CHICAGO TRIBUNE Copyright Chicago Tribune 1994 DATE: Wednesday, November 30, 1994 EDITION:
Copyright Chicago Tribune 1994
DATE: Wednesday, November 30, 1994 EDITION: NORTH SPORTS FINAL
SECTION: TEMPO PAGE: 1 ZONE: C
SOURCE: By Greg Beaubien. Special to the Tribune.
LENGTH: 205 lines ILLUSTRATION: PHOTOS 2
RECOVERED MEMORY IS A FACT, SAYS A CHICAGO PSYCHIATRIST, THOUGH OTHERS CALL
A recovered memory: A little girl hides under a wooden staircase. Her
father and uncle tumble down the steps, fighting as they reach the basement
floor. The father pulls out a handgun. The girl sees a flash in the darkness,
hears a reverberating bang as her uncle falls against the wall. The father
stands over his brother and empties the gun into his chest. Five more hot,
loud flashes in the dark.
Both men had raped the girl in the past. But unlike the father, the uncle
had been kind to her otherwise. Now she tries to put him back together as he
lies dead. Her hands become soaked with his blood. Her father then presses
the muzzle of the gun against her temple and pulls the trigger. Click. Later
she's forced to watch and participate as he dismembers the uncle's body and
buries it in the woods. He places her hands on the handle of an axe, wraps
his fingers over hers, then swings it down into the uncle's chest. Air
escapes from the dead man's lungs with a groan. "See what you've done?" he
asks her. "You've killed him."
According to psychiatrist Bennett Braun, a patient he calls "Sally"
reported this memory to him during therapy. It's a scenario that first
occurred to her 27 years after the event supposedly had taken place. Its
lurid, violent images are typical of memories "recovered" by Braun's
patients. Director of the Dissociative Disorders Program at Rush-North Shore
Medical Center in Skokie, Braun is a prominent figure in the bitter national
debate over the validity of recovered-memory therapy-a practice that's
destroying families and dividing the psychiatric profession.
Psychiatrists like Braun believe that victims of childhood abuse can
instantaneously repress all awareness and memory of their traumas. The worst
experiences may be the hardest to forget, he says, "except when they
overwhelm your ability to cope with them. Emotions and physiological states
at the time of trauma can bury memory."
Sally's perceived participation in her uncle's killing became a dark
secret too horrible to reveal. Her only way to cope with the memory was to
forget it, Braun says. But he believes such hidden memories can be retrieved
during therapy, sometimes with help from hypnosis or drugs. Most of his
patients are also diagnosed with multiple-personality disorder (also known as
dissociative-identity disorder), a fragmenting and compartmentalizing of the
self that allows people to shut out memories of childhood abuse. Uncovering
such recollections helps patients make sense of their fractured psyches,
Braun, who is 54, married and has two children, is a self-described
risk-taker. He tells stories of his scuba diving, mountain climbing, sky
diving and hang gliding-hints of the bold assertions that have formed his
professional career. "Maybe it's about proving yourself," he says. "I'm a
little bit arrogant or egotistical about it, but I really enjoy the challenge
of working with difficult cases."
Many victims of childhood trauma grow up to be doctors, nurses or
teachers. "They've been so abused," Braun says, "that now they want to be
caretakers." Braun says he was never abused by his family, but "I empathize
with multiples because as a young child I was the one everybody picked on.
I'm the kind of guy who puts himself in someone else's shoes."
In his 12-bed, in-patient unit in Skokie, Braun and colleagues treat what
he calls "the worst of the worst," patients suffering from
multiple-personality disorder who were referred by other doctors from around
To be diagnosed with multiple-personality disorder, a patient must have at
least two distinct personalities and no memory from one to the next. Many
patients arrive at Braun's unit physically ill as well-debilitated,
dehydrated and malnourished by bulimia, anorexia and other forms of
self-abuse. Under Braun's care, many of these patients begin to remember
images of childhood abuse, one-third of which involve drugs, blood, animal
and human sacrifice, and violent sexual abuse, sometimes in satanic rituals.
Every year, hundreds of people across the country-mostly women 20 to 40
years old-accuse family members of physically and sexually abusing them as
children. On the sole basis of their "recovered" memories-usually brought out
during therapy-patients are hauling family members into court to face charges
of sexual abuse, torture, satanic rituals and cannibalism.
Claims are questioned
Not surprisingly, Braun and his colleagues face constant criticism-from
peers, patients and their estranged families, and attorneys in heated
lawsuits. Among the most persistent and fervid accusations leveled against
recovered-memory therapists is that they indulge their own dark imaginations
by planting hideous images into the minds of suggestible and desperate
"The recovered-memory epidemic is the psychological quackery of the 20th
Century," says Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist at the University of
California at Berkeley who shared in a 1979 Pulitzer Prize for an
investigation of the California drug-treatment center Synanon. "It's a
disaster that's causing severe harm to thousands of people and wasting
hundreds of millions of scarce health-care dollars every year."
According to Ofshe, "The sum total of scientific literature fails to
provide one shred of evidence that the repression mechanism exists. You have
to realize that (recovered-memory) techniques can produce complex, sincerely
held beliefs in things that never happened."
Braun admits that at present psychiatrists aren't sure how the brain
represses memories, but adds, "that repression occurs is without question and
well-documented." He says that the term "recovered-memory therapy" was coined
by his detractors and that he practices standard psychotherapy.
