I'm writing to let you know about a tragedy which has
struck my family in the hope that I can save you from
ever suffering the same fate, and to ask your help in
solving this problem which has devastated my family and
tens of thousands of others as well.
During therapy, one of my relatives has come to believe
that she has "recovered repressed memories" of childhood
abuse. Worse still, she has cut off all contact from the
family without giving us a chance to discuss these
accusations. I cannot begin to express how painful it is
to see your family split with no warning by "hit and run"
accusations of abuse and to be denied the chance to prove
your innocence before losing all contact with a loved one.
The abuse and neglect of children are real problems,
and they have historically been hidden, underreported,
and denied, but not every accusation of abuse is true.
In the 80s and 90s, America has been swept by a wave of
accusations of abuse which supposedly went on for years
without being noticed, and which the victims supposedly
repressed all memory of instantaneously, spontaneously,
and completely after each and every incident, only to
miraculously recover these "repressed memories" years
or decades later during therapy.
These so-called "repressed memories" are the result of
a fad called "memory recovery therapy" which swept the
mental health industry in the 80s and early 90s. This
misguided set of techniques arose not from scientific
or medical research but from pop psychology, self-help
books, and enthusiastic promotion by a handful of
psychotherapists unconcerned with the findings of research
and issues like testing, safety, and effectiveness.
So-called "memory recovery therapy" is based on the
theory that in response to severely traumatic events
like physical or sexual abuse, people instantantaneously,
spontaneously, and completely repress all memory of the
event, yet can accurately recover these memories years
or decades later. This theory was popularized by the
self-help book The Courage to Heal, further promoted
by celebrities who claimed to have recovered such
memories, and spread widely by credulous reports in the
mass media. The theory holds that a person can be
violently abused every day for years on end throughout
childhood, yet have no conscious awareness of the abuse
at the time because the memory of each and every event
is completely repressed as soon as it occurs. Even having
no memory of ever being abused is considered evidence
of abuse because it is labeled "being in denial"!
The theory further holds that techniques such as
hypnotism, "guided imagery," "age regression," dream
interpretation, and leading questions can be used to
accurately "recover" these "repressed memories" years
or decades after the alleged abuse took place.
Unfortunately, although therapists across America
rushed to embrace this theory in the late 80s and early
90s due to anecdotal and media reports, this is a
theory for which there is no scientific
evidence. On the contrary, the American Psychological
Association has stated that "Most people who were
sexually abused as children remember all or part of
what happened to them." (1) Dr. Sydney Brandon of the Royal
College of Psychiatrists noted that "Numerous studies
in children and adults have shown that psychologically
traumatic events are vividly though not always
accurately recalled .... 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." (2) Moreover, the same report
concluded that "There is no empirical evidence to
support either repression or dissociation, though there
is much clinical support for these concepts. Evidence
does not support the existence of 'robust repression'." (3)
It added that "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." (4)
Many people strongly believe that they have recovered
repressed memories of abuse, but strong subjective belief
proves nothing. After all, many people strongly believe
that they have recovered repressed memories of alien
abduction, but does this prove the existence of
Indeed, the unreliability of so-called "memory recovery"
techniques is demonstrated by the "memories" themselves.
