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Recovered memory therapy (RMT)

Statements by professional
organizations, 1998 to 2000

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Statements after 2000 are recorded elsewhere

1998: Canada:

The Canadian Psychological Association passed the following resolution in 1998-JUN:

"The Canadian Psychological Association recognizes the very serious concern of child abuse and child sexual abuse in our society. The Canadian Psychological Association also recognizes that justice may not have been served in cases where people have been convicted of offences based solely upon 'repressed' or 'recovered' memories of abuse, without further corroborative evidence that the abuse in fact occurred. Developments in the state of our knowledge about repressed or recovered memories suggest that such memories, if they exist, may not be sufficiently reliable to serve as the sole basis for a criminal conviction. To the extent that some people may have been convicted of offences based solely upon the testimony of people's recovered memories, the Canadian Psychological Association urges the Minister of Justice to conduct a special inquiry into this category of convictions." 1

The Justice Department was in a conflict of interest situation. If it reviews these cases, the only ethical course of action would be to free those convicted by recovered memories. But to do so would admit that the court system in Canada has deeply flawed, and has allowed junk science to be used to convict innocent people. It is less painful for the government to do nothing and let the innocent rot in jail. They took the less painful route.

1998: Massachusetts:

I600 psychiatrists registered in Massachusetts were surveyed for their beliefs related to false memory therapy. 154 responded. Only 69% of the respondents agreed with the statement: "The numbers of false accusations of childhood sexual abuse, appearing to emerge from the psychotherapy of adults, constitute a real problem needing public acknowledgment as such by the mental health professions." However, there were a minority of therapists who still held ideas commonly found in recovered memory therapy:

bullet36% believed in the therapeutic value of abreaction -- the emotional discharge of unconscious material (as a repressed idea or emotion) in the presence of a therapist.
 
bullet26% would refer presumed survivors of abuse to specialists in incest recovery.
 
bullet18% believed in ritual abuse as an important cause of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative disorders.
 
bullet18% trusted symptom checklists as indicators of sexual abuse histories.
 
bullet15% believed that memory is a complete record of the individual's history.

On the order of 6% to 8% of the respondents endorsed:
 
bulletThe use of hypnosis to gain access to repressed memories of childhood abuse.
 
bulletPatient confrontation of alleged abusers.
 
bulletRecommending the severing of contacts with skeptical family members. 2

What is particularly alarming is that these data were collected from psychiatrists -- typically the mental health therapists with the greatest academic background. One wonders what social workers, church counselors, clergy etc. believe and practice. 

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2000: USA:

The American Psychiatric Association replaced its 1993 position statement on therapies focused on memories of childhood abuse. Some points raised in their 2000-MAR/MAY statement are:

bullet"Some therapeutic approaches attempt specially to elicit memories of childhood abuse...The validity of such therapies has been challenged. Some patients...have later recanted their claims of recovered memories of abuse and accused their therapists of leading or pressuring them into such ideas."
 
bullet"No specific unique symptom profile has been identified that necessarily correlates with abuse experiences."
 
bullet"...psychiatrists should refrain from making public statements about the historical accuracy of individual patients' uncorroborated reports of new memories based on observations made in psychotherapy." 3

[Author's thoughts: Surprisingly, the APA talks only about memories being distorted and inaccurate. It does not address the possibility of images of events that never happened coalescing and appearing like memories to the client. They don't acknowledge that therapy might produce a "memory" that is totally unrelated to past events. The patient of a psychiatrist who follows the APA guidelines might conclude that their recovered memory of child abuse was at least partly true. They might be led to believe that that their parents grossly abused them as children. The APA's statement seems to have no room at all for a totally false, recovered memory. That was a strange oversight at this stage in the "memory wars," and one which probably caused much subsequent suffering by clients and their families of origin.]

References:

  1. Peter Suedfeld, Letter to the editor of the National Post, 2001-JUN-19. Suedfeld was the past president of the Canadian Psychological Association.
  2. Elizabeth A. Feigon & Joseph de Rivera, " 'Recovered-memory' therapy: Profession at a turning point," Comprehensive Psychiatry,
    Volume 39, Issue 6, 1998-NOV/DEC, Pages 338-344.
  3. "Therapies focused on memories of childhood physical and sexual abuse," 2000-JUN, at: http://www.psych.org/public_info/ A free Adobe Acrobat reader is required for viewing.

Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2009-AUG-20
Prepared by: B.A. Robinson

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