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bullet "...a segment (just how big is yet to be known) of the current accusations are coming from people claiming to have 'recovered' repressed memories of abuse after years and sometimes decades have passed. Such memories are, according to many skeptical scholars, the result of atrocious therapeutic technique and highly suggestible patients' imaginations. " Jon Trott 1
bullet "I doubt [that] it [repressed / recovered memory therapy] will die out completely. Once an idea enters the cultural mainstream, it has a way of resurfacing like a bloated corpse every few years." Mark Pendergrast. 2
bullet "We're going to see more guilty priests in the future, and therefore more falsely accused priests. The motive and the means are there." Dean Tong, a false-accusation consultant and professional forensics expert. 3
bullet "If you think you were abused, and your life shows the symptoms, then you were." Ellen Bass & Laura Davis. 4
bullet "Avoid being tentative about your repressed memories. Do not just tell them; express them as truth. If months or years down the road, you find you are mistaken about details, you can always apologize and set the record straight. You cannot wait until you are doubt-free to disclose to your family. This may never happen." Renee Fredrickson. 5
bullet "The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic." J.G. Kennedy. 6
bullet "If these Catholic cases start hinging on repressed memory, then we're going to see a new rash of cases brought against the Church." Elizabeth Loftus

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Major concern about abusive hebephiles and pedophiles in the Roman Catholic priesthood (and to a lesser degree among other clergy) surfaced in early 2002. As of 2002-MAY, new incidents are being featured almost daily on TV news broadcasts. Associated with this panic has been the revival of belief in the usefulness of Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT), and of belief in the reliability of recovered, long-repressed memories which it generates. Repressed memories are a.k.a. dissociative amnesia, traumatic amnesia, betrayal trauma, and by other names.

According to author Mike Pendergrast, "surveys that indicated [that] some 25% of American counselors specialized in recovered memory therapy at its height in the early 1990s." 2 RMT had since been largely abandoned by mental health practitioners. It is now experiencing a comeback in connection with clergy abuse.

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What is RMT?

RMT is a therapeutic technique which is based on the belief that many children repress all memory of severe sexual abuse. According to this belief, they may have been brutally raped many times a week over a period of five years; yet, as adults, they have no recollection of the attacks. In fact, they might believe that their childhood was quite happy. RMT therapists believe that symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, etc., often appear in adulthood because of these repressed memories. These therapists typically use some combination of suggestive techniques, like hypnotism, guided imagery and visualizations, dream therapy, age regression, automatic writing -- or even simply having the client imagine abuse that might have happened to them. After weeks or months of therapy, many client begin to recall what appear to be fractured images of abuse. These gradually coalesce into what feel like actual memories of sexual abuse.

RMT appears to be a mechanism by which the beliefs of the therapist produce what appear to be memories in their clients. Sometimes, these "memories" are of abuse on board UFOs, abuse during former lifetimes, or Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) by demon worshipers. A new theory is that memories of future events can be "recovered." Most people give such "memories" little credibility. But some believe that "memories" of childhood sexual abuse recovered by RMT are credible.

Some adults who have gone through RMT have recalled being sexually abused by clergy, and are launching law suits against priests, ministers and pastors. Some therapists, DA's and police investigators are accepting these "memories" as valid evidence of childhood abuse. Almost all memory researchers, all major professional mental health associations, and most therapists regard RMT as a dangerous, unproven therapy that often creates memories of events that never happened -- often called "false memories." Many hundreds of people have been unjustly convicted on the basis of false memories in the past. History may be repeating itself.

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Types of memories:

Adults may recall events during their childhood in at least three ways:
bullet Always-present memories: The person may have continually recalled childhood abuse from the time that the abuse happened to the present time. They often experience hypermnesia -- an unusually vivid set of memories from long ago. There is often some distortion in these memories: sometimes a recollection will contain elements of two or more events; some details will be lost over time. But the memories are generally of events that really happened.
bullet Dormant memories: The person may have simply not thought anything about the childhood events. But some trigger -- a picture, smell, location, newspaper article, TV program, etc -- may unexpectedly cause the memories to come rushing back -- generally within seconds. Most people have experienced long-forgotten, non-abusive memories flooding back as a result of some such trigger. It sometimes happens with memories of childhood abuse as well. These memories also tend to be related to real events.
bullet Repressed memories: These are typically assembled over a period of months, either:
bullet During intense RMT, or
bullet During periods of self-hypnosis using techniques described in The Courage to Heal or other self-help books, or
bullet Within self-help, mutual support groups.

There is a near consensus among memory researchers, and a growing agreement among therapists that most of these "memories" are false. They are not of real events. In fact a report of the Working Group on Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in England went so far as to say: "We can find no evidence that apparent memories of long forgotten and repeated child abuse have ever been proven to be true." 7

There is a consensus among memory researchers that memories of events which happened before the age of 48 months are unreliable; actual recollections before 24 months of age are unknown. However, a small percentage of clinicians maintain that people can be age-regressed, and be able to recall memories during their birth process; some even believe that a person can be regressed into a former lifetime.

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Associated essay and menus on this web site:

bullet Essay: Specific reports of recovered memories of clergy abuse
bullet Menu: Recovered memory therapy
bullet Menu: Psychological hoaxes

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  1. Jon Trott, "Are Controversial "Recovered Memories" about Pedophile Priests Trustworthy?" at:
  2. Mark Pendergrast, "The bloated corpse," False Memory Syndrome Newsletter, Volume 11, #3, 2002-MAY/JUN, Pages 3 & 4. See also: Mark Pendergrast & Melody Gavigan, "Victims of Memory, Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives," Upper Access, (1996). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  3. Chris Colin, "The ultimate weapon," Salon, 2002-MAY-22.
  4. Ellen Bass & Laura Davis, "The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse", Harper Collins, (1992). P. 22. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  5. Renee Fredrickson, "Repressed Memories: A journey to recovery from sexual abuse", (1992), Page 203. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.

  6. J.G. Kennedy, delivered on 1962-JUN-11 at a Commencement Address at Yale University. Quoted by Biesterveld, Wisconsin Law Review, 2002.
  7. "Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse," British Royal College of Psychiatrists, Psychiatric Bulletin, (1997), 21, Pages 663-665, 1997-OCT-1.

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Copyright 2002 & 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JUL-30
Latest update: 2003-OCT-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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