Recovered-memory therapy (RMT) is a catch-all term for a controversial and scientifically discredited form of psychotherapy that critics say utilizes one or more unproven therapeutic techniques (such as psychoanalysis, hypnosis, journaling, past life regression, guided imagery, and the use of sodium amytal interviews) to purportedly help patients recall previously forgotten memories.[1][2] Proponents of recovered memory therapy claim, contrary to evidence,[3][4][5][6][7] that traumatic memories can be buried in the subconscious and thereby affect current behavior, and that these memories can be recovered through the use of RMT techniques. RMT is not recommended by professional mental health associations.[8] RMT can result in patients developing false memories of sexual abuse from their childhood and events such as alien abduction which had not actually occurred.[9]

Terminology

A 2018 survey found that although 5% of a U.S. public sample reported recovering memories of abuse during therapy (abuse they reported having no previous memory of), none of them used the terminology "recovered memory therapy"—instead those recovering memories reported using a variety of other therapy types (e.g., attachment therapy, Emotional Freedom Techniques, etc.).[10] Practitioners of RMT generally utilize methods (such as hypnosis, age regression, guided visualization, and/or the use of substances such as sodium amytal) that are intended to recover true memories, yet known to support the creation of false memories.[11][12][13]

Research

A review article on potentially harmful therapies listed RMT as a treatment that will probably produce harm in some who receive it.[14] Richard Ofshe, an American sociologist and expert on coerced and suggested testimony, describes the practice of "recovering" memories as fraudulent and dangerous.[11] An inquiry by the Australian government into the practice found little support for or use of memory recovery therapies among health professionals, and warned that professionals had to be trained to avoid the creation of false memories.[15] As part of its Crime Victims Compensation Program the state of Washington issued a report on the efficacy of RMT. It noted that the therapy had no positive benefits in the case studies analyzed and that "the ability of repressed memory patients to function in the activities of daily living is significantly and possibly irrevocably impaired as a direct result of the controversial therapy modalities.” Moreover, it recognized the potential for legal action from participants due to negative effects sustained from the program.[16]

Studies by Elizabeth Loftus and others have concluded that it is possible to produce false memories of childhood incidents.[17] The experiments involved manipulating subjects into believing that they had some fictitious experience in childhood, such as being lost in a shopping mall at age 6. This involved using a suggestive technique called "familial informant false narrative procedure," in which the experimenter claims the validity of the false event is supported by a family member of the subject. The study has been used to support the theory that false memories of traumatic sexual abuse can be implanted in a patient by therapists. Critics of these studies argue that the techniques do not resemble any approved or mainstream treatment modality,[18] and there are criticisms that the implanted events used are not emotionally comparable to sexual abuse.[19][20] Critics contend that Loftus's conclusions overreach the evidence.[19][18] Loftus has rebutted these criticisms.[21]

Some patients later retract memories they had previously believed to be recovered through RMT [22] upon encountering critical literature regarding recovered memory therapy. This literature often highlights the therapy's dangerous and pseudoscientific aspects, thereby exposing them to scientific facts that prompt reconsideration.[23][24] Patients have reported significant harmful effects due to the use of RMT.[25]

A 2018 US study is the largest study known that surveys the general public about memory recovery in therapy. The study was presented to participants aged 50 years or older as a "Life Experience" survey and found that 8% of the 2,326 adults had reported seeing therapists, mostly starting in the 1990s, that discussed the possibility of repressed memories of abuse. 4% of adults had reported recovering memories of abuse in therapy for which they had no previous memory. Recovered memories of abuse were associated with most therapy types.[26] A 1994 survey of 1000 therapists by Michael D. Yapko found that 19% of the therapists knew of a case in which a client's memory had been suggested by therapy but was in fact false.[27]

Professional guidelines

There are several individuals and groups that have published guidelines, criticisms or cautions about recovered memory therapy and techniques to stimulate recall:

Legal issues

In Ramona v. Isabella, Gary Ramona sued his daughter's therapist for implanting false memories of his abuse of her. In the first case putting recovered memory therapy, itself, on trial, he eventually was awarded $500,000 in 1994.[32]

