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Religious Tolerance logo

Recovered memory therapy (RMT)

Statements by professional
organizations, during 1996

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Statements after 1996 are recorded elsewhere

By 1996, widespread recognition of the dangers and ineffectiveness of recovered memory therapy were becoming obvious. "Memory wars" had broken out between many therapists and researchers into human memory processes. RMT was beginning to lose credibility -- a process from which it never recovered.

The American Psychological Association's "Working Group On Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse" issued an a final report on 1996-FEB-14. 1 As expected, the committee was deeply split. They were able to agree that:

  1. Controversies regarding adult recollections should not be allowed to obscure the fact that child sexual abuse is a complex and pervasive problem in America that has historically gone unacknowledged.
  2. Most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them.
  3. It is possible for memories of abuse that have been forgotten for a long time to be remembered.
  4. It is also possible to construct convincing pseudo memories for events that never occurred.
  5. There are gaps in our knowledge about the processes that lead to accurate and inaccurate recollections of childhood abuse.

In the body of the report, the committee recommends that the therapist avoid endorsing "retrievals" (i.e. recovered memories of trauma):

"... as either clearly truthful or clearly confabulated. Instead, the focus should be on aiding the client in developing his or her own sense of what is real and truthful. Clients can be encouraged to search for information that would add to their ability to find themselves credible..., and to carefully weigh the evidence..."

The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Ad Hoc Committee on Adult Delayed Recall prepared a series of recommendations about recovered memories.

Bruce Jancin, writing in the Clinical Psychology News, stated:

"... solid scientific evidence demonstrates that in the absence of third-party corroboration, there is no reliable way to tell real memory from the product of suggestion."
The committee recommended:
bulletThe use of hypnotism, amobarbitol-assisted interviews, or
experiential techniques to recover previously buried traumatic
memories should be viewed as precluding subsequent litigation.
Carefully controlled psychological studies have shown it's all too
easy for therapists using these techniques to implant suggestions that
result in elaborate, believable, but false memories.
bulletPatterns of current symptoms cannot legitimately be used as
evidence for the truth of a memory.
bulletThe forensic evaluator should not be the same person doing the
therapy. The evaluator should look for possible contaminating
influences within the therapy as expressed in the therapist's bias,
ideology, and techniques.
bulletThe litigant's current psychiatric status should be thoroughly
assessed through clinical interviews and standardized scales measuring
symptoms, functioning, hypnotic suggestibility, and dissociability.
Nonspecific terms such as "sexual abuse syndrome" are not acceptable.
bulletThe memories at issue should be subjected to close scrutiny. It is
particularly helpful to document how the memories evolved over time. 2

The Canadian Psychiatric Association approved a position paper for its members in 1996-MAR-25. 3 The report included the following statements concerning the reliability of recovered memories:
bullet"Developmental psychology casts doubt upon the reliability of recovered memories from early childhood."
bullet"Reports of recovered memories of recovered memories from early childhood may be true, but great caution should be exercised before acceptance in the absence of solid corroboration."
bullet"The controversy over recovered memory has been compounded by certain therapists who use a list of symptoms that are said to indicate the likelihood of individuals having been abused. Common symptoms such as depression, anxiety, anorexia or overeating, poorly explained pains, and other bodily complaints have all been used as proof of alleged sexual abuse. There is no support for such propositions."
bullet"Increases in self-injury and suicide attempts have been reported in some patients given recovered-memory treatment".
bullet"Psychiatrists should take particular care, however, to avoid inappropriate use of leading questions, hypnosis, narcoanalysis, or other memory enhancement techniques directed at the production of hypothesized hidden or lost material."

The reference to "early childhood" presumably refers to people who believe that they remember events that occurred before they reached the age of, say, 36 months.

The Association also commented on the widespread disruption to families when recovered memories lead to false accusations of childhood sexual abuse. They warn of therapists being sued for malpractice.


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The Canadian Psychological Association issued a report in late 1996.  They mentioned:
bullet"...there is serious concern that some professionals may unintentionally create false memories of childhood abuse and thus cause harm to both clients and families. "
bullet"...it is important for psychologists to retain a balance in which they recognize that the objective reality of memories of [childhood sexual] abuse may vary considerably.
bullet"...there is no constellation of symptoms which is diagnostic of child sexual abuse." 4


  1. The final report of the American Psychological Association's "Working Group on Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse", issued on 1996-FEB-14.
  2. Bruce Jancin, "Corroborate repressed memories," Clinical Psychology News, 1996-JAN. Summary published at: http://www.fmsfonline.org/
  3. Canadian Psychiatric Association report of 1996. It was reprinted in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 41, No 5, P. 305-306, "Adult Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse" See: http://cpa.medical.org/
  4. Sharon Crozier & Jean Pettifor, "Guidelines for Psychologists Addressing Recovered Memories,", Canadian Psychological Association, 1996-AUG

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

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