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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. 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 therapist.

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 Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse: Recommendations for Good Practice and Implications For Training, Continuing Professional Development and Research.

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
E-mail: or
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 Thoughts.
  • "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 therapy poses
  • 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 therapy

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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