To: MIT.EDU!witchhunt Date: Sun, 4 Dec 94 21:33 EST (c) 1994 The Dallas Morning News, 4/3/
From: romulus.ehs.uiuc.edu!m-net.arbornet.org!aaron (Aaron Larson)
Date: Sun, 4 Dec 94 21:33 EST
(c) 1994 The Dallas Morning News, 4/3/94, P. A27
Flashing back to the roots of depression
By Steve Blow
Paula had just graduated from school and started her career.
She loved her work and had every reason to be happy. But she
"I thought I was crazy," she said. "I wondered why a healthy,
employed registered nurse right out of school would be so unhappy.
It didn't make sense why I hurt all the time."
So, when Paula was just 23, she went into therapy. And she
remained in various forms of therapy for more than 20 years,
struggling without success to understand the ache of unhappiness
The 50-year-old Dallas woman, who asked not to be fully identified,
finally found her answer four years ago. She went to an "original
pain therapy" workshop in Houston, a weekend devoted to discovering
As therapists asked her probing questions about her family, as
she listened to other participants tell of their lurid childhood
experiences, Paula came to a shocking conclusion - she, too, must
have been sexually abused as a child.
"I didn't really have any memories until a couple of months
later," she said. They began as shadowy flashbacks, then turned
into detailed memories of rape by her father and beatings by her
Paula said her pain was compounded a few Sundays ago when she
read my column about the controversy over false memories - cases
in which people are led to believe, incorrectly, that they were
victims of sexual abuse.
A slap in the face
Paula considers the whole issue "a slap in the face." And she
was one of several victims who called to express similar hurt
The topic certainly merits additional discussion. It's hard to
think of many debates with higher stakes. It's terrible to
contemplate real sexual abuse victims who find people unwilling to
believe them. And at the same time, it's horrifying to think of
being falsely accused of such a despicable act.
"It's really a confusing time," said Alice Zaccarello, executive
director of the Southwest Center for Abuse Recovery and Education.
"It's not just confusing to the public. It's confusing to
professionals and especially to the justice system."
The controversy has pushed some into extreme positions. "Our
general belief is that the False Memory Syndrome Foundation is
basically a support group for perpetrators," said Pamela Perskin,
executive director of the Dallas-based Society for the Investigation,
Treatment and Prevention of Ritual and Cult Abuse.
Dallas psychologist Randy Noblitt, president of that society,
compares the false memory controversy to Holocaust revisionism.
"We have had a bunch of sexual abuse revisionists. They want to
say this problem doesn't really occur in America," he said.
Dallas psychologist Robert Powitzky is one of the area's best-known
therapists in sexual abuse cases. He said there is no doubt that
false memories can be created.
"I don't think it happens to the extent that the False Memory
Syndrome Foundation says it does. But I've worked with a couple
of cases where the therapist clearly created a problem where it
didn't exist. We have to be very objective," he said.
Beware of therapist
As a practical matter, Dr. Powitzky warns patients to be cautious.
"If your therapist starts insisting you were sexually abused
whether you remember it or not, I'd get another therapist," he
On a societal level, Ms. Zaccarello said, "What's so scary about
this is that it takes the focus away from the real problem. It
has taken the focus off what we need to be doing - accepting that
sexual abuse of children happens and doing something about it."
Meanwhile, Paula said she has now recovered vivid memories of
sexual abuse stretching from her infancy through high school.
"I have had memories of being abused as early as three months - by
my mother's brother on a train trip, oddly enough," she said.
Paula is now estranged from her family - "her family of origin,"
she calls them. "My family of choice is the support network I
have developed over the last five years in my various recovery
groups," she said.
But she has no doubts. "I know in my soul that I am finally,
after all those years in therapy, on the right track, that I am
going to get some resolution and some peace."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank