False Memories – Shattered Lives
A 70 year old man received a call from a lawyer and was informed that his 40 year old daughter was accusing him and her mother of sexually abusing the daughter from the age of three until she was sixteen. Further, the daughter was saying that she was too emotionally disturbed to hold a job and was requesting that the parents pay her ongoing therapy bills as well as an additional $1000.00 a month. Even though the parents denied ever having sexually abused their daughter, her attorney maintained that the parents were in denial, and the sooner that they admitted to their abuse and accepted responsibility, the better it would be for all. They were informed that their daughter recovered these memories of abuse while in therapy for a weight problem.
I first became interested in false memories a few years ago when the above? mentioned father called me from California to request my assistance in arranging a meeting with him, his wife, daughter and his daughter”s therapist. He knew that his daughter lived in New Orleans (where I also live), but he did not know her address since she had broken off all direct communication with her parents. From the daughter”s attorney, the father was given the name and address of the therapist. The parents contacted the therapist and requested an appointment. The therapist told them that he would consent to see them only on the condition that they were willing to admit to the abuse charges. He said that he got my name and phone number through the United Methodist Church. He explained to me that his adult daughter was accusing him and her mother of childhood sexual abuse. She had recovered the memory while in therapy at a local psych?center in New Orleans. When she began therapy, she was working and making a living. After a few months of therapy, she had recovered the memories of sexual abuse and had steadily gotten worse and, at that time was emotionally unstable and unable to work.
The father denied that he had ever touched his daughter sexually and, as a result of the accusations, was overcome with sadness and despair. He asked me for help. As his daughter was receiving counseling at another health care facility, I contacted the chaplain at that hospital to look into the situation. I talked to the father one more time, and he said that he was trying to get an appointment with the daughter”s therapist but had been unsuccessful. The therapist kept telling him that he and his wife were in denial, and the only way the daughter and therapist would meet with the parents was if they confessed to the alleged molestations. The father asked me if I had ever heard of the False Memory Syndrome and an organization called, “False Memory Syndrome Foundation” which had been formed for parents of adult children who had accused their parents of sexual abuse. I admitted that I had not.
The False Memory Syndrome has been described as a condition that results when a person”s identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a false memory, recovered in adulthood, of childhood sexual abuse. The individual with recovered memories is resistant to any effort to discover the truth. The person may become so focused on the memory that he or she may become ineffective in coping with their day?to?day life, much with any real problems they may have.
Two or three years after the man from California called me, another woman came to me stating that she had been to a psychiatrist who regressed her back to a supposed childhood sexual molestation by her father. At that time she was considering confronting her father and accusing him of sexual abuse. However, she wanted a second opinion before she proceeded. Before the woman was given Recovered Memory Therapy, she had no prior memory of abuse, had always felt very close to her father and was never consciously afraid of him. She had experienced a proper and appropriate amount of affection from her father and, in spite of her “recovered memory,” loved him very much.
During a regression, I asked her to go back to any experience in her past that could clarify her situation in relation to her father. She went back to a playtime “game” that had begun when she was three years old and continued intermittently for about two years. He father would rock her up and down on his foot in an activity that they playfully called, “riding the horsey.” This, of course, is an activity that many small children enjoy without any sexual content. However, during the regression, she remembered experiencing sexual pleasure and orgasm during this time of play. I asked her, “Is there anyone else in the room with you and your father?” She replied, “Yes, my mama and my brother and when I get through riding the horsey, my brother can ride.” From this single regression, it appears that her father was totally innocent of any abuse and was just playing a normal child”s game with his daughter the same way that he played with her older brother who also enjoyed “ride the horsey.”
I asked her if she would agree to another regression session, this time going back to her earlier sessions with the psychiatrist. Under hypnosis she remembered that he had told her that most people with her particular problem had been abused as a child. Even though she did not remember having been abused, the psychiatrist led her through a guided imagery session in which her father molested her. When the session was over he recommended she read THE COURAGE TO HEAL.
A few years ago, a new therapy system referred to as “Recovered Memory Therapy” caught on with many professional therapists including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, ministers, counselors, and hypnotherapists. The Recovered Memory Therapist tends to assume that patients with such problems as eating disorders, relationship problems, depression, sexual inhibition and a host of other problems, have their problems as a result of traumatic experiences of sexual abuse which they have repressed.
