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The Memory Recovery Movement is a Taxpayer Funded Cult!

"Yes the kids did see handcuffs. They did see a gun. But it was for therapeutic reasons." -- Bennett Braun, M.D., founding president of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, quoted in the New York Times

It's bad enough that tens of thousands of families have been shattered by the cult known as the memory recovery movement, but to add insult to injury, a great deal of the "memory recovery therapy" (i.e. cult recruiting and indoctrination) has been funded by the tax dollars that are withheld from your paycheck and the tax-exempt health insurance premiums you pay every month!

For example, Washington state passed a well-intentioned law called the Victims Compensation Program. This law had the laudable goal of forcing criminals to pay restitution to their victims and paying for any medical treatment which crime victims might need as a result of the crime that was committed. The law also provided additional state government funds to pay for medical and psychological therapy . Helping the victims of actual crimes and forcing criminals to compensate their victims are two goals which almost anyone will agree with.

While the intentions of the law and its authors were good, the law had a toxic side effect: it provided a pot of taxpayer dollars which could be seized by any therapist who convinced a crime victim that therapy was necessary--even if there was no evidence that the therapy was safe or effective, even if the scope of the therapy grew over time far beyond the original criminal act, regardless of the practices the therapist chose to call "therapy." In reality, this law provided a pot of gold to reward any ignorant, incompetent, or unethical therapist who deliberately or inadvertently caused clients to believe that their suffering was due to repressed memories of childhood abuse.

Proof that "Memory Recovery Therapy" Harms the Patient

Washington state later commissioned a study to determine the cost-effectiveness of the memory recovery therapy it was paying for under the Victims Compensation Program. As Brandon et al relate in their recent article "Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Implications for clinical practice":

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.

Lest the signficance of this finding be overlooked, let's reiterate:
  • Before memory recovery therapy, two were hospitalized; after treatment, eleven were.
  • Before memory recovery therapy, one was self-mutilating; after treatment, eight were.
  • Before memory recovery therapy, three were suicidal; after treatment, twenty were.
... and this was taxpayer funded therapy? Your tax dollars at work!

Belatedly realizing its mistake, Washington state's Victims Compensation Program stopped paying for memory recovery therapy in 1997. But the damage had already been done. The broken marriages won't be restored. And these people were victimized above all by the Victims Compensation Program because of its willingness to pay for memory recovery therapy, a therapy which has never been tested for safety or effectiveness and which as this study demonstrates is severely harmful to the patients. These people are now victims of bad therapy who show much more serious symptoms of psychological distress than before they began their taxpayer-funded misadventure, and restoring them to mental health (if possible) will take even more therapy, which will likely be paid for by disability coverage as the individuals appear unable to work. Your tax dollars at work!

Keep in mind that although Washington state's Victims Compensation Program has stopped paying for memory recovery therapy, it's the exception, not the rule. Other federal programs, other state programs, and most private health insurers may still be paying for so-called memory recovery therapy today because:

  • mental health providers are only required to state their diagnosis, not their treatment techniques, when they file for reimbursement, so if they diagnose depression and decide to try to recover repressed memories of abuse, they are free to do so
  • unlike drug therapies, there is no requirement that mental therapies be tested for safety and effectiveness before they are rushed into use
  • mental health providers are not required to advise clients of the risks, benefits, and alternatives to a given therapy or to get informed consent from their clients before beginning therapy--so a mental health provider is free to engage in memory recovery therapy (for example) without informing the client that there is no evidence of benefits, overwhelming evidence of harm caused by the therapy, and numerous safe, tested, effective alternatives which could be used instead
  • in fact, there is no definition of what constitutes legitimate 'therapy' at all; once you have a M.D. in psychiatry or a Ph.D. in psychology or a license for clinical social work or counseling (or no qualifications at all and a sign on your front lawn saying "psychotherapist") you are free to use any technique you wish--and seek reimbursement for it--so long as you label it "therapy" -- even 'memory recovery' or showing childrens handcuffs and a gun!
Sad to say, the scandal is not that an M.D. psychiatrist at a major university hospital was free to bill health insurers for $3,000,000 for treating a family with therapy that included memory recovery work and showing the children handcuffs and a gun for "therapeutic reasons." The scandal is that other "therapists" are free to do the very same things today, and to get reimbursement for it from taxpayer dollars and tax-exempt health insurance premiums, because we do not require that mental therapies be tested for safety and effectiveness!

Worse, the recently-passed federal legislation requiring health insurers to provide coverage for mental therapy equal to their coverage for medical therapy means that the pot of gold available for crazy therapies and crazy therapists just got bigger! It's open season on taxpayers and anyone who pays to get health insurance coverage!

Had enough? Are you tired of seeing your hard-earned tax dollars spent on insane therapies? Are you tired of seeing your health insurance premiums rising to pay for million dollar memory hunts? Email your legislators and demand that they introduce and pass the Truth and Responsibility in Mental Health Practices Act to protect taxpayers, the mentally ill, and their families by requiring that mental therapies be tested for safety and effectiveness before being tried out on vulnerable patients! Remember, your family may be next!

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