Alan Kraut, Ph.D., Executive Director
American Psychological Society
PO Box 90457
Washington, DC 20090-0457
Dear Dr. Kraut:
I am writing to ask that the American Psychological Society form a working group and issue a statement about research findings regarding reported "repressed memories" of abuse, so-called "memory recovery therapy," and the hazards of suggestion in psychotherapy.
As you know, the mental health industry was swept in the 80s and 90s by a fad of using untested techniques for "memory recovery" on the theory that memories of abuse (even repeated, long-term, violent abuse over many years) had been "repressed" from conscious awareness by an unknown mechanism. To this day, there is no methodologically sound scientific evidence to support the existence of "massive repression." Moreover, a study by Elizabeth Loftus has shown that the use of so-called "memory recovery therapy" harms clients and increases the rates of suicidal ideation, hospitalization, and self-mutilation.
Despite the clear dangers proven by ruinous clinical experience, American professional organizations have failed to issue clear, unambiguous, scientifically-based guidelines banning the use of these harmful techniques. The contrast with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the U.K. is painful. The Royal College formed a Working Group on Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse and adopted the group's "Recommendations for Good Practice" as official practice guidelines. These guidelines state in part that "Psychiatrists are advised to avoid engaging in any 'memory recovery techniques' which are based upon the expectation of past sexual abuse of which the patient has no memory. Such 'memory recovery techniques' may include drug-mediated interviews, hypnosis, regression therapies, guided imagery, 'body memories', literal dream interpretation and journaling." The failure of American organizations to issue equivalent guidelines silently condones the continued use of these harmful, discredited techniques in the U.S. and the continued abuse of clients and their families by irresponsible therapists.
This failure has not gone unnoticed. In their report "Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Implications for Clinical Practice" in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Sydney Brandon et al note that "the polarisation of views and fierce controversy within the American psychiatric community was in danger of bringing psychotherapy into disrepute." Evaluating the statements issued by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association, Brandon further notes that "In their efforts to remain impartial they have failed to resolve the impasse between research and clinical observation."
The American Psychological Society is uniquely positioned to help break this logjam of professional indifference and conflict of interest. From its founding it has been a principled voice for the importance of scientific research on psychology and the application of research findings in clinical practice and public policy. If the APS issues a position statement on research findings about the theory of "memory repression" and the use of "memory recovery" techniques, the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association will be forced to update their own statements and to issue guidelines similar to those issued by the Royal College. If they do not, their sacrifice of patient safety on the altar of professional self-interest will be obvious to all.
It is not too late for your organization to reform your profession and reduce the risk of future malpractice and injustice. In order to protect clients and their families from the use of demonstrably harmful "therapies," please take the following steps at once:
Please act now to protect patients and their families from the
irresponsibility of your colleagues who would ignore research
findings and instead base clinical practice on myth and superstition.