These therapists use many counseling methods to include hypnosis, guided imagery, progressive relaxation techniques, automatic writing, feeling work, dream work, group therapy, and art therapy to uncover those repressed memories and unfortunately, sometimes produce false memories. The use of these techniques can be very helpful tools of counseling, but they can also lead to tragedy when the memories of sexual abuse are false. In discussing Recovered Memory Therapy, I do not include those therapists and counselors who use the above techniques to discover important past causative factors which may be. contributing to present day problems; who use hypnosis and other counseling techniques to discover past history that might contribute to a present day problem and use it to help the person live better today without destruction of others. Also, I do not include those therapists who work with individuals who have always remembered that they were sexually abused and are presently working to overcome any problems caused by that abuse.
I am including those therapists who plant false memories and encourage their clients to confront, hate, break with and sue parents for something that may or may not have happened years ago.
Based upon my findings and my interpretation of those findings, I consider Recovered Memory Therapy to be based on bad assumptions, resulting in bad therapy. I call it “bad therapy” because this type of therapy proceeds with assumptions that are not valid and results in therapy that are basically unsound. It often facilitates re?creating a person”s history with very painful results. Further, it makes the client excessively dependent on the therapist, separates them from their natural families and frequently induces some very painful emotional experiences which, in the end, make the client worse instead of better It is therefore my opinion that the Hypnotherapist/ NLP-Practitioner be completely aware of the potential problems of this method of therapy and approach it with extreme caution.
We have one mind but two parts: the conscious and subconscious. The conscious portion consists of about 10% of our thinking ability, and the subconscious consists of about 90%. Our conscious mind consists only of what is available to our conscious thinking process. It is the analytical, rational, logical, “two?plus?two?is?four” part of the mind. The subconscious is not logical, and it contains our emotions, habits, automatic responses, feelings, instincts, impressions and much of our memory. One of the peculiarities of the subconscious mind is that the subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between imagination and reality. We as trained professionals know that when it comes to memory, a thought, image, or idea, whether real or not, when repeated often enough with an emotional “charge,” becomes like a real memory to the subconscious mind.
Beware of false memories because of the trauma caused to the client who experiences these false memories. Beware of false memories because of the hurt and pain experienced by parents who are accused. Beware of false memories because of the damage to families that results from false memories. Beware of false memories for your own well?being. Many families and retractors (individuals who experienced false memories and are now refuting those memories) are suing the therapist who developed the false memories.
With Recovered Memory Therapists, my research has revealed a pattern that tends to occur with striking frequency. These sessions often begin with the client”s coming to the therapist with a presenting problem that is other than sexual abuse. Regardless of the presenting problem, the therapist tends to assume that if a person has certain symptoms, then the symptomatic evidence is in and of itself the proof of childhood sexual abuse. The abuser is usually assumed to be the father and/or perhaps the grandfather, and may also include the mother and grandmother as well as others. The symptoms that ostensibly indicate that the person has experienced prior sexual abuse includes but is not limited to eating disorders, headaches, vaginal infections, sleep disorders, stomachaches, dizziness, problems maintaining stable relationships, wearing baggy clothes, obesity, depression, or low self?esteem. Any of us may face one or more of the symptoms during our lifetimes, but many Recovered Memory Therapists seem to acknowledge only one cause: repressed memories of childhood abuse.
With this motivation, the therapist”s next step is to convince the client that she was abused, whether or not she remembers such abuse. If the client says she was not abused, the therapist will often respond that the denial is only another proof of her childhood sexual abuse. It is similar to the witch trials at Salem. Those suspected of being witches were thrown into a pond. If they floated they were guilty and burned. If they sank, they were innocent but dead.
Once the client is convinced that her problems can be cured by recovering childhood memories of abuse, the therapist uses a variety of techniques to help the client uncover repressed memories. Among these techniques used are hypnosis, sodium amytal, guided imagery, age regression, progressive relaxation with suggestions, trance writing, dream analysis, body memory, flashbacks, group survivors” work and many other such therapies to get to the so?called repressed memories. As a certified clinical hypnotherapist, I use most of these techniques myself (except for the sodium amytal). It is not the techniques that I have problems with. It is, rather, the way the techniques are used ? or misused.
