No Thanks for the Recovered Memory ; Psychological Notes: Margaret Murphy

Article excerpt

SCIENTISTS RECENTLY recorded the creation of a false memory in the brain using a PET scanner. Nothing earth-shattering, just a word, slyly suggested to the test group, and then accepted by them as being on the original list, but it confirmed other experimental evidence that pseudomemories can be implanted in people's minds.

Patients of "recovered memory" therapists routinely "recall" bizarre sadistic acts: ritual human sacrifice, drinking of blood and urine, the rape of children. All inventions of the mind, all utterly false. Powerful coercive strategies are employed by therapists: hypnosis, drugs and regression - all of which have been largely discredited as therapies - are implemented in the quest for buried memories.

Most false-memory sufferers (a more accurate title) are intelligent, educated middle-class women. They seek help because they are unhappy, unfulfilled, insecure, only to be told that their symptoms are reliable indicators that they have been subjected to sexual abuse in childhood. But, on therapists' criteria, half the population must have been abused as children: anything from eating disorders to general misery is attributed to repressed memories.

Denial that abuse took place is simply not accepted. In the deliciously insane logic of RM therapy, an inability to recall abuse is a definite sign that abuse has occurred. The idea, based on the Freudian theory of repression, is that, if something is too traumatic to deal with, our minds will banish the memory from our consciousness, until some event - or expensive therapy - brings it back. In fact, repeated questioning by the therapist over time heightens patients' suggestibility, and time is something therapists have plenty of, with many people remaining in therapy for years.

We all forget - we're only human - but repression represents a kind of amnesia, and true amnesia for traumatic events is extremely rare; moreover, the amnesiac is aware of a gap in their memory. Normal remembering and the "recovery" of memories of abuse also differ substantially: when we remember some forgotten event, usually it returns all at once; in the RM scenario, events are "recalled" over a period of time, with more and more detail emerging. …