What is False Memory Syndrome (FMS) & Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT):
"False Memory Syndrome" has been defined as:
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 over RMT is essentially a conflict between scientific findings and knowledge based on emotions. Consider the following quotes:
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 called amnesia, betrayal trauma, 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 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 did." 6
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:
Beliefs about RMT have seriously divided professional associations, such as the American Psychiatric Association, and American Psychological Association.
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
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Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance