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Recovered memory therapy (RMT)

Statements by professional
organizations,
1993 to 1995

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Statements after 1996 are recorded elsewhere

1993:

bulletThe American Medical Association (AMA) stated in 1993, that recovered memories are "of uncertain authenticity which should be subject to external verification. The use of recovered memories is fraught with problems of potential misapplication." 1

bulletThe American Psychiatric Association stated in 1993 that it is impossible to distinguish accurately between true and false memories. 2 They stated:

"Memories also can be significantly influenced by a trusted person (e.g., therapist, parent involved in a custody dispute) who suggests abuse as an explanation for symptoms/problems, despite initial lack of memory of such abuse." In addition, they stated "While aspects of the alleged abuse situation, as well as the context in which the memories emerge, can contribute to the assessment, there is no completely accurate way of determining the validity of reports in the absence of corroborating information."

This statement has since been replaced.

1994: 

bulletThe report of the Council on Scientific Affairs of the AMA concluded and recommended on 1994-JUN-16:

"1. That the AMA recognize that few cases in which adults make accusations of childhood sexual abuse based on recovered memories can be proved or disproved and it is not yet known how to distinguish true memories from imagined events in these cases."

bulletThe Australian Psychological Society Ltd. stated in its Guidelines Relating to the Reporting of Recovered Memories on 1994-OCT-1:

"Given that the accuracy of memories cannot be determined without corroboration, psychologists should use caution in responding to questions from clients about pursuing legal action. ... The available scientific and clinical evidence does not allow accurate, inaccurate and fabricated memories to be distinguished in the absence of independent corroboration."

bulletThe American Medical Association revisited the topic in 1994, and stated:

"It is well established for example that a trusted person such as a therapist can influence an individual's reports, which would include memories of abuse....The AMA considers the technique of 'memory enhancement' in the area of childhood sexual abuse to be fraught with problems of potential misapplication."

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bulletThe American Psychological Association created an APA Working Group On Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse to investigate recovered memories. It was composed of 3 memory researchers and 3 clinicians (including 2 who practiced recovered memory therapy). Surprisingly, they were able to agree on certain statements. In a 1994 interim report they stated:
 
bulletMost people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them.
 
bulletHowever, it is possible for memories of abuse that have been forgotten for a long time to be remembered. The mechanism(s) by which such delayed recall occur(s) is/are not currently well understood.
 
bulletIt is also possible to construct convincing pseudo memories for events that never occurred. The mechanism(s) by which these pseudo memories occur(s) is/are not currently well understood.

The APA Board of Directors enlarged upon the Working Group's interim statement by stating:

bullet"There is no single set of symptoms which automatically means that a person was a victim of childhood abuse."
 
bulletTherapists must take a neutral position on childhood abuse memories.
 
bulletThe public should beware of a therapist who diagnoses childhood abuse at the start of therapy in the absence of evidence and memories
 
bulletBeware of therapists who "dismiss claims .... of sexual abuse without exploration."
 
bulletSelect a licensed practitioner with "with training and experience"
 
bulletThe British Psychological Society has issued a booklet "Recovered Memories" which states:
 
bulletComplete or partial memory loss of childhood sexual abuse is frequently reported.
 
bulletRecovery of such memories is frequently reported.
 
bulletAll adult memories of childhood events may contain errors.
 
bullet"Sustained pressure" by a therapist could lead to recovery of "memories of events that never actually happened."
 
bulletPeople no longer debate whether therapy-induced false memories and recovery of memories from total amnesia actually occur. Debate is currently directed at how often they occur. 3

1995: 

bulletThe Michigan Psychological Association approved a position paper titled "Recovered memories of sexual abuse". It was adopted by the Executive Council on 1995-MAY-17. It reads in part:

"In summary, given the meager and conflicting scientific data regarding the validity of reported recovered memory of sexual abuse, the Michigan Psychological Association at this time does not support the modification of any existing statutes of limitations in respect to civil and criminal complaints stemming from such reported recovered memory. Given the nature of the scientific evidence to date, there is substantial potential for harm in treating claims of recovered memories of sexual abuse presumptively valid. We must await the accumulation of pertinent and scientifically valid research on this issue before recommending the routine or uncritical acceptance of recovered memory in the absence of corroborative evidence."

bulletMel Sabshin, MD, the Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association condemned "past life therapy" as quackery:

"The American Psychiatric Association believes that past life regression therapy is pure quackery. As in other areas of medicine, psychiatric diagnosis and treatment today is based on objective scientific evidence. There is no accepted scientific evidence to support the existence of past lives let alone the validity of past life regression therapy."

bulletThe American Psychological Association prepared a brochure in 1995 titled "Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse". 4
 
bulletThey report that some clinicians believe that repression and recovery of memories of traumatic childhood events is possible.
 
bullet But they also say that: "Many researchers argue, however, that there is little or no empirical support for such a theory."
 
bulletThey further state that recovered memories are possible, but rare: "there is a consensus among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them."

References:

  1. AMA Wary of Using 'Memory Enhancement'; AMA, Report of the Council (1993)
  2. Statement on Memories, American Psychiatric Association (1993)
  3. Recovered Memories, British Psychological Society, (#163 10), available from: The British Psychological Society, St. Andrews House, 48 Princess Road East, Leicester, LE1 7DR, Great Britain.
  4. "Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse," Brochure by the American Psychological Associationhttp://www.apa.org/

Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update: 2009-AUG-20
Prepared by: B.A. Robinson

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