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RECOVERED MEMORY THERAPY (RMT)

COURT DECISIONS ABOUT RMT

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Sponsored link.


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Quotations:

bullet"I doubt [that] it [repressed / recovered memory therapy] will die out completely. Once an idea enters the cultural mainstream, it has a way of resurfacing like a bloated corpse every few years." Mark Pendergrast. 1
bullet"The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic." J.G. Kennedy. 2

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Overview:

Court cases related to recovery memory therapy, have gone through four phases, over the interval from the 1980s until the present time:

  1. Acceptance by the court of RMT memories as evidence.
  2. Rejection of RMT memories as valid.
  3. RMT client-victims suing their therapists.
  4. A court case in which parents of a adult child damaged by RMT sued her therapist.

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Acceptance of RMT memories as valid evidence:

Prior to 1995, many accused persons were convicted of childhood sexual abuse on the basis of recovered memories alone. Such testimony is very convincing, because the accuser is truthfully describing her/his recollections exactly as they remember them to be. A large, but unknown, number of parents of RMT client-victims were impoverished and/or imprisoned on the basis of recovered memories which were probably not related to real events.

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Sponsored link:

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Rejection of RMT memories as valid evidence:

During 1995, the tide began to turn. A number of major court decisions were handed down which declared that recovered memories have no validity unless supported by independent evidence:
bulletMaryland 1995-MAY-5 Doe, Roe v. Maskell, et. al, #94-236030-1/CL185155-6; the decision was upheld on appeal, 1996-JUL
bulletNew Hampshire 1995-MAY-23; State v. Joel Hungerford # 94-45-7; State v. John Morahan # 93-1734-6
bulletMichigan 1995-JUL-5; Lemmerman v. Fealk; Williford v. Bieske
bulletMinnesota 1996-AUG; Lynnette Hamanne et. al v Humenansky
bulletCalifornia 1995-OCT-11; Engstrom v. Engstron, #VC016157
bulletNorth Carolina 1996-JAN-22; Barrett v Hyldburg # 94-CV5-0795
bulletMinnesota 1996-JAN-25; Carlson et. al. v Humenansky
bulletTennessee 1996-FEB-15; Hunter v. Brown # 03A01-9504-CV00127
bulletPennsylvania 1996-FEB-21; Dalrymple v. Brown # J.A52010/1995
bulletTexas 1996-MAR-14; Vesecky v. Vesecky # 94-0856
bulletRhode Island 1996-JUL-31; ? v. Quattrocchi

Elements from some of the court decisions at this pivotal point in the history of recovered memory therapy are:
bulletMaryland, 1995-MAY: A judge in Baltimore dismissed a lawsuit brought by two former students against a Roman Catholic priest who allegedly molested them almost 25 years ago when they were in high school. They claimed that they developed "amnesiac aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder" from the early 1970's until a few years ago. The judge said that the plaintiffs didn't demonstrate that PTSD "automatically leads one to amnesia. This is a leap of faith this court cannot make...The court in no way is judging [the women's] credibility, but their recollection. That did not meet the test of scientific reliability...No empirical studies verify the existence of repressed memory...There is no way to test the validity of these memories." In 1996-JUL, the Maryland Court of Appeals, refused to recognize "repressed memories" as a basis for postponing the filing deadline, noting that "studies purporting to validate repression theory are justly criticized as unscientific, unrepresentative and biased." In their decision, Judge Robert L. Karwacki stated "We are unconvinced that repression exists as a phenomenon separate and apart from the normal process of forgetting," 3
bulletCalifornia, 1995-OCT: The California Superior Court excluded repressed memory testimony. He found that "the phenomenon of 'memory repressions' is not generally accepted as valid and reliable by a respectable majority of the pertinent scientific community and that the techniques and procedures utilized in the retrieval process have not gained general acceptance in the field of psychology or psychiatry."
bulletTexas, 1996-MAR: The Texas Supreme Court handed down a decision which disallowed evidence derived from recovered memory therapy:

"In sum, the literature on repression and recovered memory syndrome establishes that fundamental theoretical and practical issues remain to be resolved. These issues include the extent to which experimental psychological theories of amnesia apply to psychotherapy, the effect of repression on memory, the effect of screening devices in recall, the effect of suggestibility, the difference between forensic and therapeutic truth, and the extent to which memory restoration techniques lead to credible memories or confabulations. Opinions in this area simply cannot meet the 'objective verifiability' element for extending the discovery rule."

bulletRhode Island, 1996-JUL: The RI Supreme Court overturned the conviction of John Quattrocchi III and ordered that he be retried. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison for sexually molesting a girl more than 10 years before his trial. Their reason was that the judge in the case had not held a preliminary hearing to assess reliability of the accuser's recovered memories. Such evidence must now be assessed without the jury being present before it is allowed to be admitted during a trial. One expert before the Supreme Court testified that recovered memory therapists may unintentionally "create narrative truth as opposed to actual truth."

