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[This excerpt is from Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma , pp. 15-16, by Michael Yapko, Ph.D. Simon and Schuster, New York. Copyright (c) 1994. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Read our review or order it from]

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He told his wife that he simply couldn't deal with the scars remaining from Vietnam. In more than twenty years of marriage, there had been plenty of episodes that led her to believe him. One night, he went berserk, apparently in reaction to the sneakers she happened to be wearing. After he calmed down, he told her that he had been a prisoner for fifteen days after a carrier-based F-4 jet fighter on which he was navigator was shot down. His Vietcong captors wore similar sneakers when the came to the bamboo cage in which he was kept prisoner. They regularly beat and degraded him by urinating on him. He said he escaped after strangling a guard, who, incidentally, was wearing the same kind of sneakers.

He finally went to see a therapist for his problems, describing in detail his terrible experiences in Vietnam and his pervasive symptoms. He was diagnosed as suffering from "posttraumatic stress disorder" and was treated for severe depression, extreme guilt, and explosive anger. Treatment did not help quickly enough, however. Less than three years later, he ended his troubled life by inhaling carbon monoxide.

After his death, his wife attempted to get his name placed on the state's Vietnam memorial, declaring him a casualty of the war as surely as if he'd died overseas. His therapist wrote a letter in support of her petition. Only then was his background researched.

How could anyone have known that he had never been to Vietnam?

This is a true story. the therapist in the case is one of my most highly esteemed colleagues. His perplexing client's severe symptoms were associated with such specific memories that he never questioned whether the events themselves had actually occurred. The client's wife believed him. (Wouldn't you?) Indeed, from all evidence, the client believed himself. How could this have happened?

Now, let's change the story a bit. Let's make the client a woman in her mid-thirties. She comes to therapy reporting terrifying nightmares, an eating disorder, and difficulties in her interpersonal relationships, especially with men. She claims to have no idea what causes her symptoms. But soon, with the therapist's help, she recovers some vague memories of sexual abuse occurring at a very early age. As her therapy progresses, the memories become much more graphic and detailed. She recalls that her parents had guests to their home, with whom they forced her to have sex. She further recalls being tortured and burned with ciga- rettes when she cried out for help. Her therapist encourages her to confront her parents with her newly recovered awareness. They respond with vehement-and convincing denials.

Did the episodes of abuse actually happen? Who can say?

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