False Memory                                          





Myth of Repressed Memory by Loftus and Ketcham
The Myth of Repressed Memory

Elizabeth Loftus and
Katherine Ketchum

Making Monsters:  False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria
Making Monsters:  False Memories,
Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria

Richard Ofshe, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Ethan Waters



'Recovered-memory therapy' (RMT) is a catch-all term for therapy that can include one or more different techniques or methods such as hypnosis, guided imagery, trance, past life regression, relaxation, free associations, inner child exercises, age regression, body memory interpretation, body massage, dream interpretation, and the use of projective techniques.
Professional associations in some countries have issued guidelines for psychologists that address recovered memories.* In these, professionals are urged to be aware of their own  personal limitations in knowledge and training regarding memory, trauma and development and further counseled "that there is no constellation of symptoms which is diagnostic of child sexual abuse".  These guidelines also urge caution and awareness of the benefits and limitations of the methods listed above.

*Ogloff, JRP. Guidelines for psychologists addressing recovered memories. Canadian Psychological Association. 1996

Quackery  Therapy Crazy Therapies
Crazy Therapies: What are they?
Do they work?

Margaret Thaler Singer
and Janja Lalich

Sybil movie and multiple personality disorder debunkeddebunked
Sybil Exposed: The Extaordinary
Study Behind the Famous

Multiple Personality Case
Debbie Nathan

Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash Over Meaning, Memory, and Mind
Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash
Over Meaning, Memory, and Mind

Paul R. McHugh, M.D.

Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Brainwashing
Thought Reform and the Psychology
of Totalism

 Robert Jay Lifton

How good people turn evil
New York Times Bestseller

 The LUCIFER EFFECT: Understanding
 How Good People Turn Evil 

 Philip Zimbardo, Creator of the famous 
Stanford Prison Experiment

Recovered Memory Therapy...
                                 ..."the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era."

Dr. Richard J. McNally is the Professor and Director of Clinical Training in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. As one of the world’s leading experts in the field of memory, Trauma of Recovered Memory Therapyhe has 250 publications to his credit, including the heralded 2003 book, Remembering Trauma

 In a 2005 letter to the California Supreme Court, which was handling a case in which “repressed memory” was debated, Dr. McNally asserted: “The notion that traumatic events can be repressed and later recovered is the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry. It has provided the theoretical basis for ‘recovered memory therapy’ - the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era.”

What is Considered Potentially Harmful Therapy in 2013?

"Making things worse through treatment: Iatrogenic psychological interventions"
by Michael D. Anestis, M.S.

An excerpt from Psychotherapy Brown Bag: Discussing the Science of Clinical Psychology
April 14, 2009

"Scott Lilienfeld's list of potentially harmful treatments is as follows.  For a more thorough description of each therapy and the evidence for its harmful effects,
consult the Lilienfeld (2007) article:


Critical incident stress debriefing: Heightened risk for PTSD symptoms
 Scared Straight interventions: Exacerbation of conduct problems
Facilitated communication: False accusations of child abuse against family members
 Attachment therapies (e.g., rebirthing): Death and serious injury to children
Recovered-memory techniques: Production of false memories of traumas
Dissociative identity disorder-oriented therapy: Induction of "alter" personalities
 Grief counseling for individuals w/ normal bereavement reactions: Increases depressive symptoms
 Expressive-experiential therapies (e.g., Gestalt): Exacerbation of painful emotions
 Boot-camp interventions for conduct disorder: Exacerbation of conduct problems
 DARE programs: Increased intake of alcohol and other substances


Peer-group interventions for conduct disorder: Exacerbation of conduct problems
 Relaxation treatments for panic-prone patient: Induction of panic attacks

It is important to remember that this is not simply a list of treatments that are not effective. 
That list would be much longer. 
This is a list of treatments that actually cause harm to some clients."

HYPNOSIS:  Can hypnosis be dangerous? 

Overall, there is strong evidence that hypnosis can be dangerous in certain circumstances: When a therapist is minimally trained in clinical procedures, and untrained in hypnosis, and has uncritically accepted the belief that the cause of all psychic dysfunctions can be reduced to a single factor (in this case, repressed memories of sexual abuse during childhood), the potential for faulty treatment becomes a reality. In such a situation, it is likely that a patient, whose morale is fragile enough already, will feel both extreme guilt and extreme self-loathing for having participated in taboo behavior (even though in many cases of actual child sexual abuse, the child cannot be held morally or legally responsible).

From the patient's point of view, the additional inability to remember such an event can only add to the feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing. This is a bad enough situation. When this is linked with unsubstantiated beliefs about MPD/DID, in which hitherto unknown alter personalities guard abhorrent memories of which the patient knows nothing, and by alters that can come and go without his/her conscious volition, the normal human wish to control one's actions is brutally compromised.

Hypnosis, with its appeal to the imagination and its indexing of involition, can intensify and hastenConfused fuzzy muddled false memory thoughts such a process. But much of what transpires when hypnosis is abused in this manner is a matter of how hypnosis is misrepresented to a trusting patient. By the same token, the most widely abused pharmacological substance is Aspirin, but it would be a gross error to conclude that Aspirin is dangerous. It can be, though, when it is employed with reckless disregard.