Eileen Franklin told many stories of how she recovered memories of her father, George, raping and killing her friend years before. She told her brother that she recalled the incident while under hypnosis. She told her sister that she became aware of the killings from a dream. At her father”s trial, she told the jury that she had remembered the murder during a flashback triggered when looking at her own daughter”s face. Based upon Eileen”s testimony of the recovered memory, George was convicted of murder and sent to jail.
Perhaps nothing fueled the flames of the fires of recovered memory therapy as much as the books by survivors. Do these books provide good advice to help women recover memories or do they tend to implant memories? During the twentieth century, few books have done more harm than the Bass and Davis book THE COURAGE TO HEAL which is considered the bible of the Recovered Memory Therapy movement. Early in the book the claim is made “You may think you don”t have memories (of sexual abuse) but often as you begin to talk about what you do remember, there emerges a constellation of feelings, reactions, and recollections that add up to substantial information. To say, “I was abused” you do not need the kind of proof that would stand up in court.” (p. 25) The book continues “Often the knowledge that you were abused starts with a tiny feeling, an intuition… Assume your feelings are valid.” (p. 25) Another statement to prepare the soil of the mind for implanted memories is “If you have unfamiliar or uncomfortable feelings as you read this book, don”t be alarmed. Strong feelings are part of the healing process. On the other hand, if you breeze through these chapters, you probably aren”t feeling safe enough to confront these issues. Or you may be coping with the book the same way you coped with abuse ? by separating your intellect from your feeling.” (p. 27) They have got you whether you are feeling uncomfortable or if you are feeling nothing. Either way, the authors assume that you were sexually abused and they will go to any lengths to recover the memories with no regard for the truth.
The authors encourage women to separate themselves from their “family of origin”, to sue their parents, to disassociate with anyone who does not support their claims and hate those who they discovered abused them. The book tells of one woman who claimed to have been abused by her grandfather. She went to his deathbed, and in front of all the other relatives, angrily confronted him right there in the hospital. Forgiveness may be considered, but is not encouraged and, in fact, is discouraged.
There is a concerted effort to make the patient experience the emotional pain of rape, sexual abuse and other horrible experiences through abreaction. They have the client relive the supposed abuse and thereby releasing its power. (Most therapists use abreaction as a releasing technique, but most of the time the therapist will have the patient distance themselves from the pain and view the experience from a safe place or as if it were on a TV screen.) The Recovered Memory Therapist persuades their clients to literally feel the pain of the rape and torture and the humiliation of their supposed experiences. In their book Making Monsters, Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters state, “Although we don”t suggest that these Recovered Memory Therapists take sexual pleasure from these abuse “recreations,” some Recovered Memory Therapists perhaps deserve recognition as a new class of sexual predator.” (p. 7)
The client is encouraged to have a confrontation with their abuser and/or abusers This is usually done in the therapist”s office with strict guidelines. Supported by the therapist and perhaps others, the client generally reads from a prepared statement. They list a variety of accusations such as “Father, you molested me when I was six months old, you raped me when I was four until I was seventeen. Mother, you let it happen. You did nothing to stop him and, in fact, you assisted him and molested me also.” The parents are not allowed to challenge the accuser, and if they say that the abuse never occurred, they are accused of being in denial. Sometimes the accusations are made over the telephone or in a letter with similar letters written to other family members and friends. During these confrontations there is usually a demand for the parents to pay for therapy and additional sums of money for the pain they caused the survivor. If they don”t get what they want from the confrontation, they quite often sue, and most of the so?called survivor”s books encourage them to do so.
Recovered Memory Therapists encourage clients to give up their natural families to include any relative who does not agree with the client concerning the alleged abuse. The authors of The Courage to Heal suggest that one should separate themselves from the cause of their problems which in their terms is “the family of origin.” Their tendency is to picture the family as poison for the client and destructive to the client. Fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles and added to that list; mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts who either participated in the abuse, either allowed it to happen without interfering, or they did not believe the accusation of the survivor.
The Recovery Memory Therapy Movement has many cult?like qualities. Webster”s Unabridged Dictionary definition of cult is a group with a “devoted or extreme attachment to or extravagant admiration for a thing or ideal, The Recovery Memory Therapy Movement has many cult?like qualities. Is especially as manifested by a body of admirers; any system for treating human sickness that employs methods regarded as unorthodox or unscientific.” Generally a cult will claim to be the only way to God, Nirvana, Paradise, healing, and such. Some characteristics of a cult are: (1) Their leaders may claim a special revelation. The therapist is the leader and develops a situation where the client depends upon them for salvation. (2) They believe that they have the whole truth. Everyone is a victim and needs to recover the memories of abuse in order to be whole. Their bible is The Courage To Heal with other survivor books also used as sacred writings. (3) They use intimidation or psychological manipulation to keep members loyal to their truth. If one says they experienced no child?hood sexual abuse, they are said to be in denial. (4) Members will be expected to give substantial support. The financial cost of therapy is high and can go on for years. (5) There is great emphasis on loyalty to the group and its teachings. You must accept the diagnosis of the leader and allow yourself to discover the repressed memories of abuse. (6) Members are encouraged to give up their natural families for the family of the cult. The survivors” group is to take the place of the family of origin and the family of origin must be denounced. (7) Members will look to their leaders for guidance in everything they do. During treatment the client becomes overly dependent on their therapist. (8) Any questioning of the group”s teaching is discouraged. If one suggests that they have no sexual abuse history, the group ridicules them, saying again that they are in denial. (9) Attempts to
leave may be met with threats. The client is told that they can never heal until they have dealt with their abuse and cannot make it on their own.
Some guidelines for therapists: (1) If you as the therapist are going to bring up the possibility of sexual abuse, it should be done as part of the patient history intake information, and be one question among many. The question may be “Were you sexually abused as a child?” If the answer to that question is “No,” accept the answer. (2) Do not diagnosis sexual abuse based on the client”s symptoms. (3) A therapist should not assume that sexual abuse has occurred because a person has periods from her past that she cannot remember. (3) Be aware of how you word questions or suggestions so that you do not lead a person to have false memories. (4) Be aware that because of books, TV/radio programs, magazines articles and newspaper articles that false memories may have already been planted before the client came to you. (5)
Understand that memory can be distorted even when the person is in a hypnotic state. (6) Work toward coping with life in the here and now rather than focusing on the past. (7) Do not put a client without clear and detailed memories of abuse into a survivors” therapy group. Even then, choose only groups that deal with adjusting to the world today rather than reliving and rehashing painful experiences. (8) Do not advise a client to read THE COURAGE TO HEAL or any other book written by a “so?called survivor.” (9) Be careful when using progressive relaxation, suggestions, guided imagery, hypnosis, or other hypnoticlike states that you do not give leading suggestions of abuse. (10) Be certain that you are not meeting some sexual need of your own by helping your client share with you sexual abuse, whether real or false. (11) If you were sexually abused as a child, do not assume that everyone else was abused also. (12) Question your motives before you suggest that a client confront and separate from her natural family. (13) Do no harm.
Continue to use hypnosis, guided imagery, NLP and relaxation techniques to help others come to terms with life and thus live a better life, but beware of false memories.
BOOKS ON FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME AND RECOVERED MEMORIES:
Bass, E. and Davis, L. (1994) The Courage b Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. 3rd ed. NY Harper Perennial. False Memory Syndrome Foundation, 3401, Ste 130, Philadelphia, PA. 19104?3318.
Hansen, J. “The False Memory Syndrome: How It”s Affecting The Use of Hypnosis” NGH Convention Manual, 1994,
“What Is The False Memory Controversy?” NGH Convection Manual, 1995,
“Hypnosis ? Controversial Again” NGH Convention Manual, 1995, Merrimack, NH.
“Hypnosis and Delayed Recall: Part 1 ” (Oct 1994 Vol xiii # 4) The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Periodicals Press.
Loftus, E. and Ketcham, K. (1994) The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse. NY St. Martin”s.
Ofshe R. and Waiters, E. (1994) Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria. NY Scribner.
Pendergrast, M. (1995, 1996) Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives. Second ed. Hinesburg, VT Upper Access.
Stephens, R.L. (1996) Hypnosis and False Memories. Freeport, PA: Ziotech
Underwager, R. and Wakefield, H. (1994) The Return of the Furies: Analysis of Recovered Memory Therapy. Chicago: Open Court.
Wassil?Grimm, C. (1995) Diagnosis for Disaster. The Devastating Truth about False Memory Syndrome and Its Impact on Accusers and Families. Woodstock, NY Overlook.
- Yapko, M.D. (1994) Suggestions of Abuse: True and False Memories of Childhood Sexual Traumas. NY Simon & Schuster.