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Lawsuits by RMT client-victims against therapists:

A long series of cases have been successfully prosecuted in which client-victims of RMT have sued their therapists. Most of the cases seem to involve therapy in which memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse were "recovered." Settlements often exceeded a million dollars. This was a critical point in the history of RMT because malpractice insurance companies became alarmed at the massive payments being granted. The companies started to limit coverage when experimental, suggestive, untested therapies were employed.

bulletMinnesota, 1995-AUG: Vynnette Hamanne and her family were awarded $2.67 million in damages; this is believed to be the largest psychotherapy negligence award in U.S. history. Ramsey County Judge Bertrand Poritsky ruled that the theory that humans are capable of "repressing" or "dissociating" memories of numerous traumas in childhood was not a credible scientific theory and thus could not be presented to the jury.
bulletMinnesota, 1996-JAN: Plaintiffs Elizabeth, David, and Lisha Carlson won a $2.5 million judgement against Dr. Diane Bay Humenansky. Many experts believe was the longest psychiatric malpractice trial in US history. During the trial, Dr. Humenansky and defense experts testified that "recovered memory therapy" involving hypnosis, drugs, coercion, group pressure and suggestion cannot produce false memories. Opposing them was Prof. Elizabeth Loftus who testified that the theory of repressed memory is a myth without supporting scientific evidence. Prof. Richard Ofshe testified that Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT) is the "worst form of psychiatric quackery in the 20th century...These reckless and dangerous therapists have destroyed thousands of American families." Other experts testified that the RMT therapy techniques were "reckless and dangerous" and had significantly harmed the Carlson family. The Carson family attorney, law professor and psychologist Dr. R.C. Bardon stated "The Carlson and Hamanne verdicts send a powerful message to psychotherapists that they must stop using untested and unproven methods on their patients." As President of the National Association for Consumer Protection in Mental Health Practices, Dr. Barden stated:

"These cases demonstrate that therapists must obey the informed consent laws or face serious legal consequences. Bogus theories such as "repression" and unproven treatments for junk science illnesses such as "multiple personality disorder" may not be used on American citizens until they have been proven safe and effective by reliable scientific research. Millions of dollars of taxpayers money are wasted every year on these experimental and potentially dangerous forms of mental health treatment and it is time for such unethical practices to cease. Until the professional associations and licensing boards stop these dangerous practices, victims of quack psychotherapies will continue to turn to the courts for justice."

bulletApplton WI: 1997-MAR: Nadean Cool of Appleton reached a $2.4 million out-of-court settlement during the fifth week of a jury trial. She had sued her psychiatrist who had diagnosed her with 120 personalities and put her through an exorcism.
bulletHouston TX: 1997-AUG: An award of almost 5.8 million dollars was granted to Ms. Lynn Carl, 46, who had sued her therapist, Dr. Gloria Keraga. Lynn commented: "This verdict validates my story, and I hope gives strength to those other patients who have suffered similar abuse." Her false memories which emerged during therapy convinced her that she had engaged in murder, cannibalism, sexual abuse and incest. She became convinced that she suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder, was diagnosed as having developed more than 500 personalities, and believed that she had been involved in a Satanic cult. Her children, then aged 13 and 14, were admitted to hospital where they came to believe that they had been abused by the cult. Ms. Carl claims that the false memories led to a divorce and a court order which prevented her from seeing her children. Her attorney, Skip Simpson, implied that the motive for the implantation of false memories was over 1.1 million dollars in insurance payments. "This case was all about creating victims so the mental health field could have patients and expensive treatment." The Carl's have since remarried. 4
bulletChicago IL: 1997-NOV: Rush Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Bennett Braun and the Pat Burgus family settled out of court. The hospital and insurance companies involved paid the family $10.6 million. Dr. Braun has since been expelled from the Illinois Psychiatric Society and the American Psychiatric Association, apparently for ethics violations. His license to practice medicine was suspended for two years in 1999-OCT, and he was given five years probation. In 2001-JUL, after having worked as a night watchman for a year, he obtained a "clerk-type job" in a children's hospital in Wyoming at about one tenth of his prior salary. 5
bulletMarathon County, WI: 1999-SEP: Joan Hess was awarded $850,000. Her family claimed that her psychiatrist had implanted false childhood memories, making her believe she was molested by her father and had multiple personalities. She had suicidal ideation.

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Lawsuit by families of RMT client-victims against therapists:

A precedent-setting case began in 2001-MAR in Eau Claire County Court in Wisconsin. It appears to be the first lawsuit in which the parents of a RMT client-victim are the plaintiffs.

