Start Here True Stories Test Your Therapy Newsgroup
What's New Myths False Memory Syndrome "Experts" Debunked
Info for You Essays Reform Legislation The Courage to Heal
Site Map Audio How You Can Help Articles, Links & Resources
Quotes about Memory, "Repressed Memories,"
"Memory Recovery Therapy," and False Memory Syndrome
from Professional Organizations

Note: As False Memory Syndrome is a problem of American origin, it is painful to note how much more vigorous and thorough the British have been in alerting mental health professionals to the risks posed by so-called "Memory Recovery Therapy" than have been their American  counterparts. I look forward to the day when American mental health organizations do as much to protect patients and families as the British ones do. How can we account for this difference? Several possible explanations come to mind.

  • compassion: perhaps the members of American professional organizations care less about patients and families than the British
  • competence: perhaps the members of American professional organizations are too ignorant and incompetent to recognize the damage that misguided therapies are doing
  • conflict of interest: many American therapists have made a great deal of money through "Memory Recovery Therapy," and they are naturally reluctant to admit their mistake or accept responsibility for the harm they have done, let alone pay back the fees they took for their fraudulent services or face lawsuits arising from their malpractice

You will have to decide which explanations you find most convincing. History will judge the American organizations for their relative inaction in the face of injustice.

Concern about recovered memories which have no factual basis should be concentrated on those cases where patients report having had no memory whatsoever of abuse which continued over many years.

Royal College of Psychiatrists,
   Working Group on Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse

The evidence shows that memories of events which did not in fact occur may develop and be held with total conviction. Such memories commonly develop under the influence of individuals or situations which encourage the development of strong beliefs. They have often been described as arising within therapy, sometimes involving psychiatrists or other mental health workers, as well as psychotherapists.


Previous sexual abuse in the absence of memories of these events cannot be diagnosed through a checklist of symptoms.


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. There is no evidence that the use of consciousness-altering techniques, such as drug-mediated interviews or hypnosis, can reveal or accurately elaborate factual information about any past experiences including childhood sexual abuse. Techniques of regression therapy including 'age regression' and hypnotic regression are of unproven effectiveness.


Forceful or persuasive interviewing techniques are not acceptable in psychiatric practice. Doctors should be aware that patients are susceptible to subtle suggestions and reinforcements whether these communications are intended or not.


The psychiatrist should normally explore his or her doubts with the patient about the accuracy of recovered memories of previously totally forgotten sexual abuse. This may be particularly important if the patient intends to take action outside the therapeutic situation. Memories, however emotionally intense and significant to the individual, do not necessarily reflect actual events.

Adult patients reporting previously forgotten abuse may wish to confront the alleged abuser. Such action should not be mandated by the psychiatrist and likewise it is rarely appropriate to discourage or even to forbid the patient from having contact with the alleged abuser or family members. The psychiatrist should help the patient to think through the possible consequences of confrontation with the alleged abuser.  In these circumstances it is appropriate to encourage the search for corroboration.
Once the accusation is taken outside the consulting room, especially if any question of confrontation or public accusation arises, there can rarely be any justification for refusal to allow a member of the therapeutic team to meet family members.

It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources .... Memories can be significantly influenced by questioning, especially in young children. 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. It has also been shown that repeated questioning may lead individuals to report "memories" of events that never occurred.

Statement on Memories of Sexual Abuse,
Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association
Clinicians who have not had the training necessary to evaluate and treat patients with a broad range of psychiatric disorders are at risk of causing harm by providing inadequate care for the patient's psychiatric problems and by increasing the patient's resistance to obtaining and responding to appropriate treatment in the future.
Statement on Memories of Sexual Abuse,
Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association

to treat for repressed memories without any effort at external validation is malpractice pure and simple; malpractice on the basis of standards of care that have developed out of the history of psychiatric service... and malpractice because a misdirection of therapy will injure the patient and the family.

Dr. Paul McHugh,
Chair of the Psychiatry Department at Johns Hopkins University


top of page