To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sat, 5 Nov 94 16:35 EST (c) Gannett Company, Inc., 10/31/94 +q
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!m-net.arbornet.org!aaron (Aaron Larson)
Date: Sat, 5 Nov 94 16:35 EST
(c) Gannett Company, Inc., 10/31/94
"Making Monsters" From Recovered Memories
By Scott Owens
In 1990, a California man was convicted in a murder two decades
old, based on his daughter's testimony that she abruptly recovered
her memory of witnessing the murder.
The entertainer Roseanne and a former Miss America say they now
remember they were sexually abused as children, after forgetting
it for years.
Therapists say they are uncovering an epidemic of abuse. Families
are torn apart, parents are jailed, and there has been at least
one vigilante killing based on recovered memory.
Welcome to the fascinating world of recovered memory therapy.
And before you venture in too far, read "Making Monsters: False
Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria," by Richard Ofshe,
a Berkeley, Calif., psychology professor, and Ethan Watters, a
writer for Mother Jones magazine.
"Making Monsters" explores the vague line between truth and belief,
and presents a cautionary tale of New Age knights desperately
seeking dragons to slay. In our enlightened age, we like to laugh
at the follies and hysterias of the benighted past. This book
reminds us that future generations will have plenty of reason to
laugh at us.
Slowly but convincingly, the authors build their case against RMT,
discussing psychoanalytic theory in language accessible to the
At the core of recovered memory therapy is a radical, unproven
theory of memory repression. Adherents say abuse victims forget
the abuse even as it is happening. Or they are aware of ongoing
abuse for years, and then one day it is removed from their conscious
minds. Memories are snipped out, like a film being edited, and
clips are stored in a sort of mental vault, where they never fade
or blur. They can be dug up decades later to give an entirely
accurate, documentary-style replay.
Thus adherents say that children forget being sodomized even while
it happens, that women are raped from the cradle until they leave
for college and have no recollection of it. A woman could have been
raped last week and not know it.
Hard to believe. But then, why would a trusted therapist implant
What the authors show is that many recovered memory therapists have
an agenda. Patients come in complaining of depression, anxiety, or
other ailments, and are told they are abuse victims. To these
therapists, virtually everything is a symptom of abuse, including
arthritis, headaches, tension, or a feeling of being different.
Based on one office visit, patients have been diagnosed as survivors
of satanic cults. When patients insist they have no memories of
abuse, they are told that lack of memory is one of the prime
But how could you make patients believe? One way is to order them
to. Patients are told they must believe, must get over their
"denial," or they will never get well. They are invited to "try
on" the diagnosis for a year, telling themselves each day that they
were abused and will recover memories of it. Patients are eager
to get better, and the therapists seem educated, caring, confident.
Meanwhile the patient is instructed to visualize being raped or
otherwise abused. Leading questions are asked: "Who can you see
doing this to you? Is your father there?" If the patient can picture
the suggested scenarios, she is told that these are memories, and
she must believe it happened.
To get over denial, therapists use techniques known to distort and
even create memories. Hypnotism is used freely, though clinical
research shows that it increases the subject's vulnerability to
outside suggestion. And it increases a subject's conviction that
hypnotically enhanced memories are accurate, while doing nothing
to improve their accuracy.
The authors also note the prevalence of drug usage, ranging from
"truth serums" to high dosages of tranquilizers. After years of
drug therapy, hypnotism, dream interpretation and free imagination,
some patients say they have trouble telling fantasy from reality.
But one of the most revealing facts is that recovered memory therapy
uses the same techniques gurus use to help people remember "past
lives." In fact, Brian Weiss, a leader in past-life explorations,
got his start as a recovered memory therapist.
These techniques are also used to recover memories of being abducted
by space aliens, or being tortured in satanic rituals.
If these therapies led merely to your cousin recovering memories
of being kidnapped by a UFO, they might be an amusing fad. But RMT
is destroying families.
There are other troubling aspects. Therapies that see evidence of
mind control and cults all around them sometimes acquire cultish
traits themselves. Patients are told to break off all contact with
their supposed abusers, and also with any relative, friend or
acquaintance who questions the accuracy of recovered memories. Once
insulated from the world, patients are invited to join the therapist's
new "family," where they will bask in unconditional love and
acceptance. But no doubts, no questioning of recovered memories,
How bizarre can it get? A leading expert on recovered memories of
cults insists that Hallmark Cards and FTD florists are in on the
satanic conspiracy. He reached these conclusions during therapy
with a woman who has since stopped taking the massive doses of
drugs prescribed to her and now says the memories were false. This
therapist is not a palm-reader with a shingle in front of his house.
He founded a multiple-personality ward at Chicago's prestigious
Rush Presbyterian Hospital.
And "The Courage to Heal," the bible of the recovered memory
movement, promises that some patients even acquire psychic powers
"Making Monsters" is not about an isolated therapeutic trend. The
recovered memory movement is gaining fanatical adherents at a time
when many traditional institutions and means of support are breaking
down. In such times, some people turn to old-time religion, some
to new therapies. RMT is thriving in an era of "victim chic," when
questioning accusations of abuse is frowned upon.
Unfortunately, the news and entertainment media sometimes give RMT
uncritical coverage. Journalists, judges and legal professionals
who handle RMT cases would do well to read this book.
At the very least, the media should cease the unqualified use of
the term "recovered memory." It implies that what was recovered
really was a memory, and that it was recovered, not distorted.
Terms such as "self-professed recovered memory" would avoid the
bias. The issues involved are complex, the potential for damage is
great. A bit of responsibility is called for.
Ofshe and Watters have written a fascinating, thought-provoking,
and very responsible book.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank