To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sun, 27 Nov 1994 23:04:31 -0500 (EST) The following letter has
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!minerva.cis.yale.edu!kihlstrm (John F Kihlstrom)
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 1994 23:04:31 -0500 (EST)
The following letter has been sent to the APA
Working Group on Investigation of Memories
of Childhood Abuse
John F. Kihlstrom, Professor
Department of Psychology, Yale University
P.O. Box 208205, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8205
Telephone (203) 432-2596 Facsimile (203) 432-7172
DATE: November 25, 1994
TO: Members of the APA Working Group Judith L Alpert
on the Investigation of Memories Laura S. Brown
of Childhood Abuse Stephen J. Ceci
Christine A. Courtois
Elizabeth F. Loftus
Peter A. Ornstein
APA Board of Directors Contacts Dorothy C. Cantor
for the Working Group Ronald E. Fox
Robert J. Resnick
FROM: John Kihlstrom
RE: Interim Report of the Working Group
As a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, recipient of
the APA Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to
Psychology (1979), former Associate Editor of the Journal of Abnormal
Psychology (under two different editors), and an active researcher with
both clinical training and deep clinical interests, I was profoundly
disappointed to read the Interim Report of the APA Working Group on the
Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse.
The Interim Conclusions of the report are entirely too sanguine about
some clinicians' claims that memories of childhood abuse can be repressed,
dissociated, or otherwise forgotten, and then recovered -- spontaneously,
through psychotherapy, or by other means.
After reviewing the literature on this area, I have come to the
conclusion that the various forms of "recovered memory therapy" (RMT)
currently being practiced have little or no scientific foundation either in
empirical research science or generally accepted psychological theory. For
1. Most of the arguments in favor of RMT are based on uncontrolled
observations, anecdotal case reports, and inappropriate theoretical
generalizations. To my knowledge, there exist only three formal
studies of amnesia for incest or other childhood abuse: all three of
these studies are inadequate in scientific terms.
2. Proponents of RMT often point to animal and human studies showing
that emotional and nonemotional memories are processed by different
brain structures. None of this research supports the claim that
traumatic memories can be repressed and subsequently recovered, and
in fact the weight of available evidence contradicts this assertion.
3. Proponents of RMT often rely on the recently emerging literature on
implicit memory to support claims about the relationship between
memory and intrusive images, feelings, and somatic symptoms.
However, the logic of implicit memory does not apply to most cases of
recovered memory, because inferences about implicit memory require
independent corroboration of the events in question -- evidence which
is rarely available.
4. Proponents of RMT often claim to find corroboration of recovered
memories in the patient's presenting symptoms. Unfortunately, it is
not logically possible to infer a past event on the basis of present
symptoms. Again, independent corroboration is required to make this
connection; and again, this evidence is rarely available.
5. Proponents of RMT claim (or strongly imply) that recovery of
traumatic memories is necessary for treatment to be successful.
There is no scientific documentation of this claim.
Put bluntly, there is no good clinical evidence favoring the practice
of RMT. But there does exist more than 100 years of experimental research
on memory, conducted in both laboratory and field settings, that raises
serious questions about this clinical practice. To dismiss this extensive
body of research as irrelevant to clinical practice, as some proponents of
RMT have done in print, is to express contempt for the scientific
foundations on which professional psychology rests.
There is no question but that child abuse, including incest and other
forms of sexual abuse, constitutes a major social problem in America. On
the other hand, Consumers of psychological services have a right to know
that the scientific basis for RMT is at best extremely weak. Clinicians
and counselors have an ethical obligation to acknowledge this fact (and,
frankly, to restrict their practices to techniques of assessment and
treatment that have demonstrated validity and efficacy). And researchers
have a right to expect that the American Psychological Association will
support attempts to put clinical practice on a firm scientific basis.
By reinforcing these points in your Final Report, the threefold
mission of the American Psychological Association -- to advance psychology
as a science and a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare --
will be fulfilled.
I urge you to reconsider your Interim Report, and to issue a Final
Report that is more strongly critical of RMT. To this end, I have enclosed
two forthcoming papers of mine ("Exhumed Memory" and "The Trauma-Memory
Argument") which treat this issue in detail. A third paper is currently in
preparation, and I will forward it to you as soon as it is finished.
Thank you for your consideration.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank