To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sun, 4 Dec 94 21:35 EST (c) The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec.
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!m-net.arbornet.org!aaron (Aaron Larson)
Date: Sun, 4 Dec 94 21:35 EST
(c) The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 1, 1994
Foes assail repressed-memory therapy
By Mark Sauer
The psychotherapist once was stereotyped, in Woody Allen movies
and elsewhere, as maddeningly noncommittal:
"I have this recurring nightmare, doctor. A wolf wearing an apron
and carrying a butcher knife comes through my window meaning to
murder me in my sleep. What do you think it means?"
"Hmmm. I don't know. What do you think it means?"
Certain therapists who practiced such detached neutrality discarded
it about 10 years ago because they believed they had made an
astonishing discovery: Dark memories of sexual abuse and even
satanic blood orgies -- of trauma so vast it was capable of
splintering minds -- could be unlocked using a new technique called
Trouble was, the discovery was a devastating hoax, said Richard
"It's rare when you find a mistake this stunning," said Ofshe.
"Think of all the horrors that can befall us in this world, of
people who are ripped apart in accidents or struck down by painful
and terminal illnesses. This mental-health quackery has destroyed
countless people and families, and it is 100 percent avoidable."
Ofshe, a professor of psychology at the University of California
Berkeley, is an expert on tactics of coercion. He shared a Pulitzer
Prize 15 years ago for helping to expose possible criminal activity
within the controversial Synanon drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation
program in California.
On the attack has made himself the national attack dog against what
he calls the "Alice-in-Wonderland world" of therapists who make
lucrative livings by mining "hypnotically generated images, gut
feelings, dreams and imaginings as valid memories."
Ofshe, who will air his views here tomorrow at a therapists'
conference at the Marriott Hotel in Mission Valley, is unyielding
in the debate raging within psychology over the validity of repressed
memories and Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).
The phenomenon of therapists planting tales of abuse in the minds
of vulnerable clients grew out of the "genuine societal concern
about sexual abuse" emerging in the early 1980s, Ofshe said.
"With that kind of social ferment and pressure to change, there
will always be an opportunity for charlatans and quacks and flimflam
artists to pick up the theme and run with it," he said.
The well-chronicled and surprisingly virulent national argument
over the validity of repressed-memory therapy is thoroughly explored
in Ofshe's new book, "Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy
and Sexual Hysteria."
In it, the professor sets up various repressed-memory leaders --
psychiatrists Lenore Terr and Judith Herman, author Ellen Bass,
self-styled MPD expert Colin Ross, even feminist Gloria Steinem --
as people of straw and knocks them down one at a time.
(Neither Terr nor Bass replied to a request for a comment.)
Supporters of repressed-memory therapy contend that childhood sexual
abuse is so traumatic that the mind often buries the memory for
years, causing myriad mental-health problems later in life.
An extreme manifestation is MPD, in which the mind supposedly
shatters into several distinct personalities to cope with the
trauma, supporters say.
Ofshe (who co-authored the book with Ethan Watters) insists there
is no room for middle ground in the debate.
"The mind either has the ability to repress vast numbers of events
. . . or it does not," he writes. "Multiple Personality Disorder
is either a widespread pathology or, like demonic possession, a
role that has been forced on vulnerable people in a misguided
attempt to cure them."
Although it uses a pseudonym, a concluding chapter of Ofshe's book,
titled "Deaths in the Family," chronicles the case of a San Diego
couple, Merry and Robert Scheck.
The Schecks' 13-year-old daughter, Christy, committed suicide in
March 1992 after "recovering" memories of childhood beatings and
rapes by her father. The memories surfaced during treatment at the
Southwood Psychiatric Center in Chula Vista. The girl hung herself
with a bathrobe belt three days before she was supposed to testify
against her father, according to the book.
In July, Southwood settled a lawsuit filed by the Schecks for an
Stating the case of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations
of Sexual Abuse," by renowned University of Washington memory
researcher Elizabeth Loftus (with Katherine Ketcham).
Published simultaneously, the books represent a powerful effort by
the scientific establishment to police what the authors call the
pseudo-science of repressed memories.
(They have been joined recently by the American Medical Association,
which stated that recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse are
unreliable and "fraught with problems of potential misapplication.")
By phone from Seattle, Loftus said she and Ofshe originally discussed
collaborating on a book.
"But we differ greatly in style," Loftus said. "Richard is very
hard-hitting, he likes the slam-dunk. He's not afraid to say exactly
what he thinks, and he doesn't worry about being cruel to his
"I remember telling Richard, You should go way out to the end of
the limb where you want to be, and I'll position myself in the
middle where I want to be."
"The trouble is people haven't allowed me to do that. They (critics)
write and talk about us as if we're twins," Loftus added.
Ofshe says that is his point precisely -- there is no middle ground.
"I cherish her personal style of attempting a dialogue," Ofshe said
in an interview. "But it's absolutely wrong under these circumstances.
If the debate is whether the earth is round or flat, treating it
like an oval does not speak to the problem.
"Elizabeth Loftus has made a terrible mistake," he continued. "She's
probably learned by now that in this kind of debate, one side is
correct and the other is not. There is no way of averaging it out."
At that, Loftus sighs and concedes there is truth in what Ofshe
"I'm glad I made the effort, and I would like to continue the
dialogue with open-minded people," Loftus said. "But many on the
other side are closed-minded and nasty and so heavily compromised
by ideology that they do not stop for a minute and think they may
be harming people with their therapy."
Loftus said some newspapers have picked "true believers" in
repressed-memory therapy to review the books together, and the
result has been "analysis riddled with exaggeration, error and
"I read Richard's book, and I say, 'Thank God he's here,'" Loftus
said. "He deserves a lot of credit for putting out the truth in
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank