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Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT)

Brief history & current status

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Brief history of RMT:

Even though the efficacy and safety of RMT had never been evaluated, it was enthusiastically embraced by tens of thousands of therapists during the 1980s and early 1990s.  It was only in the late 1990s that a near consensus emerged that most of the "memories" created by this experimental were unrelated to real events, and that RMT indirectly causes massive harm to the clients and their families of origin.

The potential for injury  to patient/clients and their families of origin is particularly serious, because these recollections often involved childhood sexual abuse. The life of the client often becomes focused on the alleged abuse. Tens of thousands of American families, and thousands of Canadian families are often devastated by the allegations. However, it can get worse. About 17% of clients progress to the next level of horror. They develop recovered memories of childhood ritual abuse, and of Satanic ritual abuse. These memories often resulted in major emotional disability as the client becomes unable to function as a friend, spouse, parent or worker.

Massive financial judgments arising from lawsuits against recovered memory therapists have persuaded most to abandon this form of therapy. However, some recovered memory therapy (RMT) still goes on. The mental health of clients and their families of origin continue to be destroyed, but at a diminished rate.

During the year 2002, at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, a team of panelists declared the RMT controversy dead. But they said that psychiatrists still need to help the main victims of RMT: those falsely accused of heinous crimes which never happened. 1

Elizabeth F. Loftus & Deborah Davis wrote:

"While much of the public now thinks that the repressed memory carnage is over, in fact, it is not. The number of new cases has dramatically declined and numerous alleged victims have recanted their accusations or reestablished ties without saying they were wrong. However, many of the afflicted families are still estranged, many proponents of repressed-memory therapy remain angry, and more than a few innocent people remain imprisoned, convicted of crimes that did not occur. Legal cases involving testimony about repressed memories continue to wreak havoc on the lives, emotions and bank accounts of hundreds of individuals." 2

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) commented in 2003-JAN:

"Almost all introductory psychology textbooks include a section on false memories. Scholarly articles and media documentaries about false memories are readily available. Only a few new families contact the FMSF with reports of recent accusations, and many families are now concerned with reconciliation or exoneration." 3

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Current status of RMT:

Opinions of the validity of these "memories" vary:

bulletEssentially all memory researchers, all of the major mental health therapists' associations, and most therapists now believe that the "memories" are images created during therapy which are generally unrelated to past events. They are often called "false memories." Recovered memory therapy is an effective way of transferring the general abuse beliefs of therapists into their clients' thought processes without either being aware of the process. The "memories" are as close to representing real events in the past as are nightmares. 
bulletA small minority of therapists still view recovered memories as actual, accurate recollections of real events from the past, the memory of which had been repressed. They believe that if a client has what appears to be a memory, that it must be substantially accurate.
bulletA small percentage of victims of RMT have been able to reunite with their families. "C.J." is one. She has allowed her letter of apology and explanation to be published on the Internet. 4

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  1. Steve Perlstein, "Recovered memory dead, not gone, panel says," Clinical Psychiatry News, 2002-AUG-01, Page 26.
  2. Elizabeth F. Loftus & Deborah Davis, "Dispatch From the Repressed-Memory Legal Front," Psychiatric Times, Vol. XIX Issue 4, (2002-APR), at: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/
  3. FMS Foundation Newsletter, Volume 12, #1, 2003-JAN/FEB.
  4. "A Daughter Returns," Impact newsletter, 2003-OCT, at: http://www.angryparents.net/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-NOV-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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