Repressed memories (known clinically as dissociative disorders) occur when you push certain memories out of your consciousness. Generally, these memories are related to some significant trauma. Today, several techniques are used to retrieve repressed memories.
Clinical hypnosis involves the inducement of intense relaxation, concentration and focus. When directed by a therapist, it can be used to recover memories that are buried within the subconscious. Milton Erickson was a pioneer of using hypnosis to recover repressed memories in the late 1940s. However, the use of hypnosis to recover repressed memories is controversial due to the risk of therapists creating or implanting false memories in the patient.
No medication is specifically designed to recover repressed memories. However, many patients that have repressed memories of traumatic events still remember bits and pieces of the traumatic event. In fact, some researchers believe this is always the case. Moreover, stress and other symptoms (including physical pain) are often associated with traumatic memories. Medication can reduce these symptoms and consequently improve the functional capabilities (including memory) of patients.
Clinical therapy is a technique used for recovering repressed memories. Therapists can help patients by understanding how memory works, considering various alternative explanations for psychological distress, and reaching out to family members to help put the pieces together. However, the therapist must be careful not to suggest anything that could create a false memory. Rather, the therapist's job is to assist the patient in reaching his or her own conclusions.
In the 1990s, many people were critical of repressed memory therapy. In fact, numerous therapists were sued for implanting false memories. However, despite some of the criticism, the Recovered Memory Project at Brown University conducted a study that uncovered dozens of incidents where therapy worked to recover repressed memories that were later corroborated through strong physical evidence.