Recovered memory therapy (RMT)
Statements by professional
organizations, 2001 to now
On 2001-JUN-14, the American Psychological Society awarded the
William James Fellow Award to Elizabeth Loftus, who holds the title of
distinguished professor of
psychology at the University of California, Irvine. She is a Fellow of the
Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal. In
"the Review of General Psychology ranked her 58th among the
top 100 psychologists of the 20th century. The list includes such
luminaries as Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner. Loftus was the top-ranked
woman on the list. She also ranked among the 25 psychologists most
frequently cited in introductory psychology textbooks." 1
The award citation said, in part:
"Elizabeth Loftus is an example of the rare scientist who is
instrumental both in advancing a scientific discipline and in using that
discipline to make critical contributions to society..."
"Over the past 15 years, Dr. Loftus's attention has turned to a
related but considerably more controversial issue, that of the validity of
"recovered memories" of childhood abuse.
result of her pioneering scientific work as well as her activity within the
legal system, society is gradually coming to realize that such memories,
compelling though they may seem when related by a witness, are often a
product of recent reconstructive memory processes rather than of past
"In bringing to light these facts of memory, Dr. Loftus has joined the
ranks of other scientists, past and present, who have had the courage,
inspiration, and inner strength to weather the widespread scorn and
oppression that unfortunately but inevitably accompanies clear and
compelling scientific data that have the effrontery to fly in the face of
dearly held beliefs." 2 (Emphasis ours).
The College of Physician and Surgeons of British Columbia is the
licensing and regulatory body for doctors and psychiatrists in British Columbia,
Canada. They included the following passage n a letter to Mr. Lloyd Corney, a
member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation member in BC:
"Recovered memory therapy at one point, some years ago, was promoted by
as a diagnostic and treatment tool and as a model for explaining certain
clinical presentations. Subsequently, the abuse of these theories and their
misapplication, the results of which you are obviously fully aware of,
caused this treatment to be questioned and, in fact, caused it to fall into
On 2004-JAN-27, Netherlands Health Council's
commission on Disputed Memories
issued a report on the dangers of RMT. This was partly in response to
work by the Work Group Fictive Memories, led by Jan Buys.
4 The report:
||States that there now exists a broad recognition
that incest memories may:|
||"Arise during hazardous therapies,"
especially with vulnerable patients, and
||Bring harm to such patients and their parents.
Advises therapists not to conclude a history of
trauma on the basis of symptoms only.|
||Affirms that therapists acting as expert witnesses
should refrain from making definite statements during criminal or civil
cases as to the reliability of a patient's testimony.|
||Directs the relevant profesional bodies to set firm
guidelines for safe practice.|
Urges the minister of Health to see that the
recommenrations of the report are carried out. 5
Unfortunately, the report made no recommendations about:
||How to help ex-patients who recovered memories of
events that never happened -- largely memories of incest, and
||How to handle parents who have been wrongfully
convicted in recent decades for events that never happened.
Richard McNally's book "Remembering Trauma" is published. It described the
"memory wars" between believers in, and critics, of RMT. Scientific American's
book review states:
"McNally quickly summarizes the history of the repressed-memory debate to
help readers frame the science he later presents. The issue first became big in
the 1980s, when therapists began to diagnose sufferers of depression and other
mental health problems as victims of childhood sexual abuse, the memories of
which were said to be repressed as a defense mechanism against reliving the
Reports of recovered memories of sexual abuse peaked in the mid- to late 1990s
and were followed by a backlash from accused family members who denounced what
they called false-memory syndrome. Practitioners of recovered-memory therapy
defended their methods, even as some patients retracted their claims of abuse
and sued their former therapists.
At the same time, extensive clinical research on the nature of memory and trauma
was being conducted. Indeed, McNally?s analysis of it makes up the bulk of the
book. From simple word memorization experiments in the laboratory to interviews
with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the author
summarizes dozens of studies while providing clear explanations of psychological
concepts and expert insight into the strengths and limitations of the findings.
The overwhelming evidence leads him to conclude that people do not forget
experiences that were truly traumatic. Although some victims can go for long
periods without thinking of past events, this should not be confused with an
inability to remember their ordeals. Even though at times McNally may
overgeneralize, he ultimately debunks theories of repressed memory and the
'trauma industry' that has sprouted to cater to this purported condition." 6
The British Psychological Society Research Board published "Guidelines
on Memory and the Law: Recommendations from the Scientific Study
of Human Memory." They report:
"The study of human memory has made considerable advances in recent decades
and we now have a much stronger and empirically informed understanding of
memory. Current theoretical thinking is at a stage that supports probabilistic
but not absolute statements." 7
They report some "key points:"
||Memories are records of people?s experiences of events and are not a
record of the events themselves. In this respect, they are unlike other
recording media such as videos or audio recordings, to which they should not
||Memory is not only of experienced events but it is also of the knowledge
of a person?s life, i.e. schools, occupations, holidays, friends, homes,
achievements, failures, etc. As a general rule memory is more likely to be
accurate when it is of the knowledge of a person?s life than when it is of
specific experienced events.
||Remembering is a constructive process. Memories are mental constructions
that bring together different types of knowledge in an act of remembering. As
a consequence, memory is prone to error and is easily influenced by the recall
environment, including police interviews and cross-examination in court.
||Memories for experienced events are always incomplete. Memories are
time-compressed fragmentary records of experience. Any account of a memory
will feature forgotten details and gaps, and this must not be taken as any
sort of indicator of accuracy. Accounts of memories that do not feature
forgetting and gaps are highly unusual.
||Memories typically contain only a few highly specific details. Detailed
recollection of the specific time and date of experiences is normally poor, as
is highly specific information such as the precise recall of spoken
conversations. As a general rule, a high degree of very specific detail in a
long-term memory is unusual.
||Recall of a single or several highly specific details does not guarantee
that a memory is accurate or even that it actually occurred. In general, the
only way to establish the truth of a memory is with independent corroborating
||The content of memories arises from an individual?s comprehension of an
experience, both conscious and non-conscious. This content can be further
modified and changed by subsequent recall.
||People can remember events that they have not in reality experienced. This
does not necessarily entail deliberate deception. For example, an event that
was imagined, was a blend of a number of different events, or that makes
personal sense for some other reason, can come to be genuinely experienced as
a memory, (these are often referred to as ?confabulations?).
||Memories for traumatic experiences, childhood events, interview and
identification practices, memory in younger children and older adults and
other vulnerable groups all have special features. These are features that are
unlikely to be commonly known by a non-expert, but about which an appropriate
memory expert will be able to advise a court.
A memory expert is a person who is recognized by the memory research
community to be a memory researcher. It is recommended that, in addition to
current requirements, those acting as memory expert witnesses be required to
submit their full curriculum vitae to the court as evidence of their
Gary Robbins, "Renowned psychologist joins UCI," The Orange County
Elizabeth Loftus, "When Scientific Evidence Is the Enemy," The
Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 25, No. 6 2001-NOV/DEC, Pages 14 & 15.
"News from Canada," False Memory Syndrome Foundation newsletter,
2003-JUL/AUG, Volume 12, #3. Online at:
"Werkgroep Fictieve Herinneringen," at:
the Dutch language).
"The report 'Disputed Memories' recognizes and provides solutions for
the problems caused by false incest memories," Press release by Work
Group Fictive Memories, 2004-JAN-27. (Also in Dutch; translation by
"Guidelines on Memory and the Law: Recommendations from the
Scientific Study of Human Memory." British Psychological Society
Research Board, 2008-JUN, at:
Richard J. McNally, "Remembering Trauma," Belknap Press, (2005).
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2009-AUG-20
Prepared by: B.A. Robinson