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False Memory Syndrome, the Myth of Memory Repression, and the Role of Therapists in Creating False Memories

Smiling Through Tears by Pamela Freyd and Eleanor Goldstein.
Just when I thought I couldn't stand to read one more book on bad therapy and False Memory Syndrome, Pamela Freyd and Eleanor Goldstein have produced a simply outstanding one. Smiling Through Tears is a collection of twenty-five brief essays about the issues related to False Memory Syndrome and the myth of repressed memories: the origins in suggestive therapy; their promotion by radical gender feminists; the role of self-help books in promoting misinformation to a wide audience; the legal turnaround in which retractors are now suing the therapists at fault; and the overturning of convictions based on supposedly "repressed and recovered" memories. The essays are remarkably clear and concise; not a word in this book is wasted, and nothing important has been left out. Smiling Through Tears is the best concise introduction to the problem of False Memory Syndrome I've read. Another unusual and creative aspect of this book is its use of comic strips throughout to illustrate the humor, irony, and madness in this epidemic of human tragedy and to keep an otherwise heavy topic somewhat lighter. If you want to introduce the problem of False Memory Syndrome to a friend, loan them this book.
Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives by Mark Pendergrast and Melody Gavigan.
A journalist who was accused by his daughters on the basis of "memories" which were supposedly "recovered" during therapy, Pendergrast offers a broad, comprehensive, and thoroughly researched overview of all aspects of the memory recovery fraud. This was the first book I read after my sister's own devastating accusations and it opened my eyes to the entire problem and the scope of the damage that has been done. What makes this book unique is the section of interviews with memory recovery therapists, believers, retractors, and accused families which allows each group to tell its story in its own voice. A must-read book for anyone who is affected by this epidemic. (You can also visit the Victims of Memory web site.)
The Myth of Repressed Memory : False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham.
Elizabeth Loftus has a Ph.D. in psychology and has spent much of her career studying how memory works and can how it can be misled. This thoroughly researched and well written book examines the theory of memory repression from a scientific and research standpoint and demonstrates the complete lack of evidence for the theories promoted by memory recovery afficionados. ( Visit Dr. Loftus's web site and read this chapter about Eileen Franklin's "repressed memories". Her father, George Franklin, was convicted of a murder which happened twenty years earlier solely on the basis of Eileen's "repressed memories" of the event which she had supposedly been unaware of for twenty years. George Franklin spent years in prison, but his conviction has now been overturned and he has filed suit against Lenore Terr, Ph.D. who testified for the prosecution at trial.)
Making Monsters : False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters.
Making Monsters examines the false memory problem from a sociological and historical perspective. In one particularly powerful passage, it notes that the state of the mental health profession today is similar to the state of the medical profession in the late nineteenth century. At that time, there were both competent doctors who had taken training at medical schools and travelling quacks peddling patent medicines. Consumers couldn't tell the difference between the two or the remedies they offered, so the entire profession suffered a bad reputation because of the abuses of untrained amateurs and frauds. Only with the establishment of state licensing boards were trained doctors able to differentiate themselves from the quacks, gain control of the practice of medicine, drive the quacks out of business, and secure their profession's reputation and consumers' health from injury. Similarly, the mental health profession today ranges from licensed psychiatrists offering antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy (both of which have been tested for safety and effectiveness) to unlicensed, untrained psychotherapists offering memory recovery therapy, past life regression, and other harmful, fraudulent treatments.



Ethan Watters has kindly given permission for to reproduce online this book's appendix "Three Papers" which debunks three studies by Linda Williams, John Briere and Jon Conte, and Judith Herman and Emily Schatzow.

Second Thoughts by Paul Simpson.
A Ph.D. psychologist, devout Christian, and former regression therapist himself, Simpson is perhaps the only memory recovery therapist who has ever had enough interest in his patients' welfare to thoroughly research whether or not there is a scientific basis for so-called memory recovery therapy. The discovery that there is neither a scientific nor religious basis for regression therapy caused him to cease regression therapy, notify his former clients that their "recovered memories" should not be considered accurate or reliable, and rededicate himself to undoing the damage which has been done by this epidemic of malpractice. Obviously, I have mixed feelings about anyone who has ever been involved in the practices which devastated my family. However, Simpson deserves credit for having the courage to openly admit and document his mistake and for working to save others from the same fate. Anyone can make a mistake, but to realize it takes intelligence, to admit it takes courage, and to work to correct it takes dedication. The book is of special interest to Christians (and anyone who has been affected by church counselors practicing regression and memory recovery) because Simpson also demonstrates that there is no basis in the Bible for the beliefs espoused by regression therapists, and that in fact these beliefs contradict everything Christianity teaches. Simpson's writing style is clear, concise, and thought provoking.


