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Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT)

Brief quotes, pro and con;
(mostly con)

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Overview (repeated):

Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT) is a therapeutic technique based on the belief that traumatic memories of abuse -- typically experienced during childhood -- can be forgotten and later recovered during therapy.

RMT was particularly popular during the 1980s and early 1990s. It caused the destruction of tens of thousands of families of origin through the creation of "memories" of events that never happened. It has since been abandoned by the vast majority of therapists and counselors.

Quotations that are supportive of RMT:

bullet"...horrific experiences are stored but 'forgotten.' Some of these memories later return in flashbacks...The body keeps store, but the brain doesn't always remember."  B.A. Van der Kolk. 1
 
bullet"As a therapist, your job is  not to be a detective; your job is not to be a fact-finder; your job is not to be a judge or a jury; and your job is also not to make the family feel better. Your job is to help the patient make sense out of her life, make sense out of her symptoms...and make meaning out of her experience." Judith Herman. 2

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Quotations that are skeptical of RMT: 

bullet"I can't describe the pain...every morning I wake up to this nightmare; and every night I go to bed with it;  and in between, nothing changes." Unidentified mother who has been accused of sexual abuse by her child. The same statement could easily have been said by her adult child. 3
 
bullet"For some...the notion that a person can be in total support both of preventing child abuse and punishing offenders while at the same time be in total support of preventing false accusations seems a difficult concept." Pamela Freyd, False Memory Syndrome Foundation. 4
 
bullet"These therapists are worse than misinformed, poorly-trained fools. They are dangerous zealots, and they must be stopped." Unidentified sociology professor. 5
 
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. 6
 
bullet"Technically, it's called 'false memory syndrome' but I call it the 'power of suggestion run amok'." B.D. Wong playing the role of psychiatrist Dr. George Huang on a Law and Order SVU episode. 7
 
bullet"...to treat for repressed memories without any effort at external validation is malpractice pure and simple..." Paul McHugh
 
bullet"False Memory Syndrome : 'An apparent recollection of something that one did not actually experience, especially sexual abuse during infancy or childhood, often arising from suggestion implanted during counseling or psychotherapy'." 8
 
bullet"The notion that traumatic events can be repressed and later recovered is the most pernicious bit of folklore ever  to infect psychology and psychiatry." Richard McNally, Harvard University.
bullet
"It is well known that many 'memory retrieval' techniques are little more than thinly disguised versions of hazardous hypnotic procedures." R. Christopher Barden
 
bullet"Of all the mad ideas that have swept through the practice of psychiatry since Freud first undertook to map the unconscious, probably none has resulted in more cruelty to patients and their loved ones than those that led to the Recovered Memory Movement and its adjunct disease, Multiple Personality Disorder." Midge Decter, author of An Old Wife's Tale.
 
bullet"... grown so wide that many psychologists now speak glumly of the 'scientist-practitioner gap,' although that is like saying there is an 'Arab-Israeli gap' in the Middle East. It is a war." Carol Tavris 9
 
bullet"...it is an unsettling fact that we can manufacture, wholesale and out of pure nothingness, whole events and pasts that never occurred. This fantastical creative ability of our minds may be treasured when it produces King Lear or War and Peace, but it can sometimes destroy lives and families when applied to ordinary, daily life." Elizabeth Loftus. 10
 
bullet"...memories, by nature, are fluid and malleable, easily influenced by suggestion. People told they were abused eventually believe that they were, regardless of fact. The mind creates a visual picture of the abusive act. And if a person is surrounded by others who encourage her to draw out these pictures and details, this new memory can become even more vivid than an actual remembrance. To complicate things further, the brain starts creating emotional responses to these memories, which seem to validate the claims even more." Rebecca Meiser b711
 
bullet"Recovered memors are joining electroshock, lobotomies and other psychiatric malpractice in the historical dustbin." Alan Gold, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association in Canada. 12
 
bullet"...many [were] swept up in the '"recovered memory' craze of the 1980s. Zealous therapists encouraged clients to recall repressed memories of childhood abuse, leading to more than 800 lawsuits against alleged abusers between 1985 and 2000. Many of these resulted in incarcerations. A few led to suicides. In most cases there was no corroborating evidence, and many accusers later recanted." Robert Epstein 13
 
