Recovered memory therapy
1. Why we discuss RMT on this site.
A more complete history of RMT.
Why we discuss RMT on a website devoted to religious tolerance:
There are three main reasons why we included recovered memory therapy (RMT)
on our web site:
Our web site discusses more than just religion; we also discuss items related
to morality and ethics. We
concluded back in 1995 that RMT is an immoral form of therapy because it
often artificially generated images in clients' minds of abuse that never
happened. These images often coalesced into what felt like real memories.
The result was many tens of thousands -- perhaps over 100,000 --- disrupted
or destroyed families of origin. Many innocent people were sent to jail.
We take the position that any new therapeutic technique should be treated
like new medication: carefully evaluated for efficacy and safety in small scale
being released for general use.
Approximately 18% of clients with recovered memories of abuse went on to develop
false "memories" of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). This resulted in two serious
||Many such victims of RMT & SRA became severely depressed, unable to
parent, and/or unable to work; some committed suicide.
Many abuse accusations were
directed against religious Satanists who were innocent of any crime.
Unfortunately, some religious conservatives widened these accusations
against Satanists to include abuse by Wiccans,
new religious movements,
Neopagans, the Occult etc. This caused a great deal of religious oppression
of these other minority religious groups.
- We felt an obligation to familiarize the public with this disastrous form of therapy so
that they might become more careful when considering this and other unproven and thus
potentially useless and/or dangerous therapies.
We generally avoid taking sides in controversial matters. Our normal policy is to
explain both or all viewpoints that people hold on each issue. However,
the extreme harm caused by RMT has now been well documented. The
unreliability of RMT has been firmly established. Thus, this series of essays will
mainly reflect the beliefs of a near-consensus of
therapists: that RMT is a dangerous and
irresponsible form of therapy that can generate "memories" of events that never
History of RMT:
The theory of repressed memory began with pioneer psychologist Sigmund
Freud. According to Adriaan Mak, who helped found the Canadian branch of
the False memory Syndrome Foundation: Freud literally
browbeat his clients -- "whacked them on their heads to loosen
forgotten experiences of childhood incest." 1 Freud
later abandoned the belief in repressed memories. The theory was
resurrected in the early 1980s by Swiss therapist Alice Miller.
Within a decade, tens of thousands of therapists were actively trying to recover
During this time, research into how the human brain remembers events
was advancing rapidly. Memory researchers were finding out that memory works by
a reconstructive process that is not particularly accurate. Old memories
can easily be overlaid by newer events. Unfortunately, a lot of therapists
had not kept up with the latest research. They still believed that
memories were always accurate. It did not matter whether a client always
remembered an abuse event, or had laboriously pieced together recovered "memories" of
abuse in therapy. They believed earlier theories that the human mind
worked like a video tape recorder. All recordings were exact and could be
Perhaps the leading memory researcher, and certainly the most famous/infamous is
psychologist Elizabeth Loftus at Washington State. She warned the 1991
American Psychological Association conference that memory "retrieval"
might be generating false memories. She was howled down by her colleagues.
During the 1980s and into the mid-1990s, thousands or tens of thousands
of psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, church counselors, feminist
counselors etc. attempted to recover memories of early childhood abuse
from their patients/clients. Partial images of abuse were easily uncovered
in most patients/clients, using
various suggestive techniques, such as hypnotism, guided imagery, dream
analysis, automatic writing, fantasizing, etc. With continued therapy, these images often coalesced into
what appeared to be actual memories. Most often, the alleged abusers were
within their own family. Often the clients severed all connection with
their parents. Tens of
thousands of families of origin were destroyed by these revelations; many
clients/patients became emotionally disabled; some committed suicide.
the mid-1990s, the tide had turned. The reliability of these memories
became widely suspect. Many professional mental-health organizations in
Australia, Britain, Canada and the U.S. had by this time warned that memories recovered
during therapy may or may not be related to real events. They should not be
accepted as valid without external corroboration.
Many explanations were advanced to account for these "recovered
memories." Many theories were pure conjecture, without any
significant experimental basis. As Kenneth S. Pope wrote in 1998:
"For example, reports of recovered memories of child sex abuse
may be described as the result of implanting, false memory syndrome,
repression, dissociation, motivated forgetting, directed forgetting,
amnesia, betrayal trauma, retroactive inhibition, suggestion, self-induced
hypnotic trance states, personality disorder, thought suppression,
retrieval inhibition, cognitive gating, or biological protective
processes. These terms may be used without clear definition or scientific
basis and may unintentionally foster pseudoscientific beliefs."
By the late 1990s, many
former patients had retracted their beliefs and recognized that their
memories were false. Some have sued their therapists; a few won multi-million
dollar judgments. Insurance companies began to put pressure on their
therapist clients to abandon RMT.
By the turn of the 21st century, only a small, dedicated minority of therapists and
counselors still believed that recovered memories were
reliable, without corroboration by other evidence. In response, the main
U.S. public education group in the field, the False
Memory Syndrome Foundation, had down-sized. COSA, a New
Zealand organization that helped persons who were accused because of false
memories, closed down. Isolated cases of false sexual
abuse allegations still occur; however the earlier flood has almost dried up."
Recovered memory therapy appears to be
simply the latest mental-health hoax to emerge
from obscurity, rise through the usual 15 years of ascendancy, falter because of a
lack of supporting research, and fall back into obscurity. Like some other hoax
therapies, it has left behind a trail of broken families, broken lives and dead
bodies. It has also profoundly damaged the credibility of the psychology
and psychiatry professions. Psychologist Mark Genuis, founder of the
National Foundation for Family Research and Education, in Calgary AB
lays part of the blame for on its abandoning the scientific method. Over
the last generation, he said, careful statistical research has been
shunted aside by "qualitative research" or "case studies."
While case studies are important, Genuis said, without statistical
validation, they have the status of fiction. 1
History seems to be repeating itself. Many psychologists and other
counselors and therapists who abandoned RMT are now practicing Eye
Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR has been
reported in the media as taking "only a few sessions" to effect a
cure, and as "boon to traumatic disorders." Fortunately, this
therapy does not seem to have the power to destroy people's lives as has
been demonstrated by RMT. 2
We use the phrases "recovered memories" or "delayed
memories" because these terms are almost exclusively used by experts on all sides of
the issue. However, they are not good labels. The word memories implies that
actual events are being recalled from the past. A very few are indeed memories of real
events; but most appear to be false "memories" of events that never happened.
"Images" might be a better word to use.
Joe Woodard, "Myth #1: Our therapeutic culture," Calgary
Herald, 2002-AUG-17, Page OS08.
"EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing," EMDR
Institute, Inc., at: http://www.emdr.com/
Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-FEB-14.
Author: B.A. Robinson