This is not to wrap the issue of the potential dangers of hypnosis in a shroud of reductio ad absurdum, but rather to point out that there are many procedures and products that can have highly beneficial effects but can still be abused. With hypnosis, the main problem is that a large segment of the public may not be able to distinguish between an ethical, competent and skilled professional and an individual lacking the requisite training -- until it is almost too late -- as in Gail McDonald's case below.  ... MORE

© False Memory Syndrome Foundation.  Published herein with permission from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. This article includes excerpts from an article by Perry, Campbell, "Key Concepts in Hypnosis", 1987.

The Gail MacDonald's Case

Gail Macdonald is a retractor. She has written an important book about her experiences of incompetent therapy with a hypnosis base. False memory syndrome critics usually dismiss retractors in a patronizing manner, arguing that if they were mistaken the first time when they made the accusation, how can they be believed when they decide that it was false and retracted it. Ms. Macdonald is not so easily dismissed. Her therapist had encouraged journaling, and by the end of her treatment, she had 20 exercise books (each of approximately 100 pages) in which her most intimate thoughts about what was happening during therapy were recorded. In addition, she was able to obtain a copy of her therapist's notes; these provided external validation of her subjective reports of the treatment. It may be of additional relevance that she was the first patient in Canadian legal history to win an out-of-court settlement against a community mental health clinic, one whose magnitude she agreed not to disclose, beyond saying that "all parties were satisfied".

At the time she entered therapy in the Fall of 1989, Ms. Macdonald lived in a moderately sized town in Ontario, Canada. Her master's level therapist was a Californian designated Joe in the book. He was employed by the community mental health clinic, and, as she later... MORE

© False Memory Syndrome Foundation.  Published herein with permission from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. This article includes excerpts from an article by Perry, Campbell, "Key Concepts in Hypnosis", 1987.

False Memory Syndrome Foundation Legal Survey -- Retractors

Indeed, a recent survey of 112 cases of misdiagnosed MPD/DID (FMSF Staff, 1999) indicated that Gail Macdonald's therapy experience follows an almost predictable path. Of the 112 misdiagnosed cases, 84 individuals (75%) had sued their therapist for malpractice (and, in some cases, fraud). Analysis indicated that, like Gail, most of these people had no psychiatric history prior to entering a therapy in which they were diagnosed as having MPD/DID. Most had opted for therapy as the result of such conditions as postpartum depression or marital difficulties, and had been told that their reaction to these problems indicated a deeper, more serious, dysfunction.

Eventually, they were told that MPD/DID is almost always associated with sexual abuse during childhood, and that repressed memories of childhood trauma is a sign of MPD/DID. This is a commonly held belief in clinical circles, even though there is little evidence in support of it. Indeed, Spanos (1995) reported that childhood sexual abuse was rarely a feature of MPD/DID cases reported prior to 1970; by contrast, cases reported after 1975 have almost always involved descriptions of sexual abuse during childhood. Further, these descriptions became progressively more lurid and extensive.

Further, hypnosis or its "disguised" variant were employed in approximately two thirds of these cases. As well, these patients were often prescribed strong medications, particularly benzodiazepines such as Valium, Halcion and Xanax. (It should be noted that since he was not medically trained, Joe was unable to prescribe drugs. This did not deter him from urging her to buy equivalent over-the-counter drugs that are more benign in their effects. This was one piece of advice that she did not take.) In addition, most of the subset of patients who sued were told to read such books as The Courage to Heal, and Sybil.

The treatments (if that is what they were) ranged in duration from three to seven years, and the records indicated that, like Gail, the patients showed a steady pattern of deterioration. More than 40% of them (36/84) indicated that they had attempted suicide, or had attempted self-mutilation in response to the horrific images of sexual abuse that emerged. In some cases, the suicide attempts were successful (see Miller V. Malone, Vance and Charter Grapevine (1999) in which legal action was taken against two therapists and a hospital by the husband of a woman who killed herself after becoming convinced that she had been a victim of sexual and satanic ritual abuse during childhood).

As a result of this MPD/DID diagnosis, some were hospitalized in psychiatric wards for up to periods of two years; others were encouraged to hospitalize their young children. They were told that the children were at risk from a ritualistic cult or that the children might show signs of developing MPD/DID.

© False Memory Syndrome Foundation.  Published herein with permission from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. This article includes excerpts from an article by Perry, Campbell, "Key Concepts in Hypnosis", 1987.


Recovered false memories harm
Why does it continue to happen despite the many lawsuits against therapists, mental health 'professionals', clinics and hospitals that were so prevalent in the 1980's and '90's?  

How does a consumer know how to choose a mental health professional who practices ethical psychotherapy?   

What is currently considered potentially harmful psychotherapy? 

Where does someone who suspects that he or she may have been harmed by unethical psychotherapy go for help? 

What should one do if he or she suspects that a loved one has been harmed by unethical psychotherapy?