False Memory Syndrome
Paul G. Durbin
Diretor of Pastoral Care. Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital.
New Orleans, La.
Dr. John F. Kihlstrom, Ph.D.
describes the False Memory Syndrome as a condition that results
when the memory is distorted or confabulated so that a person's
identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around
a memory of a traumatic experience or experiences which are
false but in which the person strongly believes. The syndrome
is diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it
orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle
and disrupting adaptive behaviors. The False Memory Syndrome
is especially destructive because the person stubbornly refuses
to accept any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus
it takes on a life of its own which is resistant to any effort
to discover the truth. The person may become so focused on
the memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from
coping with the real problems in his or her life.
Beware of false memories:
We have one mind
but two parts: the conscious and subconscious. The conscious
and subconscious parts of the mind can be compared to an iceberg.
The portion of the iceberg above the surface of the water
is the conscious portion and the ice beneath the water is
the subconscious portion. The conscious portion consist of
about 10% of our thinking ability and the subconscious consist
of about 90%. Our conscious mind consist of what is available
to our conscious thinking process. It is the analytical, rational,
logical, two plus two is four part of the mind. The subconscious
is not logical and it contains our emotions, habits, automatic
responses, feelings, instincts, impressions and much of our
memory. In regards to memory; a thought, image, idea whether
real or not repeated often enough or when emotionally charged
becomes like a real memory to the subconscious mind.
Some therapist believe that
childhood sexual abuse is the specific cause of numerous physical
and mental problems which emerge in adulthood. Regardless
of the problem, these therapist will began to look for and
search for sexual abuse. These therapists are not discouraged
to find that the client may not remember any sexual abuse
in her history. If given time, they will help client find
the memories. I use the female pronoun because of the thousands
of patients of Recovered Memory Therapy most are women. These
therapists believe that children immediately repress all memory
of sexual abuse shortly after it occurs so that it is not
available to conscious awareness until it comes forth in therapy.
I believe that some sexual abuse is repressed, but I am convinced
that generally it is a single event or perhaps a number of
events that happen very early in life. I do not believe that
a person can be repeated abused over many years including
teen years and not remember it.
A few years ago, a woman come
to me stating that she had been to a psychiatrist who regressed
her back to a supposed sexual molestation by her father. She
was considering confronting her father and accusing him of
sexual abuse when she was a little girl. Before doing confronting
her father, she wanted a second opinion. Before Recovered
Memory Therapy, she had no memory of abuse and had always
felt very close to her father and was never consciously afraid
of him. She had experience a proper and appropriate amount
of affection from her father and in spite of her supposed
'recovered memory' loved him very much.
During a regression, I asked
her to go back to any experience in her past that could clarify
her situation in relation to her father. She went back to
a situation that occurred when she was three years old and
continued on and off for about two years. She used to like
to have her dad rock her on his foot which she called, "riding
the horsey." An activity that many small children enjoy
without any sexual content. During this time of play, she
experienced sexual pleasure and orgasms. Of the first time
she experienced sexual pleasure, she said in a childlike voice,
"Daddy is holding my hands while I ride the horsey and
it feels good between my legs. Something is happening, if
feels so good, but I don't understand. The good feeling is
coming form where I pee pee."
I asked her, "Is there
anyone else in the room with you and your father? She replied,
"Yes, my mama and my brother and when I get through riding
the horsey, my brother can ride." From this regression,
it appears that her father was totally innocent of any abuse
and was just playing a normal child's game with his daughter
the same way that he played with her older brother who wanted
to "ride the horsey."
Following that session, I began
to read everything I could on the False Memory Syndrome. I
decided that I would prepare a seminar and write an article
on "Beware of False Memories" I did this because
of the pain and harm that Recovered Memory Therapy was inflecting
on clients and their families. Aging parents accused of sexual
abuse were often being sued by their adult children because
of "recovered memory" without any verification of
the reality of their abuse.
Beware of false memories
because of the trauma
caused to the client who experiences these false memories.
Beware of false memories because of the hurt and pain
experienced by parents who are accused. Beware of false
memories because of the damage to families that results
from false memories. Beware of false memories for your
own well-being. Many families and retractors (individuals
who experienced false memories and are now refuting those
memories) are suing the therapist who developed the false
A few years ago, a new therapy
system referred to as "Recovered Memory Therapy"
caught on with many professional therapist to include psychiatrist,
psychologist, social workers, ministers, counselors, and hypnotherapist.
In this group, I do not include those who use hypnosis and
other counseling techniques to discover past history that
might contribute to a present day problem and use it to help
the person live better today without destruction of others.
I do not included those therapist who work with individuals
who have always remembered that they were sexually abused
and are working in the here and now to overcome any problems
initiated by that abuse.
I am including those therapist
who plant false memories and encourage their clients to confront,
hate, break with and sue parents for something that may or
may not have happened years ago. These therapist generally
believe that just about any adult problem is caused by sexual
abuse and this is especially true of women. For example all
women with eating problems were sexually abused as a child
whether they remember it or not. In all my reading, I did
not find this to be as assumption for men with eating disorders.
Based upon my finding and interpretation of those finding,
I consider Recovered Memory Therapy to be based on bad assumptions
and the results is bad therapy.
From books and other materials
which I have read, a pattern tends to occur with striking
frequency. These sessions began with a client coming to the
therapist with a presenting problem other than sexual abuse.
Regardless of the presenting problem, the therapist tends
to assume that if a person has certain symptoms that is proof
of childhood sexual abuse. The abuser is usually assumed to
be the father and/or perhaps the grandfather, and may also
include the mother and grandmother well as others. The symptoms
that indicate that the person has experienced sexual abuse
includes but is not limited to eating disorders, headaches,
vaginal infections, sleep disorders, stomachaches, dizziness,
problems maintaining stable relationships, warring baggy clothes,
obesity, depression, or low self-esteem. Anyone may face one
or more of these symptoms during their life time, but the
Recovered Memory Therapist acknowledge only one cause: repressed
memories of childhood abuse.
With this motivation, the therapist
next step is to convince the client that she was abused whether
she can remember abuse or not. If the client says she was
not abused, the therapist will often respond that the denial
is another proof of her childhood sexual abuse. It is similar
to the witch trails at Salem. Those suspected of being witches
were thrown into a pond. If they floated they were guilty
and burned. If they sank, they were innocent but dead.
The client is told that only
by believing in the sexual abuse and recovering memories of
abuse can she be healed. Whether the clients accepts the diagnosis
or continues to deny, they are are often encouraged to read
one of the so-called survivor's books like The Courage
to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal Workbook
by Laura Davis, Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest and
Its Aftereffect in Women by E. Sue Blume, The Emotional
Incest Syndrome by Patrica Love, Repressed Memories:
A Journey to Recovery Sexual Abuse by Rene Fredrickson,
and The Sexual Healing Journal: A guide for Survivors of
Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz and a host of other survivor
Once the client is convinced
that her problems can be cured by remembering childhood memories
of abuse, the therapist uses a variety of techniques to help
the client uncovered repressed memories. Among these techniques
used are hypnosis, sodium amytal, guided imagery, age regression,
progressive relaxation with suggestions, trance writing, body
memory group survivors work and many other such therapies
to get to the so-called repressed memories. As a certified
clinical hypnotherapist, I use most of these technique. Except
for sodium amythal, it is not the technique that I have problems
with, but with the way it is used or rather misused.
Among many stories told by
Eileen Franklin of how she recovered memories of her father,
George, raping and killing her friend years before was from
a flashback. She told her brother that she recalled the incident
while under hypnosis. She told her sister that the she became
aware of the killings from a dream. At her fathers trail,
she told the jury that she had remembered the murder during
a flashback triggered by when looking at her own daughter's
face. Based upon Eileen testimony of the recovered memory,
George was convicted of murder and sent to jail.
Recovered Memory Therapy is
bad therapy because it makes assumptions that are not valid,
it rewrites a persons history with very painful results, it
makes the client very dependent on the therapist, separates
clients from their natural families, it causes the client
to induce some very emotionally painful experiences which
comes only from the imagination and quite often makes the
client worse instead of better.
Perhaps nothing fueled the
flames of the fires of recovered memory therapy as much as
the books by survivors mentioned above. Do these books provide
good advice to help women recover memories or do they tend
to implant memories? During the twentieth century, few books
have done more harm than the Bass and Davis book The Courage
to Heal which is considered the bible of the Recovered
Memory Therapy movement. Early in the book the claim is made
"If you are unable to remember any specific instances
like the ones mentioned above and still have a feeling that
something abusive happened to you, it probably did."
The book continues "Often the knowledge that you were
abused starts with a tiny feeling, an intuition... Assume
your feelings are valid." Another statement to prepare
the soil of the mind for implanted memories is "If you
have unfamiliar or uncomfortable feelings as you read this
book, don't be alarmed. Strong feelings are part of the healing
process. On the other hand, if you breeze through these chapters,
you probably aren't feeling safe enough to confront these
issues. Or you may be coping with the book the same way you
coped with abuse - by separating your intellect from your
feeling." They have got you whether you are feeling uncomfortable
or if you are feeling nothing. Either way the authors assumes
that you were sexually abused and they will go to any lengths
to recover the memories without regards to the truth.
The authors encourages women
to separate themselves from their "family of origin",
to sue their parents, to disassociate with anyone who does
not support their claims and hate those who they discovered
abused them. The book tells of one woman who claims that she
was abused by her grandfather went to his deathbed and , in
front of all the other relatives, angrily confronted him right
there in the hospital. Forgiveness may be considered, but
is not encouraged and in fact is discouraged.
I believe that forgiveness
can contribute much to healing. Habitual grudges, resentment,
smoldering rage, the war within plays havoc with our health
and well-being and weakens our resistance to disease and/or
emotional illness. We need to forgive those who have harmed
us. That does not mean that we condone what they did nor do
we need to have a close relationship to that person. By forgiving
them, we release ourselves from the power that they hold over
us. We need to forgive even when the person who has harmed
us do not ask for nor deserves our forgiveness. Whether the
person is living or dead, we need to forgive in order to free
ourselves from the power that person has over us. This is
true regardless of what has happened to us including sexual,
physical or emotional abuse.
I am reminded of Sandy who
came to me for counseling. Sandy was a 21 year old lady who
had been sexual abused by an older brother who was seven years
older than she. Sue was a Christian but was having trouble
forgiving her brother. She was concerned because of Jesus
said "forgive and ye shall be forgiven." She could
not be freed until she could forgive him. He had not asked
her for forgiveness nor was he visibly sorry for his abuse.
The forgiving act of Sandy did not change her brother, but
it did change her. After several sessions covering many issues,
she said that she was ready to forgive her brother. I said,
"In your imagination, you are setting in a chair on the
stage in front of your brother. Now prepare to forgive him
even if he does not request forgiveness nor deserves forgiveness.
She said, "I forgive you brother for the sexual things
you did to me as we were growing up. I forgive you Robert.
In so doing I release myself from the power that you have
had over me. The power that made me feel guilty, has prevented
me from fully enjoying sex with my husband and has weakened
my self-esteem. I am now free to live my life joyfully."
Sandy lives a much happier life and responds joyfully during
sexual relations with her husband.
There is a concerted effort
to make the patient experience the emotional pain of rape,
sexual abuse and other horrible experiences through abreaction.
They have the client relive the supposed abuse and thereby
releasing its power. (Most hypnotherapist use abreaction as
a releasing technique, but most of the time the therapist
will have the patient distant themselves from the pain and
view the experience from a safe place or as if it were on
a TV screen.) The Recovered Memory Therapist persuades their
clients to literally feel the pain of the rape and torture
and the humiliation of their supposed experiences. In their
book Making Monsters, Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters
state, "Although we don't suggest that these recovered
memory therapist take sexual pleasure from these abuse 'recreations,'
some recovered memory therapist perhaps deserve recognition
as a new class of sexual predator."