During 1984, Nancy Anneatra, then in her 20s, began to receive counseling from a psychiatrist and a counselor. After a year, she accused her parents of childhood sexual and physical abuse. Anneatra cut off all contact with her parents, and changed her name to make it difficult for them to trace her. She died of cancer in 1995. She was still in therapy, but with a second therapist. 6

As administrator of her daughter's estate, her mother, Delores Sawyer, filed a lawsuit in 1996 against her daughter's therapists. One of their lawyers said: "This was just a heartbreaking case... In this case, you have a daughter you love who suddenly is accusing you of the worst thing imaginable. By the time she died, she had accused her father, her brother, her brother's friend, her mother, her grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, two cousins and three pastors. Everybody was accused." 7

The suit was dismissed at Eau Claire country court, but was upheld by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals who ruled that therapists had a duty to avoid harm to third parties "when some harm was foreseeable." 8 The Sawyers also won at the state Supreme Court in 1999. That court ruled that "The harm the Sawyers have alleged are the ordinary and predictable injuries one might expect following negligent therapy which implants and reinforces false memories of sexual abuse at the hands of family members which results in accusations of that abuse." 9 Two years later, they again initiated a lawsuit against two of their daughter's therapists.

Officials said that its outcome could have state and national impacts. In a brief before the state Supreme Court, the Medical Society of Wisconsin, filed a brief, stating that "that if such malpractice suits are allowed, therapist/patient relationships will be hindered because many people seek psychotherapy because of difficulties in relationships, and that therapy will sometimes have an emotional impact on the patient's spouse, children, parents, friends or coworkers." The therapist may not be able to effectively help a client if they must be concerned about the emotional effects on third parties.

According to the FMS Foundation: "In a landmark decision, a Wisconsin jury awarded $5.08 million to Delores and Thomas Sawyer on March 16, 2001 for the pain and suffering they sustained as a result of false memories of sexual abuse that developed when their daughter was in therapy." 8 The decision by the jury was unanimous: that the late Nancy Anneatra was a victim of false memories placed by two of her therapists, and was not a victim of abuse from her parents. They held one therapist 80% responsible and another one 20% responsible. Under state law, only the therapist who was mainly answerable for the victimization had to pay damages. 10

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The future:

Recovered Memory Therapy continues today, although on a small and gradually diminishing scale. None of the major professional associations ever took significant action to prevent their membership from using RMT.

It has recently resurfaced as a new type of therapy, Theophostic Counseling. This is a church-based therapy in which clients are taught to have conversations with Jesus Christ. Initial evidence is that this spinoff is just as dangerous at destroying people's lives and the integrity of their families as did the original form.

Old RMT cases have also resurfaced since early 2002 in the form of accusations of abusive pedophilia and hebephiles against Roman Catholic priests

Many RMT therapists have left the field and taken up a new form of experimental therapy: Rapid eye movement therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)  Like RMT, it has not been evaluated for safety and efficacy. Clients focus on the therapist's finger which moves back and forward quickly. This is supposed to erase their memories of traumatic events. It is probably as effective as the flash used in the movie Men in Black. But it appears to be much less likely to emotionally damage clients than RMT did.

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References used:

  1. Mark Pendergrast, "The bloated corpse," False Memory Syndrome Newsletter, Volume 11, #3, 2002-MAY/JUN, Pages 3 & 4. See also: Mark Pendergrast & Melody Gavigan, "Victims of Memory, Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives," Upper Access, (1996). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  2. J.G. Kennedy, delivered on 1962-JUN-11 at a Commencement Address at Yale University. Quoted by Biesterveld, Wisconsin Law Review, 2002.
  3. Harrison G. Pope, Jr. & James I. Hudson, "Can memories of childhood sexual abuse be repressed?," 25 Psychol. Med. 121 (1995);
  4. Mark Smith, "Jury Awards $5.8 Million in Satanic Memories Case", Houston Chronicle, Houston TX, 1997-AUG-15
  5. Bob Anez, "Suspended Chicago psychiatrist takes job in Montana," Associated Press, 2001-JUL-24.
  6. Christena T. O'Brien, "False memory case has nationwide implications: Parents' suit against daughter's therapists back in Eau Claire County Court," Leader-Telegram, 2002-MAR-11, Eau Clair, WI.
  7. Private Email from a FMS member.
  8. "FMS Foundation Newsletter," May/June 2001, Vol. 10, #3, at: http://www.fmsfonline.org/fmsf01.429.html
  9. "Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Case No.: 97-1969," at: http://www.wisbar.org/Wis2/99/97-1969.htm
  10. Christena O'Brien, "Therapists found negligent in false memory lawsuit," Leader-Telegram, 2001-MAR-16, Eau Clair, WI.

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Copyright 1995, and 1999 to 2002 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2002-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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