Information for People in Memory Recovery Therapy
Welcome to this site! By visiting this site, you have demonstrated that you have an open
mind and are committed to being an informed, educated, empowered consumer in control of your own life.
Please feel free to read the entire site and all of its resources. You can visit this
site and read and use its pages in complete privacy. This site would never try to determine
your identity, and even if it did, the security features of web browsers make sure that it can't.
You can visit here as often as you wish as we post new information. The Internet is a great way
to learn in complete privacy.
Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children and adults are real problems, and traditionally
they have been kept secret and their frequency has been underreported. Anyone who has been the victim
of such crimes deserves the sympathy and support of everyone, and the perpetrators of such crimes
should be brought to justice. www.StopBadTherapy.com is committed to supporting the victims
of all forms of abuse, to working for the prevention of abuse, and to increasing the public's
awareness of the issues raised by abuse and the handling of reports of abuse.
By entering therapy, you demonstrated the courage to acknowledge issues in your life and
the commitment to deal with them instead of ignoring them. It takes courage to admit that
not everything in life is the way you might wish, and it takes courage to work to change that.
Unfortunately, just as in other professions, not every therapist is knowledgeable, responsible,
and competent. Even compassionate, well-meaning therapists can be ignorant or make mistakes.
There's also no guaranteed way to determine in advance the competence of a particular
Read these words written by a woman who went was molested as a child and many years later
went through memory recovery therapy:
I am a survivor--a survivor of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse,
and spiritual abuse. I remember all of these abuses. I have total recall of them. I was not
abused by my parents. I am also a survivor of another type of abuse. This abuse is from a
therapist .... I have total recall of all the bad times, all the times I was molested,
the times I was raped, by whom and what the circumstances were. But the person who really
victimized me the most, I believe, was my therapist ....
To other women in therapy I say: If
you're feeling worse, and feeling uncomfortable and feeling fear, reconsider your therapy.
If you are being told things that don't feel right in your gut, a light should go on inside
your head to warn that something wrong is happening. Listen to your family and friends because
they are probably right about what is happening to you. Look at your feelings. Be aware.
If I could do it all over again, I would listen to myself and to my feelings and ask,
"Why am I getting worse?" When you are going to someone for help, you should begin to feel
lighter, not heavier. Every time I came out of my therapist's office I felt as though
weight was being added on to my shoulders, not taken away. There was always another thing
I had to think about; there was always that fear of when the horrific memory was going to
emerge. You aren't supposed to start feeling fearful and suicidal from therapy. It isn't
normal. If you are being told that bitterness and rage are "healing" then you need to take
another look at what is happening in your therapy. In a healthy therapist/client relationship,
there should never be any suggestions from the therapist bout anything as an answer to all
of your problems. This "New Age" cure to remember imaginary sexual abuse from your
childhood is not right. Books such as The Courage to Heal and Secret Survivors
are misleading many women and tearing families apart. I know; I experienced it.
-- Gerilena Spillios (pseudonym) in
True Stories of False Memories, pp. 333-345.
Does Gerilena's story sound familiar?
Do you have doubts about your therapy or your therapist? If you do, please take a look at
this site's private, confidential, anonymous
online list of questions for evaluating
therapy. (Even if your therapy is going well, you might consider reading the list just to be safe!)
This list was written by Terence Campbell, Ph.D., who is a family therapist in
Sterling Heights, Michigan and the author of
Beware the Talking Cure, a book about some common problems in therapy.
If you want to learn the perspectives of other people have gone through
memory recovery therapy themselves, feel free to read the
stories on this site
which were written by retractors, people who
went through memory recovery therapy and later realized that the memories they had recovered
were not real memories of actual events but were actually 'false memories' that had been
suggested to them by the therapist.
If you want to learn about the safety guidelines which a responsible therapist should
follow, you can
read online the official practice guidelines issued by the Royal College of
Psychiatrists in a report called
Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse: Recommendations for Good Practice
and Implications For Training, Continuing Professional Development and
If you want to learn the latest scientific and medical evidence about the topics of
memory recovery and memory repression, you might consider reading
the recent article "Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Implications for clinical
practice" which was published in The British Journal of Psychiatry, April 1998, Vol. 172, pp. 296-307.
The article is not yet available for reading online. The Royal College will mail a free copy to
any member of the media, and if you write them and explain that you are in memory recovery therapy,
I bet they will be happy to mail you a free copy too.
For press copies of the paper or further information contact:
Deborah Hart or Vanessa Harries
Tel: 00 44 171 235 2351 ext 127 or 154
Fax: 0171 245 1231
Here is some basic information about memory, trauma, and abuse. Unless otherwise indicated,
quotes are from the report "Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Implications for clinical
practice" by Dr. Sydney Brandon, et al, of the Royal
College of Psychiatrists.
