Academic journal article Social Work

Recovered Memory Therapy: Responses to All

Academic journal article Social Work

Recovered Memory Therapy: Responses to All

Article excerpt

I am pleased at the extent of response to my article. I believe that the issue of memory recovery work is an important one that deserves careful discussion in our profession, and I thank my colleagues who have replied to this article for their part in further developing this discussion.

James Lein

Lein said that my article should be considered in the context of the positions of an organization not discussed in my article, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). I confess that I do not understand the relevance of Lein's discussion of the FMSF to my discussion. My article was not intended to be reflective of the positions of the FMSF. For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. The positions of the FMSF are not relevant to the validity or invalidity of my arguments.

Lein implied that memory research is exclusively used in trials to discredit women who have "recovered" memories of sexual abuse. However, memory research frequently is used in the courts on behalf of women and children who have brought actions against their therapists for professional malpractice (Alkon, 1997; Associated Press, 1996; Gregory, 1997; Gustafson, 1996a, 1996b; Jones, 1997; Yapko, 1994).

Lein implied a straw man argument by asking, "Is a memory false because it is not totally complete, down to the tedious details, or because it contains inaccuracies?" This was not what I said. I said that memory recovery techniques "may lead to recovery of accurate memories, [but] they can also result in the recovery of distorted or wholly constructed memories" (Stocks, 1998, p. 431) and that " there are no procedures that have been demonstrated to reliably distinguish confabulations from accurate memories" (p. 431). Lein was correct that a memory is not necessarily false because of inaccuracies in details. However, it is just as correct that such a memory is not necessarily true either.

Lein missed the point when he characterized my article as advocating the "assiduous avoidance" of abuse memories. I did not take such a position. The well-supported position of my article was that memory recovery techniques recover confabulations as well as accurate memories and that there is no way to distinguish between them. The warning in the article was that memory recovery techniques are procedures that entail documented risks without balancing benefits.

His quotation of LeDoux (1992) was misleading. It did not refer, as Lein states, to "traumatic memories," but rather emotional memories. The entire sentence reads: "These findings suggest that emotional memories are indelible and normally maintained by subcortical circuits involving the amygdala" (p. 280). These are not memories of events, but rather of emotional responses to events. Earlier in the article, LeDoux noted that the amygdala generates emotional responses based on features of the event rather than the total event. "The emotional responses and memories established would therefore not necessarily correspond to the ongoing conscious perceptions of the individual" (p. 277). It is not necessarily the case that an "emotional memory" would lead to a correct narrative memory. As soon as we talk about an emotional memory, it is transcribed into the declarative memory system and is subject to social influence. This opens the door to distortion and confabulation.

Lein ended his reply with a quotation from Karon and Widener (1997) that purported to provide evidence that memory recovery techniques can lead to remission of symptoms. The article dealt with the treatment of war neuroses during World War II. However, an evaluation of Karon and Widener's sources did not support the contention that memory recovery work helped war neurosis patients. Many, if not most, of the cases did not involve "repressed memories" of the traumatic incident. Most of the sources were descriptive of war neuroses rather than evaluative of treatment. …

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