The Experiences of Families Caught in this Tragedy

True Stories of False Memories by Eleanor Goldstein with Kevin Farmer.
This well-written, well-edited, and thought provoking book contains the stories of eight retractors, eighteen siblings of accusers, and one account each from a husband, daughter, and mother of accusers. In addition, it contains chapters which trace the development of repressed memory hysteria in America and the role of pop psychology books, talk shows, celebrities, and irresponsible government officials in contributing to the panic. Seeing how family after innocent family has been devastated by eerily similar sequences of events helps a grieving family member realize that, as strange as it may seem, accusations like this are "nothing personal" and just reflect a vulnerable person's victimization by a destructive cult which explains every problem with the same answer and prescribes the same disastrous "cure" for every person. I strongly recommend that any affected family member read these or other family stories to realize that you are not alone and that tens of thousands of other good people have been hurt in the same way. Visit the Upton Books web site.
Confabulations: Creating False Memories, Destroying Families by Eleanor Goldstein with Kevin Farmer.
Another excellent work from the Social Issues Resources Series. One wonders how many books must be published about the damage done to families by bad therapy before the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association will issue a clear, courageous, principled, unqualified, unambiguous, scientifically basied condemnation of so-called memory recovery therapy and the quacks who practice it just as the Royal College of Psychiatrists has done. In America, are the foxes in the chicken coop? Visit the Upton Books web site.
Spectral Evidence : The Ramona Case : Incest, Memory, and Truth on Trial in Napa Valley by Moira Johnston.
Johnston documents in meticulous detail the Ramona trial in which Gary Ramona was accused of physical and sexual abuse on the basis of "repressed memories" that were "recovered" during a therapy session on one of his daughters which was conducted while she was under the influence of sodium amytal. The charges against Gary Ramona were ultimately dismissed on the narrow grounds that evidence obtained under the influency of sodium amytal is inadmissable in court, so the courts missed an opportunity here to address the larger questions of "repressed memories" and "memory recovery therapy" in general, but Mr. Ramona successfully sued his daughter's therapists and won over half a million dollars in a groundbreaking tort case that strengthened the right of injured family members to sue an irresponsible therapist. Johnston makes the timely observation that the Salem witch trials weren't halted until "Spectral Evidence" (claims of demonic possession and the like) were ruled inadmissable as evidence. Similarly, the madness of lawsuits and criminal trials based on "repressed memories" won't be halted until "repressed memories" themselves are made inadmissable nationwide--something that is rapidly taking place now as court after court rules them inadmissable under the Daubert and Frye tests for the admissability of scientifically-based expert testimony in the courtroom.

Fighting the Memory Recovery Movement's Influence Over a Loved One

Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan.
This book was recommended to me by a retractor to help understand what cults are, how they influence people's thinking, and an indirect, nonconfrontational way of raising doubts in a believer's mind and helping them free themselves from the cult's influnce. Before I mention what is good about the book, I need to warn prospective readers about some specific misinformation it contains relating to psychology, memory, and satanic ritual abuse. The book makes the following statements which are simply wrong:
"the mind does not erase previous memories" (p. 47) - On the contrary, forgetting information (or failing to store it in the first place) is part of the normal functioning of human memory. Read Loftus's book for more information.
"Our memories of childhood form a vast storehouse which can be tapped and exploited by hypnotic techniques .... Adults can easily be age-regressed to a time when they had little or no critical faculties." (p.47) - On the contrary, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has stated that "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." ( Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse: Recommendations for Good Practice and Implications For Training, Continuing Professional Development and Research  . The College Psychiatric Bulletin (1997), 21, 663-665.)
On pages 93-94, Hassan accepts as fact the myth of organized satanic cults and uncritically retells the usual stories of murder, animal sacrifice, blood rituals, and so on. If you believe in such things, read  FBI Special Agent Kenneth Lanning's Report (available free online for downloading or by written request) and Satanic Panic.
Finally, on page 194, Hassan states that people with Multiple Personality Disorder (since renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder)  "are shown to have different brainwave patterns when they are 'in' each of their distinct personalities. Any attempt by a person to merely give a good 'acting performance' can be easily detected." He cites no source for this remarkable claim and in fact there is no EKG or PET scan diagnostic test for DID (let alone one which can distinguish which 'personality' a client is performing) and the diagnosis itself is highly controversial.
Despite these specific flaws, Hassan's book provides much valuable information and insight. A former cult member himself, Hassan explains the specific techniques cults use to indoctrinate followers. He provides a useful definition of a cult. He explains his nonconfrontational approach called "exit counseling" for helping cult members free themselves from a cult's influence. He demonstrates the similarities of different cults and shows how they indoctrinate and exploit their members in similar ways, regardless of what their specific declared beliefs may be. So long as the reader is aware of the specific errors I noted, I recommend this book for gaining a better understanding of cults and the ways they indoctrinate and influence members. I hope that Hassan and his publisher will release a revised, corrected version someday because the four pages I noted are exceptions in what is otherwise an excellent, insightful, thought-provoking work, one that gave me a whole new viewpoint for understand the so-called Memory Recovery Movement.

