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We have been able to find only one published study which describe the outcome of recovered memory therapeutic techniques. Unfortunately, that study was based on inadequate statistics. Also, the study mainly dealt with therapy clients who recovered "memories" of Satanic Ritual Abuse.

This is surprising, because tens of thousands of psychiatrists, psychologists, religious counselors, secular counselors etc are believed to have utilized RMT extensively in the United States and Canada, particularly during the 1980s and early 1990s. Full-time therapists generally have dozens of patients or clients every year.

These therapists are proceeding with a therapeutic technique of unknown reliability and with unknown hazards. From the sheer weight of numbers of RMT clients, one would expect that RMT would have been carefully tested to make certain that (as a minimum) it is safe. But such a full-scale study seems to have never been conducted.

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Preliminary RMT Study on Ritual Abuse Recovered Memories

One preliminary study was completed by the Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington. Unfortunately, it apparently deals only with recovered memories of ritual abuse, and mainly with Satanic ritual abuse. It tells us nothing about non-ritual childhood sexual abuse because no such cases seem to have been included in the study.

The State of Washington has a Crime Victims Compensation Program which gives money to people who have been the victims of criminal acts. In 1990, they allowed individuals who had recovered previously repressed memory of childhood sexual abuse to apply for compensation. 670 repressed memory claims were filed between 1991 and 1995. 325 of these were allowed. An employee of the Department (Loni Parr, RN) apparently selected all of the claims which involved ritual abuse; 183 in total. She then selected 30 cases at random from the 183. She and another Department employee (Rachel Brown) stated in their 1996-MAR report that:
bullet Total ritual abuse cases analyzed: 30
bullet Number of females: 29 (97%)
bullet Number of Caucasians: 29 (97%)
bullet Age range: 15 to 67 years; mean 43
bullet Therapists: 26 saw mainly Masters level therapists; 2 saw a Ph.D; 2 saw an MD.
bullet Time of first recovered memory: 26 during therapy; 4 before therapy
bullet Number in therapy for 3 years after the first memory: 30 (all)
bullet Number in therapy for 5 years after the first memory: 18 (60%)
bullet Self-mutilation prior to recovered memories: 1 (3%)
bullet Self-mutilation after recovered memories: 20 (67%)
bullet Suicidal ideation prior to recovered memories: 3 (10%)
bullet Suicidal ideation after recovered memories: 20 (67%)
bullet Hospitalization prior to recovered memories: 2 (7%)
bullet Hospitalization after recovered memories: 11 (37%)
bullet Employed before entering therapy: 25 (83%)
bullet Employed after 3 years of therapy: 3 (10%)
bullet Married before first recovered memory: 23 (77%)
bullet Number of the 23 who separated or divorced within 3 years of first memory: 11 (48%)
bullet Number estranged from family of origin: 30 (100%)
bullet Age of first memories of abuse: 7 months average
bullet Memories of non-Satanic ritual abuse: 1 (3%)
bullet Memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA): 29 (97%)
bullet Number of cases with family perpetrators: 29 (100%)
bullet Observed birth or infant cannibalism: 22 (76%)
bullet Total number of murders remembered: 150
bullet Total number of resulting police investigations: 0
bullet Consumed body parts: 22 (76%)
bullet Tortured with spiders: 20 (67%)
bullet Torture or mutilation of any type: 29 (100%)
bullet Number of medical exams which corroborated torture or mutilation: 0
bullet Many of the memories involve "fantastic nighttime rituals complete with chanting, black-robed figures holding smoking candles, human sacrifice, witnessed childbirth, murder, cannibalism and ingenious sexual torture."
bullet The longer that the victim stayed in therapy, the further their mental health seem to decline.

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Interpretations of the Preliminary Study

We conclude that:
bullet No  general conclusions can be reached about recovered memories and recovered memory therapy as a result of this study.
bullet The 670 submitted claims involving repressed memory, and in particular the 325 of the claims which were allowed, represent a valuable source of information about this form of therapy. Much valuable insight could be derived from analysis of these data. It is tragic that no such study is apparently underway.
bullet Conclusions can be reached about recovered memories of SRA, but their reliability is limited by the small sample size.
bullet The vast majority of people who recover SRA memories are white females who enter therapy with no SRA memories, and start to recover them during therapy.
bullet People who recover SRA memories can expect long term therapy, a massive degeneration in mental health, loss of employment; if married, about half will see their marriages disintegrate. (Therapists who believe in the reality of SRA often state that their clients must get worse before they get better; skeptics say that the decline in mental health is due to the memories themselves, which are false.)
bullet Most memory researchers believe events which occurred earlier than 24 months of age cannot be remembered. Yet in the cases cited the average age for the first SRA memory was 7 months. One can safely conclude that the latter at least are false memories (i.e. real-feeling memories of events that never happened).
bullet None of the claims was supported with medical findings; none triggered police investigations
bullet People who recover SRA memories usually blame their family members as perpetrators; they will usually sever contact with their family of origin.

The Compensation Fund recommended that no further reimbursements be made for mental health services that "focus on the recovery of repressed memory." This proposal was approved by the Department of Labor and Industries, effective 1997-JAN-31. At the hearing, Dr. Richard Ofshe, professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, said incredible stories like these are often encouraged by unscrupulous therapists with their own agendas. "The ritualistic satanic abuse - it tells you how wild, how over the top, how incompetent, how reckless these therapists are."

The type of ritual abuse remembered in all but one of these cases were believed to have been perpetrated by underground, inter-generational groups who worship Satan. We have shown that this type of Satanic Ritual Abuse almost certainly does not exist. We expect that:
bullet all of the cases involved false memories,
bullet the therapists involved have inadvertently transmitted their own beliefs to their clients,
bullet none of the ritual abuse actually happened,
bullet the resultant destruction of the client's emotional health and disruptions in family relationships could have been prevented.

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Action Taken, Based on the Preliminary Study

The Washington State Crime Victims Compensation Program held hearings on 1996-NOV-26 to discuss proposed administrative rule amendments. 14 people testified; 49 people made written submissions. New regulations were filed, including the following:

"PROHIBITED TREATMENT: The department will not allow or pay for any therapies which focus on the recovery of repressed memory or recovery of memory which focuses on memories of physically impossible acts, highly improbable acts for which verification should be available, but is not, or unverified memories of acts occurring prior to the age of two.

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  1. Elizabeth Loftus, "Repressed Memory Accusations: Devastated Families and Devastated Patients," Applied Cognitive Psychology, 1997, Vol. 11, Pages 25 to 30.

Copyright 2000 & 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-MAR
Latest update: 2001-NOV-5
Author: B.A. Robinson

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