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Home arrow False and "Recovered" Memories arrow False Memory Syndrome - Articles arrow Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memories

Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memories

Article Index
Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memories
Initiation of Patients into RMT
Generating False Memories
The Dark Side of Recovery
The Care and Maintenance of False Memories
How Memory Really Works
Why Recovered Memory Therapy is Bad Therapy
Other Kinds of FMS
A Word About the Future
From Skeptic vol. 2, no. 3, 1994, pp.  58-61.

The following article is copyright © 1994 by the Skeptics Society, P.O. Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001, (818) 794-3119.  Permission has been granted for noncommercial electronic circulation of this article in its entirety, including this notice.

RECOVERED MEMORY THERAPY AND FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME

By John Hochman, M.D. 

Introduction

Thousands of patients (mostly women) in the United States have undergone or are undergoing attempted treatment by psychotherapists for a non-existent memory disorder.  As a result, these same therapists have unwittingly promoted the development of a real memory disorder: False Memory Syndrome.  To make sense of this unfortunate situation, I need to offer a few definitions.

Some psychotherapists believe that childhood sexual abuse is the specific cause of numerous physical and mental ills later in life.  Some term this Incest Survivor Syndrome (ISS).  There is no firm evidence that this is the case, since even where there has been documented sexual abuse during childhood, there are numerous other factors that can explain physical or emotional complaints that appear years later in an adult.

These therapists believe that the children immediately repress all memory of sexual abuse shortly after it occurs, causing it to vanish from recollection without a trace.  The price for having repressed memories is said to be the eventual development of ISS.

Therapists attempt to "cure" ISS by engaging patients in recovered memory therapy (RMT), a hodge-podge of techniques varying with each therapist.  The purpose of RMT is to enable the patient to recover into consciousness not only wholly accurate recollections of ancient sexual traumas, but also repressed body memories (such as physical pains) that occurred at the time of the traumas.

In actuality, RMT produces disturbing fantasies which are misperceived by the patient and misinterpreted by the therapist as memories.  Mislabeled by the therapist and patient as recovered memories, they are actually false memories.

The vast majority of false memory cases developing from RMT are in women, which is why this article assumes patients to be female.