The Crisis of Malpractice, Ignorance, and Incompetence Among Mental Health Providers

Beware the Talking Cure : Psychotherapy May Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health by Terence Campbell.
This book discusses the risks associated with psychotherapy and the harm that ignorant or incompetent therapists can do to their clients. It an afterword called "Hiring and Firing a Therapist", it includes a 40-question checklist for evaluating a current or potential therapist. Any person considering therapy should read both this book and What To Do When Psychotherapy Goes Wrong. Remember, only you can protect yourself from incompetent, ignorant, and unethical therapists. No one else will!
Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Trauma by Michael Yapko.
This book uses questionnaires filled out by mental health providers to demonstrate that many practicing therapists are ignorant of or misunderstand even basic facts about human memory and cognition. It also provides specific advice for all the people who are affected by bad therapy: the client, spouse, parents, siblings, children, and friends.

Survivor Psychology: The Dark Side of a Mental Health Mission by Susan Smith.
Smith analyzes the belief system of self-proclaimed "survivors" who believe they have recovered "repressed memories" of abuse during therapy. She also documents the yawning ignorance of "true believer" therapists who teach their clients myths, misconceptions, and meaningless jargon. One part of her research was doing structured interviews of 38 practicing therapists in the Phoenix, Arizona area; the interviews documented the therapists' inability to even define terms like "body memories" and "cellular memory" which were the cornerstones of their "repressed memory" belief system.

Manufacturing Victims : What the Psychology Industry Is Doing to People by Tana Dineen.
This book makes many important points about the crisis of fad-driven therapy, untested treatment regimens, lack of standards of care, lack of informed consent, conflict of interest, lack of regulation, and outright malpractice in the mental health care industry today. Unlike other health care professionals, mental health professionals have neither objective exams to confirm a particular diagnosis nor agreed-upon treatment regimens for treating them. Therapists may decide by themselves what constitutes illness, who is ill, how they should be treated, how long treatment should continue, what constitutes success, and when therapy should end. As a result, the possibility exists than an unethical mental health practitioner will diagnose a condition where none exists, encourage people to define day-to-day ups and downs as a disease needing treatment, use treatment approaches that artificially lengthen the course of therapy for financial gain, encourage dependency in clients to ensure a steady income, and use treatment approaches which have never been tested for safety and effectiveness. Dineen also notes that the mental health profession should be analyzed as an industry which like others has an economic incentive to create customers, expand its markets, and ensure repeat business. Although I think Dineen takes a somewhat radical position, her book is a desperately needed and conscientious wake-up call to rouse the mental health organizations and practitioners who are currently remaining passive in the face of rampant amateurism and incompetence and damaging, unsafe "therapies" which would have been pulled from the market years ago if they were drugs. The world needs more psychologists with Dineen's unfliching introspection and honesty. (Visit the Manufacturing Victims web site today!)
What To Do When Psychotherapy Goes Wrong by Shirley J. Siegel.
This book should be required reading for anyone who is considering "therapy" or "counseling." Its most important messages are the reminder that "Difficult as it may be to accept, that highly-educated, well-dressed, imposing and authoritative figure sitting across the desk from you is, after all, only human ...", the warning that "Everyone entering therapy needs someone to stand up and shout - 'HEY, WATCH OUT, PSYCHOTHERAPY MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH AND WELFARE!'", and the observation that "if there is no state licensure, there is no state agency to whom one can bring a complaint if counseling turns out to be abusive or unethical."  It reminds us all not to place blind trust in a person just because they are a "therapist," "psychotherapist," "psychologist," or "psychiatrist." It provides specific examples of some of the kinds of abuses that ignorant, incompetent, unscrupulous, or mentally ill therapists have committed. Finally, the book provides information about choosing a therapist, some characteristics of good and bad therapists, and your options if a therapist has behaved unethically. Shirley Siegel was a tireless crusader for clients' rights as head of Stop Abuse By Counselors (she's now retired), and this book is the culmination of her years of research, activism, and advocacy.  Like any book, this one is not perfect (Siegel is forthright about her personal "bias" against psychiatry, which this site's author does not share), but many tragedies could be prevented if every person considering "therapy" or "counseling" would take the time to read this book first and realize that clients must protect themselves from abuse and unethical behavior because no one else will.

The Myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse

Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend by Jeffrey S. Victor.
Victor discusses the development of the urban legend of satanic ritual abuse and the horrendous consequences when children, parents, therapists, law enforcement personnel, judges, and others believe this myth.
Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory by Lawrence Wright.
Wright gives a detailed account of the Paul Ingram case. After a daughter attended a religious retreat and accused him of abuse, Ingram felt that his daughters would not tell a lie and, on the advice of his friends in the police department and his pastor, began trying to recover memories of abuse which he decided he must have repressed. A highly suggestible individual, he developed false memories of committing abuse through intensive self-hypnosis and prayer and ultimately confessed to involvement in a satanic sex abuse ring. Once in prison and out of the influence of his friends and the pastor, Ingram realized his mistake and recanted. However, he has exhausted his appeals and has already served more than eight years of a lengthly prison sentence for satanic sex ring crimes which simply never occurred.

Faddism, Pseudoscience, and Junk Science in America

The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.
Sagan demonstrates that only a principled and disciplined insistence on applying the scientific method can protect one from being deceived by all kinds of myths, superstitions, urban legends, and pseudoscientific beliefs. He defines a 'baloney detector' to help you notice when a claim 'smells fishy,' and then explains how to apply the scientific to give people an opportunity to prove their claims rigorously. He then uses case studies of popular culture myths (including a brilliant chapter on satanic ritual abuse and alien abduction!) to show how each one collapses when examined with the scientific method. In this age of epidemic scientific, logical, and mathematical ignorance, this book should be required reading for every American.
Hystories : Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media by Elaine Showalter.
This insightful and concise book traces the history of hysteria and the role of doctors and the media in spreading psychosomatic illnesses. It highlights the similarities between belief systems such as recovered memory, satanic ritual abuse, multiple personality disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and alien abduction. Showalter notes how in each case, objective scientific evidence is lacking for the existence of the malady. People who believe they are suffering from it nonetheless seek treatment from medical "specialists" who give them the diagnosis they wish and offer them hope for a cure from their symptoms. Credulous media reports promote anecdotal reports and spread belief in the disorder without providing equal coverage for scientific studies which document the lack of evidence for a specific condition and suggest psychosomatic origins.

This otherwise excellent book is marred by two unfortunate factual errors regarding the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. It states (incorrectly) that the FMS Foundation is the publisher of a newsletter called The Retractor which is actually published by retractors. It also states that the FMS Foundation "wants to regulate the practice of psychotherapy through a Mental Health Consumer Protection Act, which would require the patient's informed consent ..." (p. 155) Such legislation has been proposed by R. Chris Barden, not the FMS Foundation, and is endorsed by However, the FMS Foundation, a not-for-profit educational and research foundation, has not taken an official position on specific legislation.
How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff.
"Statistics Don't Lie." Ah, no more foolish words were ever spoken. People lie with statistics and misuse statistics all the time, and unless you are on constant guard against improper and selective use of statistics, you will be deceived. This humorous book defines some common ways that statistics are misused and explains how to spot them.

Other Recommendations

House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth by Robyn M. Dawes and Peter David.
Whores of the Court: The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice by Margaret A. Hagen.
'Crazy' Therapies: What Are They? Do They Work? by by Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lalich.
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China by Robert Jay Lifton.
Lost Daughters: Recovered Memory Therapy and the People It Hurts by Reinder Van Til and Reinder Van Til.

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