Neither this site nor any therapist can tell you what did or did not happen during your
childhood. Only you can determine that. Unfortunately, there are no simple tests. As Dr. Brandon notes,
"There is no evidence that any checklists, syndromes, symptoms, or signs indicate with
any degree of reliability that an individual has in the remote past been sexually abused." (p. 300)
Although being abused
during childhood can increase the risk of emotional problems or mental illness later in life,
having a particular emotional problem or mental illness does not prove that a person was abused.
As Dr. Brandon notes, "At present all that can be said is that childhood abuse is a vulnerability
factor for psychiatric disorder in general but for no condition in particular." (p. 299)
Unfortunately, the mind, memory, and emotions are all complicated things and our understanding
of how they work is still quite limited. You can take an X-ray to see if a bone is broken, but
there's no similar objective, reliable test to determine whether a person has emotional problems
or a mental illness or,
if they do have such a problem, what the cause is. Science, medicine, and psychology have no
simple, reliable answers to complex questions such as "Why do I feel the way I do?"
Much research has been done on these issues. Much more is needed, but here are some results
from the studies which have been done:
- It appears that memory recovery therapy can be extremely harmful to the client.
"Loftus (1997) reviewed 30 cases selected at random from 670 claims
submitted to the Washington Victims Compensation Program. Twenty-six had 'recovered'
a memory of abuse through therapy. All 30 were still in therapy after three years, 18
for more than five years. After treatment 20 were suicidal compared
with three before treatment began, 11 were hospitalised (cf. two before treatment),
eight engaged in self-mutilation (cf. one before) and marriage break-up occurred in
almost all. It appears that in these cases, recovery and abreaction had serious adverse
effects." (p. 303) For more information about the results of this study,
read this summary written by Paul Simpson, Ph.D., a
former regression therapist and the author of Second
- "Numerous studies in children (Terr, 1983; Malmquist, 1986; Pynoos & Nader, 1989) and adults
(Leopold & Dillon, 1963) have shown that psychologically traumatic events are vividly though not
always accurately recalled and are frequently followed by intrusive recollections in one form or
another. The problem following most forms of trauma is an inability to forget, rather than a
complete expulsion from awareness, and amnesia for violent events is rare." (p. 298)
- "A growing body of research indicates that partially or completely inaccurate memories are
not uncommon. Memory is vulnerable to suggestion. Implanted false memories can be 'adopted' and
subsequently 'remembered' as actually experienced events whose recollections are vivid and
subjectively indistinguishable from recollections of actual events (Johnson & Suengas, 1989;
Ceci & Bruck, 1993; Loftus, 1993). 'Flashbulb' memories of critical moments such as the loss of
the Challenger or the assassination of Kennedy have been shown to be completely unreliable
but held with absolute certainty (Neisser & Harsch, 1992). Suggestibility and confabulation
increase with the length of time between the event and later attempts to recall it. Repeated
questioning over time and the authority of the questioner also heighten suggestibility." (p. 299)
- "McConkey & Sheehan (1995), in personal research and in their comprehensive review of the
literature, clearly demonstrated the unreliability of hypnosis as a means of eliciting memories
of past events. Memories recalled under hypnosis are recognised to be so unreliable that they are
no longer admitted as legal testimony. Hypnotic recall increases the confidence with which
the memory is held while reducing its reliability .... The creation under hypnosis of memories
of previous lives, often as distinguished historical subjects, or of abduction by aliens (Mack, 1994)
and sexual abuse in space ships reveal the extent to which this technique is suspect. Of concern is
the extent to which people who elicit and report such memories appear to believe them despite
their quasi-delusional nature." (p. 300)
- "The encouragement of reverie and imagery of various kinds readily produces trance-like
states. Practitioners who aver that they do not use hypnosis may nevertheless be doing so
unwittingly since some of these techniques are powerfully suggestive and induce trance-like states." (p. 301)
- Regarding the practice of age regression, "Accounts are at times so fantastic that they
are beyond belief and there is no evidence of the efficacy of this technique. Nor is there evidence
that the subject's memories or cognitions do indeed 'regress' to the target age." (p. 301)
- "There is no evidence that dreams are a 'royal road' to historical accuracy and interpretations
usually reflect the training and personal convictions of the therapist. It is frequently observed
that patients dream to fit the theoretical model of their therapist. Since dreams are generally
agreed to contain a residue of the day's events, it is at least plausible that, if the day is
spent in an attempt to prove or disprove previous sexual abuse, one's dreams may come to reflect
that preoccupation." (p. 301)
- "Despite widespread clinical support and popular belief that memories can be 'blocked out' by
the mind, no empirical evidence exists to support either repression or dissociation." (p. 302)
- "Evidence does not support the view that memory enhancement techniques actually enhance memory.
