Memory and Identity



Nicholas P. Spanos. Multiple Identities and False Memories: a Sociocognitive Perspective. American Psychological Association, 1996.


Nick Spanos, who was killed in a plane crash in 1994 (this book was edited from the manuscript by his colleagues) had been a student of T. X. Barber and one of the pioneers of the sociocognitive approach to hypnosis, which argued that hypnosis was not a special altered state of consciousness but a form of intense role-playing as may be found in games or drama. This book extends that approach to the study of multiple personality disorder which Spanos argued was created in response to clues provided by the therapist. It is a fiction born out of the mutual needs of the therapist and client

Readers of Magonia may be aware of Sapnos's interest in the UFO abduction claims, and his study reveals that interest, along with interests in and great knowledge of the background of Satanic abuse claims and past life memories. This knowledge, much greater than many other commentators in the recovered memory debate, allows him to argue that these radical claims provide convincing evidence that much recovered memory is fantasy.

He undertakes a wide ranging cross cultural study of the dissociation, covering spirit possession, demonology, witchcraft accusations and Similar, to show how these altered states serve social purposes, many times empowering the powerless (often women). He notes that both the recovered memory therapists and the False Memory Foundation both portray those (usually women) producing abuse memories as being passive, helpless victims, enter of abusive men or abusive therapists. As an alternative he suggests that part of the power of these abuse memories is that they provide justification for inchoate feelings of anger, resentment and guilt arising from the normal conflicts of family life (Though Spanos does not raise the issue, it is perhaps significant that many. of the 40-something adult survivors passed through the generational conflicts of the 1964-73 era).

In the final chapter, Spanos comments on the medicalisation of social problems (again often women's problems). Causes and solutions of present discontents are not sought in the present, where they may call for social action (better jobs, housing, child care, more pay, fewer working hours, less corporate aggression against family life etc etc.) but in the irredeemable traumas of the past. This is an important book, absolutely vital for those engaged in quasi therapeutic activities. We will be able to judge them by how they respond to the issues raised here and in similar works. It also reminds us that Nick Spanos was a sad loss to our field. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 62, February 1998


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