Magazine article Science News

The Repressed Road to Trauma Recovery

Magazine article Science News

The Repressed Road to Trauma Recovery

Article excerpt

The Repressed Road to Trauma Recovery

Many mental health workers contend that the key to getting on with one's life after a close brush with death or some other severe psychological trauma lies in carefully confronting and sorting out memories and emotions linked to the ordeal. But a new study indicates that stamping traumatic memories out of consciousness -- rather than dredging them up -- may be essential for long-term adjustment, at least among survivors of World War II's Holocaust.

This conclusion stems from an investigation in which well-adjusted Holocaust survivors displayed a striking inability to remember their dreams. "Most were not only unable to recall any dream content but actively denied having dreamt at all," says psychologist Peretz Lavie of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, who presented the findings last week at the annual meeting of the Association of Professional Sleep Societies in Washington, D.C.

Lavie says the massive, unconscious repression of dream recall, as well as the repression while awake of memories and emotions connected to the Holocaust, crucially helped survivors to adapt more than 40 years after the war ended.

Lavie and graduate student Hanna Kaminer recruited 10 men and 13 women who had been imprisoned in a concentration camp or had hidden out from the Nazis for a prolonged period, much as Anne Frank did. Survivors averaged about 60 years of age and suffered no major physical or mental illnesses.

The researchers interviewed the survivors regarding six areas of postwar life: work problems, marriage and family problems, social relations, physical complaints, mental problems and general satisfaction with life. Eleven "less-adjusted" survivors reported significant problems in at least three areas. The remaining 12 were considered "well-adjusted." Concentration camp and hideout survivors were included in both groups. …

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