There is evidence to support the view that these are powerful and dangerous methods of persuasion.
Many of the memories 'recovered' using these measures refer to events in the early months or
years of life which fall within the period of infantile amnesia and must be regarded as
implausible for that reason. There is sufficient evidence of distortion and/or elaboration
of memories to assert that entirely new and false memories can be created, not only experimentally
but also in clinical practice. The evidence suggests that this is true of all of the techniques
we have described above." (p. 301)
- "Some 'recovered memories' may be elaborated recollections of real events which may or may
not have been abusive. Abuse which was relatively minor may be forgotten and sometimes later
remembered. Other episodes are forgotten if they were not perceived as abusive at the time,
and may be recalled when their significance is recognised. There is no evidence to support the
wholesale forgetting of repeated experiences of abuse, nor of single episodes of brutality or
sadistic assaul, apart from the normal experience of infantile amnesia. False memories can and
do occur (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994) ..." (p. 303)
- "No evidence exists for the repression and recovery of verified, severely traumatic events,
and their role in symptom formation has yet to be proved. There is also a striking absence in the
literature of well-corroborated cases of such repressed memories recovered through psychotherapy.
Given the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, even if only a small proportion are repressed
and only some of them are subsequently recovered, there should be a significant number of
corroborated cases. In fact there is none (Pope & Hudson, 1995; Pendergrast, 1996)." (p. 303)
- "Memories of satanic abuse or other bizarre events, memories from before the age of four
years and memories of repeated abuse over many years forgotten until recovered therapy are
not credible. There is a reasonable chance that they will wither away if not reinforced
through attention." (p. 304)
You might also consider reading some of these books:
Second Thoughts, written by Dr. Paul Simpson, a Ph.D. psychologist who once practiced
regression (a.k.a. memory recovery) therapy but later realized that these techniques are
unsafe and ineffective and now works to educate people about the danger which memory recovery
Beware the Talking Cure, which explains common problems of certain kinds of therapy and
some warning signs of a well-meaning but ignorant or misguided therapist
Suggestions of Abuse, which explains the results of a large-scale survey of therapists,
demonstrates that many well-meaning therapists are unfortunately ignorant of basic research findings
about memory and hypnosis, and discusses the risk that a well-meaning therapist can
accidentally (and without even realizing it) suggest things to a client which may cause the client to
distort, misinterpret, or inaccurately reinterpret his or her memories
Victims of Memory, which discusses the risks of memory recovery therapy and contains
interviews with therapists, people in therapy, retractors (people who believed they had
recovered memories and then realized they were mistaken), and family members of people in
For the perspective of a former regression therapist, you might wish to read
A Word to Regression Believers by Paul Simpson, Ph.D.
Questions to consider:
- Did your therapist disclose to you that "massive repression" or "dissociation" of
memories of traumatic events are theories, not facts?
- Did your therapist disclose to you that there is no known safe and effective way to
"recover" a memory which has been forgotten?
- Did your therapist disclose to you that all memories are subject to distortion over
time and influence from suggestion by others?
- Did your therapist disclose to you that it is normal for adults to remember nothing
from early childhood and little from before the age of six or seven, and that "memories"
from before the age of four are unlikely to be actual memories?
- Did your therapist disclose to you that is is normal for people to not remember every
event of their lives and to have "gaps" in their memory?
- Did your therapist disclose to you that childhood sexual abuse cannot be diagnosed
using a checklist of symptoms?
- Did your therapist encourage you to read The Courage to Heal,
Secret Survivors, or other similar books? If so, did the therapist warn you about
these books' flaws and the misinformation contained within them?
- Did your therapist warn you about the dangers and unreliability of dream interpretation
hypnosis, trance writing, left-handed writing, guided imagery, and other so-called
"memory recovery" techniques?
Doctors must warn patients in advance about the known risks, benefits, and alternatives to any
proposed treatment and get the patient's informed consent. Did your therapist warn you in
advance about the known risks, benefits, and alternatives to your therapy
and get your informed consent?
If not, do not blame yourself. You are not alone. Anyone can be misled by a person they
have put their trust in. Anyone can make a mistake. All of us are human.
The good news is that although we cannot change the past, we can change our present and
future for the better by facing painful facts, taking responsibility for our choices and our
future, and working to build happier, better lives and relationships for the future. Even if
you decide that you have made a serious mistake or said things which you regret, mending the
damage may be easier than you expect. People who love you are usually eager to put the past
behind them, reunite a divided family, and move forward with sharing the joys and challenges
of life together.
Good luck and God bless you as you build a better future!
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