RECOVERED MEMORY THERAPY (RMT)
COURT DECISIONS ABOUT RMT
||"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.
||"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. 2
Court cases related to recovery memory therapy, have gone through four
phases, over the interval from the 1980s until the present time:
- Acceptance by the court of RMT memories as evidence.
- Rejection of RMT memories as valid.
- RMT client-victims suing their therapists.
- A court case in which parents of a adult child damaged by RMT sued her
Acceptance of RMT memories as valid evidence:
Prior to 1995, many accused persons were convicted of childhood sexual abuse on the
basis of recovered memories alone. Such testimony is very convincing, because the accuser
is truthfully describing her/his recollections exactly as they remember them to be.
A large, but unknown, number of parents of RMT client-victims were impoverished
and/or imprisoned on the basis of recovered memories which were probably not
related to real events.
Rejection of RMT memories as valid evidence:
During 1995, the tide began to turn. A number of major court decisions were handed down
which declared that recovered memories have no validity unless supported by independent
||Maryland 1995-MAY-5 Doe, Roe v. Maskell, et. al,
#94-236030-1/CL185155-6; the decision was upheld on appeal,
||New Hampshire 1995-MAY-23; State v. Joel Hungerford # 94-45-7; State v. John
Morahan # 93-1734-6
||Michigan 1995-JUL-5; Lemmerman v. Fealk; Williford v. Bieske
||Minnesota 1996-AUG; Lynnette Hamanne et. al v Humenansky
||California 1995-OCT-11; Engstrom v. Engstron, #VC016157
||North Carolina 1996-JAN-22; Barrett v Hyldburg # 94-CV5-0795
||Minnesota 1996-JAN-25; Carlson et. al. v Humenansky
||Tennessee 1996-FEB-15; Hunter v. Brown # 03A01-9504-CV00127
||Pennsylvania 1996-FEB-21; Dalrymple v. Brown # J.A52010/1995
||Texas 1996-MAR-14; Vesecky v. Vesecky # 94-0856
||Rhode Island 1996-JUL-31; ? v. Quattrocchi
Elements from some of the court decisions at this pivotal point in the
history of recovered memory therapy are:
||Maryland, 1995-MAY: A judge in Baltimore dismissed a lawsuit brought by two former
students against a Roman Catholic priest who allegedly molested them almost 25 years ago
when they were in high school. They claimed that they developed "amnesiac aspect
of post-traumatic stress disorder" from the early 1970's until a few years ago.
The judge said that the plaintiffs didn't demonstrate that PTSD "automatically
leads one to amnesia. This is a leap of faith this court cannot make...The court in no way
is judging [the women's] credibility, but their recollection. That did not meet the test
of scientific reliability...No empirical studies verify the existence of repressed
memory...There is no way to test the validity of these memories." In 1996-JUL,
the Maryland Court of Appeals, refused to recognize "repressed memories"
as a basis for postponing the filing deadline, noting that "studies purporting to
validate repression theory are justly criticized as unscientific, unrepresentative and
biased." In their decision, Judge Robert L.
Karwacki stated "We are unconvinced that repression exists as a phenomenon
separate and apart from the normal process of forgetting,"
||California, 1995-OCT: The California Superior Court excluded repressed memory testimony.
He found that "the phenomenon of 'memory repressions' is not generally accepted as
valid and reliable by a respectable majority of the pertinent scientific community and
that the techniques and procedures utilized in the retrieval process have not gained
general acceptance in the field of psychology or psychiatry."
||Texas, 1996-MAR: The Texas Supreme Court handed down a decision which disallowed
evidence derived from recovered memory therapy:
"In sum, the literature on repression and recovered memory syndrome establishes
that fundamental theoretical and practical issues remain to be resolved. These issues
include the extent to which experimental psychological theories of amnesia apply to
psychotherapy, the effect of repression on memory, the effect of screening devices in
recall, the effect of suggestibility, the difference between forensic and therapeutic
truth, and the extent to which memory restoration techniques lead to credible memories or
confabulations. Opinions in this area simply cannot meet the 'objective verifiability'
element for extending the discovery rule."
||Rhode Island, 1996-JUL: The RI Supreme Court overturned the conviction of John Quattrocchi III and ordered that he be retried. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for
sexually molesting a girl more than 10 years before his trial. Their reason was that the
judge in the case had not held a preliminary hearing to assess reliability of the
accuser's recovered memories. Such evidence must now be assessed without the jury being
present before it is allowed to be admitted during a trial. One expert before the Supreme
Court testified that recovered memory therapists may unintentionally "create
narrative truth as opposed to actual truth."