bullet"Dr. McHugh has rendered a valuable service by describing the lamentable failure of self-criticism of doctors and therapists, some of them motivated by ideological zeal and others by hope of gain-and some, of course, by both. He has also given us a timely warning that we may expect further such episodes of popular delusion and the madness of crowds unless we straighten out our thoughts about the way our minds work-or, if that is not possible, at least about how they don't work." Theodore Dalrymple from a review of Paul McKugh's book "Try to Remember," in the Wall Street Journal )
 
bullet"The greatest scandal of the century in American psychiatry...is the growing mania among thousands of inept therapists, family counselors, and social workers for arousing false memories of childhood sexual abuse." Martin Gardner
 
bullet"While evidence to support the claims of RM [recovered memory] "victims" is non-existent, the destruction caused by recovered /false memory is well documented: increased suicidal urges; self-mutilation; hospital admission for mental illness; marriage and family break-up. In America the tide is turning, with successful claims made against therapists sued by 'retractors.' "
 
bullet"Memory can't be stored, ready for retrieval like images on a videotape. Instead, scientists have found that it is dispersed diffusely throughout the brain, and only fragments are retained, so, each time we remember something, we have to reconstruct the moment; in consequence, memory is fallible, dependent on mood and circumstance, and subject to distortion." Margaret Murphy, The Independent-London, 1999-OCT-20.
 
bullet''While our awareness of childhood sexual abuse has increased enormously in the last decade and the horrors of its consequences should never be minimized, there is another side to this situation, namely that of the consequences of false allegations where whole families are split apart and terrible pain inflicted on everyone concerned. This side of the story needs to be told, for a therapist may, with the best intentions in the world, contribute to enormous family suffering.'' Harold Lief, M.D.
bullet"In practical terms, the debate has had two major effects. First, proponents of 'recovered memory therapy' are now almost impossible to find within the ranks of leading psychiatrists and psychologists...Second, good practice now requires both the therapist and the client to adopt a critical attitude towards any apparent memory that is recovered after a period of amnesia, whether or not this is within a therapeutic context, and not to assume that it necessarily corresponds to a true event." Chris R. Brewin 14
 
bullet"Twenty years ago, I tried predicting memory's future. It was back in the days before eyewitness fallibility and 'recovered' memories became the stuff of courtroom contests. I imagined a future world in which people could go to a special kind of psychologist or psychiatrist--a memory doctor--and have their memories modified. Little did I know." Elizabeth Loftus 15

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above quotes. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Quoted in Berry, "Memories: Delayed or Imagined"
  2. Judith Herman, from a PBS Frontline program on recovered memory.
  3. Elizabeth Loftus, "The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of sexual abuse," St. Martin's Griffin, (1994), Page 34. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  4. FMS Newsletter, 2002-SEP-OCT, Vol 11, #5, ISSN #1069-0484
  5. Elizabeth Loftus, "The myth of repressed memory: False memories and allegations of sexual abuse," St. Martin's Griffin, (1994), Page 35. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
  6. J.G. Kennedy, delivered on 1962-JUN-11 at a Commencement Address at Yale University. Quoted by Biesterveld, Wisconsin Law Review, 2002.
  7. Law and Order - Special Victim's Unit, Episode: "Repression", NBC, 2003-MAR-13.
  8. Andrew Colman, "A Dictionary of Psychology," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  9. Carol Tavris: "Mind Games: Psychological Warfare Between Therapists and Scientists," The Chronicle of Higher Education, Section: The Chronicle Review, Vol. 49, Issue 25, Page B7, 2003-FEB-28.
  10. Elizabeth Loftus, "The Memory Wars," Science & Spirit magazine, 2004-JAN/FEB
  11. Rebecca Meiser, "The lost years long removed from the therapy that broke their families, anguished parents mourn the children who walked away," Cleveland Scene (Ohio) 2004-AUG-4.
  12. Stephen Bindman, "Can recovered memories be trusted? Justice minister rejcets call for inquiry," The Ottawa Citizen, 1998-MAY-04.
  13. Robert Epstein, "The Loose Screw Awards," Psychology Today, 2005-JAN/FEB. Online at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/
  14. Chris R. Brewin, "Recovered memories and false memories," Volume 1,  New Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry. Edited by M. Gelder, J. Lopez-Ibor, and N. Andreasen, Oxford University Press, (2000),  Pages 771-774
  15. William Calvin, "Will technology change the way human memory works? Elizabeth Loftus, PhD, and William Calvin, PhD, ponder the possibilities," Psychology Today, 2001-MAR-1 issue, Page 55 to 58.

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