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At a year 2002 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, a team of panelists declared the RMT controversy dead. But they said that psychiatry still had more work to do to pick up the pieces of this worthless and dangerous therapy which has ruined so many lifes. 1

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The accused as victims:

Dr. Harold I. Lief, professor emeritus of psychiatry, at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, PA, noted that an adult child's accusations of sexual abuse, which is normally alleged to have happened decades previously, placed a crushing emotional burden on the families involved. He said: "The shock is just enormous, and the re actions are tremendous confusion and anger." The average age of accusers in recovered memory cases was 33 years. Since the father or both parents are most often accused, they would typically be in their late 50's or older. From among the many tens of thousands of such accusations, there are many anecdotal stories of parents experiencing a steep decline in health and even premature death shortly after being accused. This coupled with the high suicide rate among clients of RMT therapist has left a trail of dead bodies as the most serious legacy of the RMT period.

Dr. Lief has researched accusers in recovered memory cases. He found:

bulletMost were women.
bullet"Refusers" -- those who have continued to isolate themselves from their families of origin -- total about 56% of all cases.
bullet"Returners" -- those who have reestablished relations with their families without admitting that their claims were false -- total about 36%. On average, there was a six year interval between the accusations and the first return contact. In one case, it took 20 years. About 80% of the returners never discuss the allegations with their family.
bullet"Retractors" -- those who admitted that their past accusations were false and attempted to reconcile with their families total only about 8% of all cases. The time interval in their cases averaged 4.9 years, but was 14 years in one case.

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The RMT clients as victims:

In about 17% of cases, recovered memories of sexual abuse evolved into recollections of ritual abuse or Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). A very small study was conducted by the Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington. The lives of 30 clients were randomly selected from 183 RMT clients who recovered "memories" of SRA. They found that most experienced self-mutilation, suicidal ideation, unemployment, separation or divorce, and estrangement from their family of origin. Most recovered memories of birth of infant cannibalism, being tormented with spiders, and being tortured or mutilated generally. Many of the memories involve "fantastic nighttime rituals complete with chanting, black-robed figures holding smoking candles, human sacrifice, witnessed childbirth, murder, cannibalism and ingenious sexual torture." The longer that the victim stayed in therapy, the further their mental health seem to decline.

Fortunately, most client victims of RMT do not recover "memories" of SRA; their "memories" typically involve sexual and physical abuse. Such memories, do not generally cause as serious a degeneration in the client's mental health as do recollections of SRA.

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The insurance companies as victims:

There has been at least one insurance claim in excess of 10 million dollars. There have been many multi-million dollar settlements or court orders. In almost all cases, the RMT practitioners were found guilty of implanting memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse in the minds of their clients. Although inconvenient, these massive claims have not proven disastrous to the insurance companies. They simply increased future malpractice insurance premiums to all therapists. The latter, in turn, simply passed the additional costs on to their clients or the clients' insurance companies.

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The entire population as victims:

During the interval from 1980 to about 1995, when the public was fed a steady diet of myths about physical, sexual and ritual abuse at day care centers and false accusations of horrendous child abuse by parents, many North Americans concluded, incorrectly, that society was much more evil, abusive, scary, and violent than they had originally realized. This must have had a negative effect on the general level of mental health of the population. We have not been able to find any data on this topic, however.

Perhaps the more serious problem is the lack of faith by the public towards psychiatrists, psychologists and other therapists. Many are reluctant to seek help for emotional and mental problems.

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The future:

Almost all therapists and counselors have now abandoned RMT therapy. It resurfaces from time to time, as in its transformation into Theophostic Counseling. Some abuse accusations against Roman Catholic priests are based on allegedly recovered memories of molestation that date back decades. Most of the accusations against priests are by victims with continuous memories; however, some are claiming that their memories of the abuse were recently recovered during therapy.

Many former RMT therapists and counselors are now engaged in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, in which emotional disorders are cured by having the patient watch the finger of the therapist being waved in front of their eyes. 2 Studies of EMDR have indicated that the therapeutic technique is useless, except for its placebo effect. A client with an empathic therapist who clearly cares for them will often feel better afterwards. 

Other therapists and counselors have taken up Thought Field Therapy (TFT) which attributes emotional problems to blockages in energy fields within he body. Pseudo-scientists often talk about energy fields or power centers in the body that cannot be detected by any instruments known to humanity. "In order to correct these perturbations, clients are directed by the TFT therapist to tap on the body's 'energy meridians' in specific sequences, called 'algorithms,' which vary based on the particular problem being treated. For example, the client may be instructed to tap at the corner of the eyebrow five times and then continue tapping on other parts of the body in a specific sequence as instructed by the therapist. In addition, the clients are told to roll their eyes, count, and hum a few bars of a song at various points during the treatment." 3

Fortunately, these treatment methods seem to have little opportunity to seriously damage the client, except financially. It will probably take another decade before these therapies are finally accepted as useless. We hope that EMDR and TFT are around for a long time, because the new untried, experimental therapies that replace them may have greater potential to injure clients.

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  1. Steve Perlstein, "Recovered memory dead, not gone, panel says," Clinical Psychiatry News, 2002-AUG-01, Page 26.
  2. Scott Lilienfeld, "EMDR Treatment: Less than meets the eye," Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 20, #1, 1996-JAN-FEB.
  3. Brandon Gaudiano & James Herbert, "Can We Really Tap Our Problems Away?: A Critical Analysis of Thought Field Therapy," Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 24, #4, 2000-JUL-AUG. Online at: http://www.csicop.org/si/2000-07/thought-field-therapy.html

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Copyright © 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-8
Latest update: 2002-SEP-8
Author: B.A. Robinson

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