Lawsuits by RMT client-victims against therapists:
A long series of cases have been successfully prosecuted in which
client-victims of RMT have sued their therapists. Most of the cases seem to
involve therapy in which memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse
were "recovered." Settlements often exceeded a million dollars. This was a
critical point in the history of RMT because malpractice insurance companies
became alarmed at the massive payments being granted. The companies started to
limit coverage when experimental, suggestive, untested therapies were employed.
||Minnesota, 1995-AUG: Vynnette Hamanne and her family were awarded $2.67 million in
damages; this is believed to be the largest psychotherapy negligence award in U.S.
history. Ramsey County Judge Bertrand Poritsky ruled that the theory that humans are
capable of "repressing" or "dissociating" memories of numerous traumas
in childhood was not a credible scientific theory and thus could not be presented to the
||Minnesota, 1996-JAN: Plaintiffs Elizabeth, David, and Lisha Carlson won a
judgement against Dr. Diane Bay Humenansky. Many experts believe was the longest psychiatric
malpractice trial in US history. During the trial, Dr. Humenansky and defense experts
testified that "recovered memory therapy" involving hypnosis, drugs, coercion,
group pressure and suggestion cannot produce false memories. Opposing them was Prof.
Elizabeth Loftus who testified that the theory of repressed memory is a myth without
supporting scientific evidence. Prof. Richard Ofshe testified that Recovered Memory
Therapy (RMT) is the "worst form of psychiatric quackery in the 20th
century...These reckless and dangerous therapists have destroyed thousands of American
families." Other experts testified that the RMT therapy techniques were "reckless
and dangerous" and had significantly harmed the Carlson family. The Carson family
attorney, law professor and psychologist Dr. R.C. Bardon stated "The Carlson and
Hamanne verdicts send a powerful message to psychotherapists that they must stop using
untested and unproven methods on their patients." As President of the National
Association for Consumer Protection in Mental Health Practices, Dr. Barden stated:
"These cases demonstrate that therapists must obey the informed consent laws or
face serious legal consequences. Bogus theories such as "repression" and
unproven treatments for junk science illnesses such as "multiple personality
disorder" may not be used on American citizens until they have been proven safe and
effective by reliable scientific research. Millions of dollars of taxpayers money are
wasted every year on these experimental and potentially dangerous forms of mental health
treatment and it is time for such unethical practices to cease. Until the professional
associations and licensing boards stop these dangerous practices, victims of quack
psychotherapies will continue to turn to the courts for justice."
||Applton WI: 1997-MAR: Nadean Cool of Appleton reached a $2.4
million out-of-court settlement during the fifth week of a jury trial. She
had sued her psychiatrist who had diagnosed her with 120 personalities and
put her through an exorcism.
||Houston TX: 1997-AUG: An
award of almost 5.8 million dollars was granted to Ms. Lynn Carl, 46, who
had sued her therapist, Dr. Gloria Keraga. Lynn commented: "This
verdict validates my story, and I hope gives strength to those other
patients who have suffered similar abuse." Her false memories which
emerged during therapy convinced her that she had engaged in murder,
cannibalism, sexual abuse and incest. She became convinced that she
Multiple Personality Disorder, was diagnosed as having developed more
than 500 personalities, and believed that she had been involved in a
Satanic cult. Her children, then aged 13 and 14,
were admitted to hospital where they came to believe that they had been
abused by the cult. Ms. Carl claims that the false memories led to a
divorce and a court order which prevented her from seeing her children.
Her attorney, Skip Simpson, implied that the motive for the implantation
of false memories was over 1.1 million dollars in insurance payments. "This
case was all about creating victims so the mental health field could have
patients and expensive treatment." The Carl's have since remarried.
||Chicago IL: 1997-NOV:
Rush Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Bennett Braun and the Pat Burgus family
settled out of court. The hospital and insurance companies involved paid
the family $10.6 million. Dr. Braun has since been expelled from the
Illinois Psychiatric Society and the American Psychiatric
Association, apparently for ethics violations. His license to practice
medicine was suspended for two years in 1999-OCT, and he was given five
years probation. In 2001-JUL, after having worked as a night watchman for
a year, he obtained a "clerk-type job" in a children's hospital in
Wyoming at about one tenth of his prior salary. 5
||Marathon County, WI: 1999-SEP: Joan Hess was awarded $850,000.
Her family claimed that her psychiatrist had implanted false childhood
memories, making her believe she was molested by her father and had
multiple personalities. She had suicidal ideation.
Lawsuit by families of RMT client-victims against therapists:
A precedent-setting case began in 2001-MAR in Eau Claire County Court in
Wisconsin. It appears to be the first lawsuit in which the parents of a RMT
client-victim are the plaintiffs.