In his new book, "Making Monsters" (Charles Scribner's Sons), which he
co-wrote with free-lance journalist Ethan Watters and calls "an overview of
the recovered memory fiasco," Ofshe devotes considerable ink to bashing
Braun. He recounts the case of "Anne," a former patient of Braun's who is now
suing him. She alleges that Braun led her into believing she had been a high
priestess in a cannibalistic satanic cult. She says the memories were false
and have destroyed her family and her life.
Braun says she did report to him images of her involvement in a satanic
cult-and emphasizes that her memories may not be based on fact-but calls the
allegations that he led her to believe they are true "absolute and total
nonsense." He stands behind his work, and he says the case will go to trial
unless dropped by the plaintiff.
Another organization that's trying hard to discredit psychiatrists such as
Braun is the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. The Philadelphia-based group
was founded by parents who say their children have falsely accused them of
abuse, and that such memories were fabricated with help from the children's
"If there's a single message that the (foundation) has been trying to get
across, it's that some memories are surely true, some are a mixture of fact
and fantasy, and some are probably false," said Pamela Freyd, the
foundation's executive director and co-founder, in a story in
TribuneAlliedHealth, a monthly Chicago Tribune publication for people in the
allied health professions. Freyd, who has a doctoral degree in education,
said patients become "completely cut off from their families and anybody who
will not totally validate their memories."
Bringing out the memories
Braun admits that his patients' claims "have to be taken with a large
grain of salt," and acknowledges that therapists sometimes get carried away.
"In some cases therapists have been overzealous and influenced people's
thinking. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath. Just because it's
sometimes true doesn't mean it's always true."
Braun denies leading his patients' recollections. He sometimes uses
hypnosis, but only to relax patients, to bring their emotions to a manageable
level and to help them differentiate between the past and present, he says.
"By using techniques like hypnosis you get additional information, some of
which is valid and some of which is not."
He says, however, that the key to uncovering memories lies not in drugs or
hypnosis, but in simple conversation. He likens his approach to old friends
talking. "As they start to talk, they start to remember. As a therapist I
have to deal with what's reported to me. I listen to the patient and what
they have to say. I will ask questions to gather additional information, but
it's pretty non-directive."
Memories of abuse can be implied by a patient's emotional or physical
distress, Braun says.
Before he treated "Sally," she had been diagnosed with multiple
personality disorder and migraine headaches. But her problems were not linked
to any particular trauma or memory of abuse. Braun says he saw her collapse
into a ball upon hearing a loud noise in the hallway of his treatment center
in Skokie. She sat rocking back and forth, staring straight ahead. She
complained of nausea, headache and a ringing in her ears. When she closed her
eyes she saw flashing lights. She began to wring her hands and said they felt
sticky, as if covered with blood. Braun later connected these physical
sensations to memories of her uncle's murder.
He says he brought out explicit memories of her uncle's killing by
pursuing a line of questions based on her physical clues. During his
conversation with her, he says, a red spot the diameter of a gun barrel
appeared on her temple-the same place where her father had pressed his
Braun concluded that Sally's migraines had been caused by rapid switching
between personality fragments. After Sally's story was pieced together-with
contributions from several of her personalities-she said, "It's over," and
was finally able to relax. "Her headaches diminished, and for the first time
things became congruent for her."
A patient speaks
In a telephone interview arranged by Braun for this story, one of his
former patients who suffers from multiple personality disorder said that
while under his care she was flooded by memories-images that were grotesque,
sexual and demonic. During the interview she frequently switched
personalities, alternating between an authoritative grade school teacher, a
sympathetic mother, and an angry, profane teenager.
"I can honestly say that Braun never led me," her mother personality said.
Whether the abuse happened exactly as she remembered it, she said she'd
"never say yes or no. A memory doesn't necessarily mean it's fact. They can
be tainted by perceptions and feelings."
If Braun's patients are to be believed, a vast conspiracy by baby-killing
devil worshippers has gone undetected in this country. According to his
patients' reports, satanic rituals and murders have occurred in the Chicago
Not surprisingly, such claims draw sharp skepticism.
"Even the FBI hasn't been able to find one shred of evidence," to support
claims of ritualistic satanic infanticide, Ofshe says. "All are utterly
unproven, and in all likelihood utterly nonexistent." An FBI spokesman with
the bureau's public affairs office in Quantico, Va., confirmed Ofshe's
statement about the lack of evidence in such cases.
Braun says that "most therapists don't trust the police." He believes
parents can easily kill their children without detection, especially if they
move to another state afterwards.
Seeking the kernel of truth
The startling similarities of his patients' descriptions of satanic
rituals have convinced him that some such memories are real. Not all of his
patients' claims of murder are true, he says, but, "It would be hard to make
up this much of it. Somewhere there's a kernel of truth. If 10 percent of the
stuff I hear is true, we're in trouble."
Braun's belief in cults and conspiracies has at times led him to fear for
his own life. "I got pretty damn paranoid at one point," he says. "About 20
patients have told me they were sent to kill me."
PHOTO: Dr. Bennett Braun says he entered his chosen field because he's ``the
kind of guy who puts himself in someone else's shoes.'' Tribune photo by
PHOTO: (color): Photo illustration by Russell McGonagle.
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