Discussing RMT in the New South Wales Parliament in 1995, the state Minister for Health, Andrew Refshauge – a medical practitioner – stated that the general issue of admissibility of evidence based on recovered memories was one for the Attorney General.[33] In 2004 Australian Counselling Association issued a draft position statement regarding recovered memories in which it informed its membership of possible legal difficulties if they affirm accusations as true based solely upon discussion of a patient's recovered memories, without adequate corroborating evidence.[34]

A degree of controversy does remain within legal circles, with some holding the view that therapists and courts should consider repressed memories the same as they consider regular memories. Three relevant studies state that repressed memories are "no more and no less accurate than continuous memories."[35][36]

Recovered memory therapy was an issue in the criminal trials of some Catholic priests accused of fondling or sexually assaulting juvenile-turned-adult parishioners.[37][38]

In a 2017 criminal case in Canada, a Nova Scotian clergyman, the Reverend Brent Hawkes, was acquitted in a case involving recovered memories of alleged historical sexual abuse when Justice Alan Tufts described in his ruling that the complainant's method of re-constructing his memory of alleged events after joining a men's group and hearing similar accounts from other "survivors" his evidence could not be reliable.[39]

Several court cases awarded multimillion-dollar verdicts against Minnesota psychiatrist Diane Bay Humenansky, who used hypnosis and other suggestive techniques associated with RMT, resulting in accusations by several patients against family members that were later found to be false.[40][41][42]

In 1999, the Netherlands Board of Prosecutors General formed The National Expert Group on Special Sexual Matters, in Dutch - Landelijke Expertisegroep Bijzondere Zedenzaken (LEBZ). LEBZ consists of a multidisciplinary group of experts whom investigating police officers and prosecutors are mandated to consult before considering arresting or prosecuting a person accused of sexual crimes involving repressed memories or recovered memory therapy. The LEBZ released a report for the period of 2003–2007 stating that 90% of the cases they consulted on were stopped due to their recommendations that the allegations were not based on reliable evidence.[43]

See also

References

  1. ^ Lief, Harold I (November 1999). "Patients Versus Therapists: Legal Actions Over Recovered Memory Therapy". Psychiatric Times. XVI (11).
  2. ^ Kihlstrom, John F. (1996). "The Trauma-Memory Argument and Recovered Memory Therapy". In Pezdek, Kathy; Banks, William P. (eds.). The Recovered Memory/False Memory Debate. San Diego: Academic Press Inc. pp. 298–299. ISBN 0125529759.
  3. ^ McNally, R.J. (2004). "The Science and Folklore of Traumatic Amnesia". Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 11 (1): 29–33. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bph056.
  4. ^ McNally RJ (2007). "Dispelling confusion about traumatic dissociative amnesia". Mayo Clin. Proc. 82 (9): 1083–90. doi:10.4065/82.9.1083. PMID 17803876.
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  7. ^ McNally, RJ (September 2007). "Dispelling confusion about traumatic dissociative amnesia". Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 82 (9): 1083–90. doi:10.4065/82.9.1083. PMID 17803876.
  8. ^ Whitfield, CL; Silberg JL; Fink PJ (2001). Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors. Haworth Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-0-7890-1901-1.
  9. ^ McNally, Richard J. (2005). Remembering Trauma. Harvard University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv1pdrpxm. ISBN 978-0-674-01082-6.
  10. ^ Patihis, Lawrence; Pendergrast, Mark (2018). "Reports of Recovered Memories of Abuse in Therapy in a Large Age-Representative U.S. National Sample: Therapy Type and Decade Comparisons". Clinical Psychological Science. 7: 3–21. doi:10.1177/2167702618773315. S2CID 150267043.
  11. ^ a b Ofshe, Richard; Ethan Watters (1994). Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria. Charles Scribner's. ISBN 978-0-684-19698-5.
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  20. ^ Rogers, Richard (2008). Clinical Assessment of Malingering and Deception, Third Edition. New York: The Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1-59385-699-1.
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Further reading