The client is encourage to
have a confrontation with their abuser and/or abusers This
is usually done in the therapist office with strict guidelines.
Supported by the therapist and perhaps others, the client
generals reads from a prepared statement. They lists a variety
of accusations such as "you molested me when I was six
months old, you raped me when I was four until I was seventeen.
Mother you let it happen. You did nothing to stop him and
in fact you assisted him and molested me also."
The parents are not allowed
to challenge the accuser and if they say that the abuse never
occurred, they are accused of being in denial. Sometimes the
accusations are made over the telephone or in a letter with
similar letters written to other family members and friends.
During these confrontations there is usually a demand for
the parents to pay for therapy and additional sums of money
for the pain they caused the survivor. If they don't get what
they want from the confrontation, they quite often sue and
most of the so-called survivors books encourage them to do
Recovered Memory Therapist
encourages clients to give up their natural families to included
any relatives who does not agree with the client concerning
the alleged abuse. The authors of The Courage to Heal suggest
that one should separate themselves from the cause of their
problems which in their terms is "the family of origin."
Their tendency is to picture the family as poison for the
client and destructive to the client. Fathers, grandfathers,
brothers, uncles and added to that list; mothers, grandmothers,
sisters, and aunts who either participated in the abuse, allowed
it to happen without interfering, or did not believe the accusation
of the survivor.
About 20% of adults who remembered
childhood sexual abuse while undergoing Recovered Memory Therapy
eventually recalled being victims of satanic ritual abuse
(SRA). A recent survey funded by the US government stated
that among 6,900 psychiatrists, psychologist, and social workers;
70% had never seen an SRA client, most of the rest had handled
one or two, but l.4% had over a 100 cases. Much of the current
beliefs about satanic ritual abuse goes back to four books:
Michelle Remembers, Satan Seller, Satan's Underground,
and He Came to Set the Captive Free. All of these
books were written by authors who claimed to be either victim
or perpetrator. The most influential of the four is Michelle
Remembers by Dr. Lawrence Pazder and Michelle Smith. SRA
survivors have similar memories of abuse. They remember evil,
robe-covered adults, candles, knives, an altar and countless
horror stories of being breeders, having to kill their babies
and eat the babies, of being put in graves with snakes and
spiders, and other such experiences.
The Recovery Memory Therapy
Movement has many cult-like qualities. Webster's Unabridged
Dictionary definition of cult is a group with a "devoted
or extreme attachment to or extravagant admiration for a thing
or ideal, especially as manifested by a body of admirers;
any system for treating human sickness that employs methods
regarded as unorthodox or unscientific." Generally a
cult will claim to be the only way to God, Nirvana, Paradise,
healing, and such. Some characteristics of a cult are: (1)
Their leader/s may claim a special revelation. The therapist
is the leader and develops a situation where the client depends
upon on them for salvation. (2) They believe that they have
the whole truth. Everyone is a victim and needs to recovery
the memories of abuse in order to be whole. (3) They use intimidation
or psychological manipulation to keep members loyal to their
truth. If one says they experienced no childhood sexual abuse,
they are said to be in denial. (4) Members will be expected
to give substantial support. The cost of therapy is high and
can go on for years. (5) There is great emphasis on loyalty
to the group and its teachings. You must accept the diagnosis
of the leader and allow yourself to discover the repressed
memories of abuse. (6) Members are encouraged go give up their
natural families for the family of the cult. The survivors
group is to take the place of the family of origin and the
family of origin must be denounced.(7) Members will look to
their leaders for guidance in everything they do. During treatment
the client becomes overly dependent on their therapist. (8)
Any questioning of the group's teaching is discouraged. If
one suggest that they have no sexual abuse history, the group
ridicule them and say that they are in denial. (9) Attempts
to leave may be met with threats. The client is told that
they can never heal until they have dealt with their abuse
and cannot make it on their own.
Some guidelines for therapist:
(1) If the therapist is going to bring up the possibility
of sexual abuse, it should be part of the patient history
intake information and should be one question among many.
