RECOVERED MEMORY THERAPY?
HOW COMMON WAS IT?
The following essay was originally written in 1995, just after the peak years
for recovered memory therapy (RMT). Most therapists were becoming aware, by that
time, that this form of therapy often created images in their clients which felt
like memories, but were unrelated to real events. Since that time, RMT has been
in sharp decline. It is rarely practiced today. However, where it is in use,
client's lives are being destroyed and families of origin disrupted.
Large numbers of adults recovered "memories" during therapy.
Obtaining an accurate estimate is impossible. Some indicators are:
|As of the year 2001, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation
(FMSF) has been contacted by more than 15,000
families who were distressed at the accusations of their adult children recovered during therapy.
However, this is probably only a small percentage of the total number of cases - the
"tip of the iceberg".|
|The FMSF maintains a "Legal Survey" which
contains data on the number of lawsuits in the United States that were based on repressed
memory evidence. Typically, 15% were criminal cases; 85% civil. Prior to 1988, there were
fewer than 10 cases per year. The number started rising during 1988, reaching a peak of
about 105 in 1992, 1993 and 1994. A precipitous drop occurred at that time: cases totaled
only about 55 in 1995 and fewer than 20 in 1996. Much of this drop is probably being caused
by the rejection of many courts of unsubstantiated recovered memory evidence. The figures
also probably indicates a reduction in the frequency of recovered memory therapy.
|In the year 2001, the FMSF conducted a survey of their
membership. They found:|
|Most of the accusations were between 1989 and 1994. |
|1991 and 1992 were the peak years for accusations.|
|The accusers were not typical cross section of adults:|
|90% of the accusers are daughters accusing parents.|
|99% are Caucasian.|
|45% had completed college, but not graduate school.|
|32% had completed graduate school.|
|18% of the accusations involved claims of Satanic
|Michael Yapko gathered statistics from therapists attending national
and international psychotherapy conventions. These were supplemented by an additional
10% from his therapy training courses on unrelated topics. 64% had Master's degrees, 24%
were PhD's. He found that:
|97% believed hypnosis to be a useful technique|
|84% believed hypnotic age regression to be useful|
|54% believe that hypnosis can recover memories as far back as birth|
|41% believe that memories (even from the first years of life) are accurately stored and
|31% believed that a trauma memory recovered during hypnosis must have happened.
We are unaware of any leading memory researcher who would agree with any of the last
three findings. There appears to be a major gap between the beliefs of
researchers and therapists.
|Mark Pendergrast estimates that there are in the US at least 62,500
of what he calls "memory focused" therapists who actively recover memories of
childhood sexual abuse in an average of 18 adult clients per year. This totals over 1
million women per year. If one added in smaller numbers of male clients, and clients of
unregistered therapists, the number would be much higher. His estimate is based on a
number of factors:|
- the number of therapists in the United States
- the fraction of therapists who engage in recovered memory therapy
- the average number of clients per therapists
- the fraction of clients who recovered memories during therapy
All of these numbers are approximations; the second factor is impossible to estimate
with any accuracy from available studies. The final estimate of 1 million is thus of
doubtful validity. 2 Still, his approximate result does
suggest that a very large number of clients/patients of therapists are
exposed to RMT each year.
|Michael Shermer wrote in 1997: "Experts on both sides of
this issue estimate that at least one million people have 'recovered' memories of sexual
abuse since 1988 alone, and this does not count those who really were sexually abused and
never forgot it." 3 He cites Crews et al., 4 Loftus et al.,
5 and Pendergrast 2 as support for this statement.|
|Poole, et al conducted a survey among doctoral-level US
psychotherapists and British psychologists. 71% responded that they had used various
suggestive methods (e.g. hypnosis, dream interpretation) "to help clients recover
suspected memories of CSA". 6 This would seem to refer to the classical case of a
patient or client coming to therapy with no conscious memories of CSA and attempting to
recover repressed memories. A much lower percentage of therapists specialize in recovered
memory therapy. The researchers report "Across samples, 25% of the respondents
reported a constellation of beliefs and practices suggestive of a focus on memory
recovery, and these psychologists reported relatively high rates of memory recovery in
their clients." |
|The British False Memory Society mentioned
in a 1996 publicity release that:|
"A recent survey of clinical psychologists conducted by the British
Psychological Society, revealed that nine out of ten of their respondents thought that
'recovered memories' (both of sexual abuse and satanic ritual abuse) were essentially
accurate despite the fact that scientific evidence shows that there are no grounds for
believing in the reliability of 'recovered memories'."
Unfortunately, the surveys described above do not give a complete picture. Almost all
of the therapists sampled were highly trained psychologists or psychiatrists. We believe
that such therapists are more likely to keep themselves updated with developments in
memory research. There are also untold numbers of less qualified persons engaged in
therapy and counseling: Social Workers, Medical doctors, Christian church counselors, Sexual
Assault Center counselors and volunteers, Women's Center counselors and volunteers, etc.
It is impossible to obtain an accurate estimate of their total numbers, let alone
information of the therapeutic methods used. Many jurisdictions allow persons to engage in
psychotherapy without any academic training at all. Volunteer based groups are essentially
unregulated. These groups' use of recovered memory techniques remain unknown.
If recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse are all real, then they are
proof of arguably the most serious social problem to ever face North American society.
If they are all false, then they represent a truly massive amount of
iatrogenic (therapy-created) mental disability, indirectly responsible for the destruction of countless
loving families, and the emotional disability of many clients.
Reality lies somewhere between these two extremes. But no matter where it lies,
it remains a very serious problem.
The above words were written in 1995. Today, recovered memory therapy has
been largely abandoned by therapists and councilors. But RMT has left a terrible
trail of devastation behind. Tens or hundreds of thousands of intelligent,
creative women (and a few men) are emotionally burdened by "memories" of events
that probably never happened. Most remain estranged from their parents. Most of
the direct victims of RMT have two parents who have also been devastated by
accusations of abuse. Although fewer new victims of RMT are being created each
successive year, many generations will pass before its damaging effects will
pass. By that time, there probably will be a new quack
therapies to replace RMT.
- M.D. Yapko, "Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual
Trauma", Simon & Schuster, New York NY (1994)
- Mark Pedergrast, Victims of Memory, Upper Access (1995) ISBN 0-942679-16-4. Upper
Access has a toll-free order line at 1-800-365-9315. A revised edition was published in
mid-1996. See http://pwshift.com/vomemory/"
- Michael Shermer, "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition
and other Confusions of our Time," Freeman, New York, NY, (1997)
- F. Crews, et al., "The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute," York
Review of Books, New York NY (1995)
- E. Loftus & K. Ketcham, "The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and the
Allegations of Sexual Abuse," St, Martin's, New York, NY (1994)
- Poole, Lindsay, Memon, and Bull, "Psychotherapy and the Recovery of Memories of
Childhood Sexual Abuse: U.S. and British Practitioners' Opinions, Practices, and
Experiences.", Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 1995, Vol. 63, No3.
- P.L. Herndon, "False and Repressed Memories gain Media Spotlight",
Practitioner Focus, newsletter of the American Psychological Association, 1994-FEB; P. 3,
Copyright © 1995 to 2001 incl., by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2001-NOV-5
Author: B.A. Robinson