on the cognitive science of memory and arguing that the repression of memory, as described by Freud, doesn’t exist.

Rofé is careful to point out that Freud’s ideas about the repression of memory were not that we can deliberately forget or ignore traumatic experiences (as is often assumed by both professionals and lay people), but that process is supposedly unconscious (and so not deliberate) and that it was ‘pathogenic’ – in other words, a cause of mental distress and mental illness.

Rofé also notes that psychoanalysis was assumed to make people better by uncovering and lifting repression to make people better adjusted (although this has largely been rejected by modern therapists).

In contrast to these theories, Rofé cites evidence that people tend to remember rather than repress traumatic experiences, that banishing unpleasant memories tends to be a useful way of coping for many people (although interestingly, probably bad for physical health), that there is no evidence for unconsciously motivated forgetting, and that psychoanalytic therapy doesn’t seem to work by ‘lifting repression’.

In the article, Rofé has a bit of a tendency to suggest that supporting evidence that can be equally explained with a non-Freudian theory is evidence against Freud, when it fact it’s likely to support both explanations equally.

Nevertheless, he makes a strong case, largely based on the limited amount of supporting evidence that does actually exist.

However, I suspect this won’t be the end of the argument, as most debates concerning Freud centre as much around agreeing on what the terms mean, as applying data to their truth.

Link to abstract of scientific article.
pdf of full-text article.

2 thoughts on “Does Freudian repression exist?”

  1. I am amazed by the breadth of knowledge, insight and research applied to Prof Rofe’s work and also agree that more case studies and empirical data/experimental results give way to the theoretical side, but in the studies he cites there is ample evidence… check out his references in the bibliogrpahy and you will see his laying the groundwork for his authentic theory.

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