The question may be "Were sexually abused as a child?"
If the answer to that question is "No." accept the
answer. (2) Do not diagnosis sexual abuse based on the client's
symptoms. (3) A therapist should not assume that sexual abuse
has occurred because a person has periods from her past that
she can not remember. (3) Be aware of how you word questions
or suggestions so that you do not lead a person to have false
memories. (4) Be aware that because of books, TV/radio programs,
magazines articles and newspaper articles that false memories
may have already been planted before the client come to you.
(5) Understand that memory can be distorted even when the
person is in a hypnotic state. (6) Work toward coping with
life in the here and now rather than focusing on the past
especially with repeated emotionally reliving painful experiences
whether real or false. (7) Do not put a client without clear
and detailed memories of abuse into a survivors therapy group
and then only if the group deals with adjusting to the world
in the here and now. (8) Do not advise a client to read The
Courage to Heal or any other book written by a so-called
survivor. (9) Be careful when using progressive relaxation,
suggestions, guided imagery, hypnosis, or other hypnotic like
states that you do not give leading suggestions of abuse.
(10) Be certain that you are not meeting some sexual need
of your own by helping your client come to share with you
sexual abuse whether real or false.
(11) If you were sexually abused
as a child, do not assume that everyone else was abused also.
Question your motives before
you suggest that a client confront and separates from her
natural family. (13) Do no harm.
Continue to use hypnosis to
help others come to terms with life and thus live a better
life, but beware of false memories.
BOOKS ON FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME AND
Bass, E. and Davis, L. (1994)
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child
Sexual Abuse. 3rd ed. NY: Harper Perennial.
Blume, E. S. (1990) Secret
Survivors: Uncovering Incest and Its Aftereffects in Women.
Dawes, R. M. (1994) House
of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth.
NY: Free Press.
False Memory Syndrome Foundation,
3401, Ste 130, Philadelphia, PA. 19104-3318
Fredrickson, R. (1992) Repressed
Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse. NY:
Simon & Schuster.
Goldstein, E. and Farmer, K.
(1993) True Stories of False Memories. Boca Raton,
Goldstein, E., with Farmer,
K. (1992) Confabulations: Creating False Memories, Destroying
Families. Boca Raton, FL: SIRS.
Hansen, J. "The False
Memory Syndrome: How It's Affecting The Use of Hypnosis"
NGH Convention Manual, 1994, "What Is The False Memory
Controversy?" NGH Convection Manual, 1995, "Hypnosis
- Controversial Again" NGH Convention Manual, 1995. Merrimack,
"Hypnosis and Delayed
Recall: Part 1" (Oct 1994 Vol xlii # 4) The International
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Periodicals Press.
"Hypnosis and Delayed
Recall: Part 2" (April 1995 Vol xliii # 4) The International
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Periodicals Press.
Loftus, E. and Ketcham, K.
(1994) The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and
Allegations of Sexual Abuse. NY: St. Martin's.
Maltz, Wendy. (1991) The
Sexual Healing Journal: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse
NY: Haper Collins.
Nathan, D. and Snedeker, M.
(1995) Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of
a Modern American Witch Hunt. NY: Basic Books.
Ofshe, R. and Watters, E. (1994)
Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual
Hysteria. NY: Scribner.
Pendergrast, M. (1995, 1996)
Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered
Lives. Second ed. Hinesburg, VT: Upper Access.
Stephens, R.L. (1996) Hyponsis
and False Memories. Freeport, PA: Ziotech.
Underwager, R. and Wakefield,
H. (1994) The Return of the Furies: Analysis of Recovered
Memory Therapy. Chicago: Open Court.
Wassil-Grimm, C. (1995)
Diagnosis for Disaster: The Devastating Truth about False
Memory Syndrome and Its Impact on Accusers and Families.
Woodstock, NY: Overlook.
Yapko, M.D. (1994) Suggestions
of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual
Traumas. NY: Simon & Schuster.
(c)1997 Paul G. Durbin. All