Brief overview: more quotations;
what is RMT?; beliefs about RMT.
Skeptical of RMT:
"These therapists are worse than misinformed, poorly-trained
fools. They are dangerous zealots, and they must be stopped."
Unidentified sociology professor. 1
"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
Supportive of RMT:
"...horrific experiences are stored but 'forgotten.' Some of
these memories later return in flashbacks...The body keeps store,
but the brain doesn't always remember." 3 B.A.
Van der Kolk.
"As a therapist, your job is not to be a detective; your job
is not to be a fact-finder; your job is not to be a judge or a jury;
and your job is also not to make the family feel better. Your job is
to help the patient make sense out of her life, make sense out of
her symptoms...and make meaning out of her experience." Judith
What is False Memory Syndrome (FMS) & Recovered Memory Therapy
"False Memory Syndrome" has been defined as:
"An apparent recollection of something that one did
not actually experience, especially sexual abuse during infancy or
childhood, often arising from suggestion implanted during counseling or
False memories are often generated in certain forms of suggestive therapy in
which an attempt is made to recover forgotten or repressed memories.
The conflict overRMT is essentially a conflict between scientific
findings and knowledge based on emotions. Consider the following quotes:
"There is no credible scientific evidence to prove
that repressed memories even exist. And yet they keep
clearing the way for these kinds of trials which have ruined
hundreds, if not thousands, of families."
"It is very painful to me to have anyone, especially
in the mental health community, doubt the existence of repressed
Although evidence of repressed memories, and a mechanism by
which memories can be repressed and recovered, are missing, memories
recovered during suggestive therapy feel like real memories to the RMT
client. To tell them that these memories are false is often perceived as a
accusation that they are lying.
In RMT, the therapist and client concentrate on the recovery of what they
believe to be repressed memories from the past. RMT
is sometimes calledamnesia, betrayal
biological protective processes, cognitive gating, directed forgetting,
dissociation, dissociative amnesia, motivated forgetting, retrieval inhibition, retroactive inhibition,
self-induced hypnotic trance states, suggestion, thought suppression, etc.
Recovered "memories" generally start as images that appear during intense
therapy -- often after months of searching the client's past. Suggestive
techniques like hypnosis, guided imagery, or simply the imagining of abusive
events are often used. These images often later coalesce into what feel like
memories. They appear to both the client and therapist to be accurate
recollections of childhood sexual abuse. Unfortunately, they are almost always
unrelated to actual events in the person's past. Their actual origins appear to
be in nightmares, horror movies, novels, one's imagination, etc.
Most recovered memories emerge during months or years of therapy. A rarer
phenomenon is the surfacing of apparent recollections during self-hypnosis or
during self-help or mutual support groups which focus on recovering memories.
Once these images are created and coalesce into what feels like actual memories
of real events, they are very convincing both to the client and to the
therapist. A Harvard University study in 2004 demonstrated this. It
involved twelve people who had "memories" of having been abducted by LGM
(little green men) and taken onboard UFOs (unidentified flying objects). Such
"memories" are often constructed during recovered memory therapy by
counselors who believe in the widespread nature of UFOs and abusive LGM. The
subjects' reactions to stories of stress and abductions were compared to those
of a twelve person control group made up of individuals who do not claim to have
been abducted. Heart rate, sweat production, facial muscle tension and other
parameters were measured. ABC News reported that:
"The emotional reaction among the abductees soared while
listening to the stories...But it was much weaker while listening to
happy or neutral narratives....The 12 participants who had never been
abducted barely responded to any of the stories."
The lead author in the study, Richard McNally, a clinical
psychologist and professor of psychology, said: "The [abducted] person
really believes something happened. But that doesn't necessarily mean it
Beliefs about RMT:
Pamela Freyd, Executive Director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation
summarized current scientific evidence concerning repressed and recovered
memory. She draws three conclusions:
People remember horrific experiences all too well. Victims are seldom incapable
of remembering their trauma.
People sometimes do not think about disturbing events for long periods of time,
only to be reminded of them later. However, events that are experiences as
overwhelmingly traumatic at the time of their occurrence rarely slip from
There is no reason to postulate a special mechanism of repression or
dissociation to explain why people may not think about disturbing experiences
for long periods. A failure to think about something does not entail an
inability to remember it (amnesia). 7
Beliefs about RMT have seriously divided professional associations, such as the
American Psychiatric Association, and American Psychological
Some clinicians still believe that recovered memories are accurate recollections
of long repressed abusive events.
Essentially all memory researchers and many clinicians now believe that images
of abuse recovered during RMT are rarely related to real events.
Authors Pezdek and Banks have referred to the RMT controversy as close to "religious
war." 8 It certainly has some of the features that are
often found in many inter-religious conflicts: extreme hatred, vilification of
the opposing side, and beliefs which rely on faith rather than hard data.
Belief in the reliability of recovered memories appears to have peaked in the
early 1990s, and is now in rapid decline. It has left a trail of hundreds of
thousands of damaged lives, among both victims of this experimental and
dangerous therapy and among their families of origin. It has triggered many
suicides. A small percentage of therapy victims have realized that their
recovered memories are of events that never happened, and have been able to
reunite with their families of origin. Family reunification has not been
possible for most. 9