To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sun, 30 Oct 94 12:04 EST (c) The Times Mirror Company Los Ange
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!m-net.arbornet.org!aaron (Aaron Larson)
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 94 12:04 EST
(c) The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1994, Pg. F1
"Sisters" Brings Controversial Issue To Light; Television: The
Much-Debated Topic Is Suppressed Memory Of Sexual Abuse, And The
Role Therapists Play In Sudden Recollections.
By Steve Weinstein
More than 20 years after the event, an adult woman remembers that
her father sexually molested her when she was a child -- an experience
so traumatic that she apparently erased it from her memory, until,
while in therapy for help with a bad self-image, it all comes
Recovered memory of sexual abuse is probably the most sensitive
issue in the world of psychiatry today, having spawned a bitter
controversy between those who strongly believe in the veracity of
such memories and those who believe that most of these recollections
are made up, implanted by manipulative or incompetent therapists.
The issue had its day in court earlier this spring in a sensational
Northern California trial in which a man who claimed he was falsely
accused of raping his daughter years earlier won a judgment against
his daughter's therapist.
Now it is grist for "Sisters," NBC's Saturday-night melodrama about
four grown-up sisters and the sometimes tragic, often farcical days
of their lives.
"The first notion of doing an incest story came from a friend of
ours in Ohio, who was telling us that his wife had been molested
by her stepfather," said Ron Cowen, who, with Daniel Lipman, created
and executive produces the series. "And when she told her mother,
her mother threw her out of the house and her brothers and sisters
called her a liar and a troublemaker and stopped speaking to her."
So it wasn't "headline-grabbing" that motivated them, Cowen said.
"We thought it would be a good story for our characters because it
was shocking to us that the mother would side with the husband and
(that) the siblings would turn on her. And since our show is based
on family and memories of the past and how with family we live in
the past as much as the present, since this was a memory, it made
sense too to play with the idea of 'Is it real? Is it true or
But playing with that idea is like playing catch with a hand grenade.
After the first episode this season, the producers received two
letters. One was from a member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation
-- a group of families that have been torn apart because of what
they claim were false accusations of past abuse -- thanking them
for showing the public that at least some of these memories are
fabricated. The other came from a woman who said she was abused by
her father and accused "Sisters" of belittling everyone who was
ever molested by casting doubt on their recollections.
In an interview in their Burbank office, the producers refused to
take sides in the debate, nor would they reveal how the story line
-- one of many going on simultaneously in the series -- would
ultimately turn out.
Through five episodes so far, the character of Georgie (played by
Patricia Kalember) has, with the help of a heavy-handed and
unscrupulous therapist (Daniel Gerroll), recalled a memory of her
long-dead father molesting her as a child. When she confides the
memory -- one she herself doubts at the outset -- to her disbelieving
mother and sisters, hostility erupts.
Ultimately, as the relationship between Georgie and her therapist
plays out, the show will take a strong point of view, the producers
said. And, from the look of things, the therapist is primed to be
the fall guy: He suggested that patients struggling with similar
issues of low self-esteem and inability to express big emotions
were usually "beaten or molested as children"; he is cloying --
often calling Georgie "kiddo" rather than by name -- and, in
tonight's episode, he has sex with her.
"Are we out to say that these kinds of memories are bunk? No,"
Cowen said. "In certain instances they might be true and very
helpful, and in others it might be a false memory and wreck all
kinds of relationships. It's individual every time. We're not making
any blanket condemnation of repressed memory and saying it's baloney.
It's just something that is interesting within the context of our
television family and how it ripples through them and causes
The conflict extends beyond the screen, however. Michael Yapko, a
San Diego psychologist who wrote a recent controversial book
indicting many mental health professionals for leading patients to
mistakenly believe they are victims of abuse, was horrified at the
description of the therapist's behavior in "Sisters." He said the
therapist's suggestion that Georgie's problems of self-esteem
usually indicates some past abuse "represents gross incompetence
-- precisely the kind of therapy that I have railed against. It's
It does happen, Yapko admitted. But even if the producers are
mirroring an actual bad therapist, he deplored such a "crappy
Hollywood script that has the therapist sleeping with his client,"
because that tells some viewers that therapy is dangerous and could
discourage those who really do need help for depression or anxiety
from seeking it. "That is a tragedy," he said.
"We don't want to be irresponsible, but we're not into this PC
thing," producer Lipman said. "If you tread too tenderly so you
don't offend anyone, then there isn't any story other than everyone
being nice to each other. We have tried to make the therapist as
professional as possible but, on the other hand, any dramatic form
bends realism and heightens it to make it more dramatic. We're not
out to damn an entire profession -- (to say) that all shrinks are
bad. But I'm sure we're bound to raise some ire."
Even Pamela Freyd, executive director of the False Memory Syndrome
Foundation, an organization that claims that many of these recovered
memories are false and the work of manipulative therapeutic
techniques, said the depiction of an unethical therapist "muddies
up the issues."
"I'm concerned that the person involved in implanting the false
memory may be portrayed as being particularly bad, and that clearly
oversimplifies the situation because we have many reports that this
happens in situations where the therapist is completely ethical
and well-meaning," Freyd said. "But anything that can raise the
issue so that people think about it on a case-by-case basis will
help to inform the public and offer a reminder that we need to
exert more care in this area and not get carried away by fads."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank