"...I was able to figure out the so called 'recovered
memories' were nothing more then visualizations from suggestions, guided
imagery, therapist interpreted dreams, and hypnosis. You had nothing to do
with my figuring out what was happening to me." From a letter by Deborah
David to Dr. Colin Ross, a RMT and Multiple Personality Disorder therapist.
A typical course of therapy, as experienced by "Retractors,
Returners and Refusers:"
Tens or hundreds of thousands of individuals, mainly during
the late 1980s and 1990s, underwent recovered memory therapy (RMT). They
typically went through a number of stages:
They experienced one or more emotional problems, such as
anxiety, depression, insomnia, relationship problems, eating disorders,
They selected a psychologist, psychiatrist or other
therapist who used RMT techniques.
The therapist would often use a checklist of symptoms
which allegedly indicated that the client had been the victim of serious
abuse of which the memories had been repressed. None of these checklists
had ever been verified in a study. They were so generally worded that
almost every client would get sufficient points to indicate that they had been
victimized in the past.
The focus of the therapy was on recovering abuse memories
which the therapist believed had been repressed. Little or no effort was
made to treat the client's presenting problems.
As a result of hypnosis, guided imagery, relaxation
exercises, dream analysis,
or merely imagining what might have happened to them, the therapist's
beliefs were transferred to the client without either being aware of the
If the therapists believed in widespread sexual abuse of
children, the client grew to believe it as well. If the therapist believed
that society was rife with inter-generational, underground, cult members
who practiced Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), the client gradually accepted
SRA as a serious social problem. So too with therapists who believed in
abuse onboard UFOs, or abuse in former lifetimes.
More therapy led to a conviction by the patient that they
had themselves suffered sexual abuse (or SRA, or UFO abuse, or abuse in a
former lifetime) and had repressed the memories.
The therapist might recommend that the client read a book
on recovered memories. "The Courage to Heal" is by far the most
popular book in this genre.
The client might be encouraged to join a self-help, mutual
support group of clients who are at various stages in their "memory"
The client is urged to look upon their childhood years
Gradually, fragmentary images of abuse formed in their
mind. These gradually coalesced into images that appeared
indistinguishable from actual memories. Their emotional state degenerated.
In most cases, the abuse "memories" showed that their
father was the perpetrator, perhaps with the acquiescence or actual
involvement of their mother.
They were urged to break all contact with their parents.
The therapist recommended that the client drop any friends who were not
supportive of RMT. This left the client totally dependent on the therapist
and other RMT believers for emotional support.
Frequently, their siblings felt that they had to choose
sides: some supported their parents; others supported the client.
Many therapists arranged for both clients and parents to
meet in a joint therapy session. This would often be the first time that
the parents would hear of the accusations.
Beyond this point, most of the clients followed one of
three paths. They became a:
Retractor: They recognized that their "memories"
were unrelated to real events, and attempted to rejoin their family of
Returner: They attempted to rejoin their family,
while still believing in the validity of their recovered abuse memories.
They family agreed to not discuss the memories and accusations.
Refuser: They continued to believe in the
accuracy of their recovered memories and continued to have no contact
with the alleged perpetrators.
About retractors, returners and refusers:
Little is known about the factors that cause survivors of
RMT to select one of these three paths. The False Memory Syndrome
Foundation has concluded a study of the over 10,000 parents who have
contacted the Foundation. Data is currently embargoed pending the
publishing of their report in a peer-reviewed journal. However, a few study
results have been released:
"The positions of families on the topic of
reconciliation span a continuum, and individual families may bounce back
and forth with time."
Most families of origin are unanimous in their desire for
More families of returners and retractors:
Had someone acting as a mediator.
Had no legal action taken against them.
Confronted their alleged perpetrators in a therapy
Had some family members supporting their position.
Were told by their therapists to break contact with the
Actually had no contact with their family.
Had their alleged abuse known to the pubic.
The mean age of the client at the time they made their
first accusation was 32 years.
The mean age of the earliest alleged abuse was four. Thus,
much of the abuse allegedly happened during the time of childhood amnesia,
at a time when most experts believe memories are impossible for an infant or young
child to retain. 2