Risks of Recovered Memory Must Be Disclosed

Article excerpt

Therapists who conduct recovered memory therapy have a duty to inform their patients that the results of this technique are uncertain and that it also carries the risk of implanting false memories, according to Dr. John Cannell, a forensic psychiatrist in Atascadero, Calif., and his colleagues.

Moreover the fallibility of memory has long been known to the mental health community, and therefore therapists should have been disclosing the risks of recovered memory even before the flurry of reports beginning in 1993 regarding false memories induced as a result of this therapeutic technique (J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 29[2]:138-47 2001).

The decision in Canterbury v. Spence, a landmark 1972 case on informed consent (U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit), affirms that physicians must "unmask" any risks that could affect the patient's decision to undergo any type of therapy.

Dr. Cannell and his colleagues argued that in obtaining consent for recovered memory therapy therapists must disclose to patients that this form of therapy is supported by anecdotal evidence only-unlike several other forms of therapy for which there is empirical support. In addition, the therapist must disclose information about "a flood of mental health and forensic publications concerning false memories-pseudomemories-and false allegations of sexual abuse that may arise as a result of recovered memory therapy."

While many of these publications have appeared just in the last decade, the fallibility of memory-especially around the subject of sexual abuse--has been well known for at least a century and perhaps for hundreds of years, argued Dr. Cannel and his colleagues.

This means that therapists conducting recovered memory therapy should have been disclosing these risks of the therapy even before the current flurry of publications and lawsuits. …