To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sun, 27 Nov 1994 23:04:31 -0500 (EST) The following letter has

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From:!!kihlstrm (John F Kihlstrom) To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt 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 MEMORANDUM 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 example: 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.


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