Recovered memory therapy (RMT)
Statements by professional
organizations, during 1996
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.
expected, the committee was deeply split. They were able to agree that:
- 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.
- Most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened
- It is possible for memories of abuse that have been forgotten for a long time to be
- It is also possible to construct convincing pseudo memories for events that never
- 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
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:
||The 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.
||Patterns of current symptoms cannot legitimately be used as
evidence for the truth of a memory.
||The 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.
||The 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.
The memories at issue should be subjected to close scrutiny. It is
particularly helpful to document how the memories evolved over time.
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:
||"Developmental psychology casts doubt upon the reliability of recovered memories
from early childhood."
||"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
"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."
||"Increases in self-injury and suicide attempts have been reported in some
patients given recovered-memory treatment".
"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
The Canadian Psychological Association issued a report in late 1996.
||"...there is serious concern that some professionals may unintentionally create
false memories of childhood abuse and thus cause harm to both clients and families. "
||"...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
"...there is no constellation of symptoms which is diagnostic of child sexual
The final report of the American Psychological Association's "Working
Group on Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse", issued on
Bruce Jancin, "Corroborate repressed memories," Clinical Psychology
News, 1996-JAN. Summary published at:
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:
Sharon Crozier & Jean Pettifor, "Guidelines for Psychologists Addressing
Recovered Memories,", Canadian Psychological Association,
Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2009-AUG-20
Prepared by: B.A. Robinson