Some claim to have "recovered memories" of becoming stuck
in the fallopian tube as a fertilized egg; others "recover
memories" of past lives. In 18% of the over 20,000 cases
reported to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in
Philadelphia, the accusing family member believes that he
or she has recovered repressed memories of satanic ritual
abuse, often including graphic accounts of human and
animal sacrifice. Yet an FBI report concluded that "The most
significant crimes being alleged that do not seem to be
true are the human sacrifice and cannibalism by organized
satanic cults." (5) Similarly, many people report "recovered
memories" of abuse during early infancy, yet in reality
"Few people seem able to remember events which took place
before about the age of three years. This 'infantile amnesia'
depends upon delayed maturation of the brain, which has been
demonstated in other species of mammal. Episodic memory does
not develop until afer age four years and most people have
limited memories before about five or six years of age." (6)
An increasing number of "retractors" have realized that the
"repressed memories" which they "recovered" in therapy were
not true memories but rather the result of therapy itself,
"false memories" of events which never occurred. For example,
Beth Rutherford came to believe during therapy that her father
had made her pregnant twice and she'd had two abortions--but
later medical exams showed that she was still a virgin and
her father had had a vasectomy! (The Rutherford family is
now reunited and works to educate people about the danger of
"memory recovery therapy.") Meanwhile, the therapists
who are responsible for such cases are almost all still
practicing, putting vulnerable clients at risk. Only a handful
have had their licenses taken away, and some were unlicensed
to begin with.
Memory recovery therapy has now been discredited.
Research has shown that it is neither safe nor effective
and that it actually makes patients suicidal. (7) But the
damage has already been done. Tens of thousands of
American families have been shattered by therapists whose
leading questions made their clients believe that their
parents, grandparents, or others headed satanic cults or
committed violent abuse for years on end without anyone
What has caused this epidemic of bad therapy? The problem
is that there is no requirement that therapies be tested
for safety and effectiveness before being used on vulnerable
clients. Therapists are free to do anything they want so
long as they call it "therapy." In addition, therapists
routinely begin therapy without advising clients of known
risks, benefits, and alternatives and getting informed
consent for the planned techniques.
Imagine how dangerous it would be to take medicines if they
weren't tested first for safety and effectiveness and if
doctors did not warn of their risks and side effects. Imagine
how many people would push untested, ineffective, or downright
dangerous "cures" if they could bill health insurers and the
government and get rich in the process! Unfortunately, that
is the situation in the mental health industry today.
For example, a new web site devoted to this problem,
http://www.StopBadTherapy.com/, has links on its home page
to newspaper articles about one therapist whose patient came
to believe she had "recovered repressed memories" of "ritual
satanic abuse", who showed the woman's children a gun and
handcuffs "for therapeutic reasons," and who billed the family's
insurers $3 million for these "services"! (When the woman got
out of therapy, she sued and received a $10.6 million settlement,
but that therapist is still practicing medicine today!)
In addition to the human suffering they cause, such
tragedies waste taxpayer and health insurance dollars.
This drives our health insurance premiums even higher to
pay for years of ineffective or harmful therapy and the
rising malpractice insurance premiums therapists must pay.
To reform the mental health industry and end this crisis,
http://www.StopBadTherapy.com/ includes letters to send to
your state and federal elected officials asking that they
introduce the Truth and Responsibility in Mental Health
Practices Act, legislation requiring mental health providers to
get informed consent from clients BEFORE therapy begins and
BEFORE they get reimbursement from the government and health
For your family's sake, please take a few minutes to visit
http://www.StopBadTherapy.com/ and learn about the dangers
of untested, unsafe therapeutic techniques. Also, please
send the sample letters on the site to your elected
representatives so that future generations will not suffer at
taxpayer expense from the next mental health fad. It's too
late to save my family from this suffering, but it's not too
late to save yours. Please help. Remember, your family could
1. American Psychological Association. "Interim
Report of the APA Working Group on
Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse."
2. Brandon, Sydney, et al. "Recovered memories of
childhood sexual abuse: Implications for clinical
practice," British Journal of Psychiatry, April
1998, p. 298.
3. Brandon, p. 304.
4. Brandon, p. 303.
5. Lanning, Kenneth, Supervisory Special Agent,
Behavioral Science Unit, FBI Academy.
"Child Sex Rings: A Behavioral Analysis,"
Second Edition, April 1992, p. 22.
6. Brandon, p. 298.
7. Loftus, Elizabeth. "Repressed memory accusations:
Devastated families and devastated patients."
Applied Cognitive Psychology, 1997 vol. II,
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