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Volume 1998-3

The Australasian Journal of Disaster
and Trauma Studies
Volume : 1998-3

A.J.W. Taylor PhD, Emeritus Professor, Psychology Department, Victoria University, P.O. Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand. Email: Tony.Taylor@vuw.ac.nz

Volume : 1998-3

A.J.W. Taylor PhD

School of Psychology,
Victoria University, Wellington,
New Zealand

Special Edition:
Current events in the memory-trauma field

Memory, after a long absence in the wings of psychology except in the realm of organic brain damge, is returning to centre stage in connection with the recollection of mental trauma. It has become central to expert testimony in dramatic criminal and civil cases where practitioners have to be ready to address complex questions relating to the reception, storage, processing, recall, and delivery of primary sensory information. But there are still gaps in knowledge of the underlying processes, and conflicting ideological positions, and issues of legal pragmatism and vested interests, which make the topic hazardous.

In the first of the articles in the present volume, Kathryn Gow reviews the evidence on what has become the vexed question of recovered memory. She enters the areas of childhood sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse, and unidentified flying object abductions, and comments on the reliabilty of much of the evidence, before proceeding to consider the relevance of factors relating to clients, the media, the treatment setting, therapists, and precipitating events. She makes clear that all areas and factors need to be considered in a final matrix of the decision-making process, when considering the validity of memories generated by a specific person, in a specific situation, about a specific event.

John Miller goes on to describe the unique accident compensation scheme that once prevailed in New Zealand to benefit those suffering either mental or physical trauma. He details the changes that have been introduced recently to exclude mental trauma unless it is associated with physical injury - except in cases of sexual abuse - and he mentions the subsequent upsurge in the number of cases taken under common law to the Courts for special and exemplary damages for mental trauma. For the help of all concerned, he reviews the precedents and draws attention to the issues which expert witnesses among others need to bear in mind as they prepare themselves for the courtrooom fray. Of particular interest to trauma workers, is the restriction of legal concern to the primary victims, and in certain circumstances to the secondary victims. Other categories of those who might also be adversely affected appear to have little legal remedy available to them. For convenience his exposition and references remain in the legal form to facilitate access to material held by law libraries.

Finally Tony Taylor moves from a discussion of a celebrated case of buried memory of abuse that led to the killing of a surrogate perpetrator, to consider the underlying processes of memory. Then he focusses on the importance of the context in which recall can take place in reality, as distinct from having more often in therapy to be conjured in imagination. He concludes with some further examples of the positive use of recall-in-context, from the accumulation of trauma arising in a job which involved the systematic sifting of gruesome forensic photographs, records, and exhibits, a post-service station armed hold-up, a phobic-road accident scene, and a post-disaster-cyclone situation.

The joint aim of the contributors is to encourage clinmicians and researchers from related disciplines to share their concerns, and to undertake simulated studies with more of a realistic bent, and to feed back suggestions for combined exploration and perhaps legal consideration.


A.J.W Taylor PhD © 1998. The authors assign to the Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies at Massey University a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to Massey University to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and for the document to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the author.

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