During 1984, Nancy Anneatra, then in her 20s, began to receive counseling
from a psychiatrist and a counselor. After a year, she accused her parents of
childhood sexual and physical abuse. Anneatra cut off all contact with her
parents, and changed her name to make it difficult for them to trace her. She
died of cancer in 1995. She was still in therapy, but with a second therapist.
As administrator of her daughter's estate, her mother, Delores Sawyer, filed
a lawsuit in 1996 against her daughter's therapists. One of their lawyers said:
"This was just a heartbreaking case... In this case, you have a daughter you
love who suddenly is accusing you of the worst thing imaginable. By the time she
died, she had accused her father, her brother, her brother's friend, her mother,
her grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, two cousins and three pastors. Everybody was
The suit was dismissed at
Eau Claire country court, but was upheld by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals who
ruled that therapists had a duty to avoid harm to third parties "when some
harm was foreseeable." 8 The Sawyers also won at the state
Supreme Court in 1999. That court ruled that "The harm the Sawyers have
alleged are the ordinary and predictable injuries one might expect following
negligent therapy which implants and reinforces false memories of sexual abuse
at the hands of family members which results in accusations of that abuse."
9 Two years later, they again initiated a lawsuit against two
of their daughter's therapists.
Officials said that its outcome could have state and national impacts. In a
brief before the state Supreme Court, the Medical Society of Wisconsin,
filed a brief, stating that "that if such malpractice suits are allowed,
therapist/patient relationships will be hindered because many people seek
psychotherapy because of difficulties in relationships, and that therapy will
sometimes have an emotional impact on the patient's spouse, children, parents,
friends or coworkers." The therapist may not be able to effectively help a
client if they must be concerned about the emotional effects on third parties.
According to the FMS Foundation: "In a landmark decision, a Wisconsin jury
awarded $5.08 million to Delores and Thomas Sawyer on March 16, 2001 for the
pain and suffering they sustained as a result of false memories of sexual abuse
that developed when their daughter was in therapy." 8
The decision by the jury was unanimous: that the late Nancy Anneatra was a
victim of false memories placed by two of her therapists, and was not a victim
of abuse from her parents. They held one therapist 80% responsible and another
one 20% responsible. Under state law, only the therapist who was mainly
answerable for the victimization had to pay damages. 10
Recovered Memory Therapy continues today, although on a
small and gradually diminishing scale. None of the major professional
associations ever took significant action to prevent their membership from using
It has recently resurfaced as a new type of therapy,
Theophostic Counseling. This is a church-based
therapy in which clients are taught to have conversations with Jesus Christ.
Initial evidence is that this spinoff is just as dangerous at destroying
people's lives and the integrity of their families as did the original form.
Old RMT cases have also resurfaced since early 2002 in the form of
accusations of abusive pedophilia and
hebephiles against Roman Catholic priests
Many RMT therapists have left the field and taken up a new form of
experimental therapy: Rapid eye movement therapy:
Eye Movement Desensitization and
Reprocessing (EMDR) Like RMT, it has not been evaluated for safety
and efficacy. Clients focus on the therapist's finger which moves back and
forward quickly. This is supposed to erase their memories of traumatic events.
It is probably as effective as the flash used in the movie Men in Black.
But it appears to be much less likely to emotionally damage clients than RMT
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 Amazon.com online book store.
- J.G. Kennedy, delivered on 1962-JUN-11 at a Commencement Address at
Yale University. Quoted by Biesterveld, Wisconsin Law Review, 2002.
Harrison G. Pope, Jr. & James I. Hudson, "Can memories of childhood sexual
abuse be repressed?," 25 Psychol. Med. 121 (1995);
Mark Smith, "Jury Awards $5.8 Million in Satanic Memories Case",
Houston Chronicle, Houston TX, 1997-AUG-15
- Bob Anez, "Suspended
Chicago psychiatrist takes job in Montana," Associated Press, 2001-JUL-24.
Christena T. O'Brien, "False memory case has nationwide
implications: Parents' suit against daughter's therapists back in Eau
Claire County Court," Leader-Telegram, 2002-MAR-11, Eau Clair, WI.
- Private Email from a FMS member.
"FMS Foundation Newsletter," May/June 2001, Vol. 10, #3, at:
"Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Case No.: 97-1969," at:
Christena O'Brien, "Therapists found negligent in false memory lawsuit,"
Leader-Telegram, 2001-MAR-16, Eau Clair, WI.
Copyright © 1995, and 1999 to 2002 incl., by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2002-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson