By: David Bloomberg Re: When Memories Collide (File: MEMCOLID.ZIP) Date: Fri Feb 17 1995 1

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By: David Bloomberg Re: When Memories Collide (File: MEMCOLID.ZIP) Date: Fri Feb 17 1995 17:56:00 From: Sheppard Gordon Subj: Memories Collide UFO ------------------------------- When Memories Collide Therapists draw fire from those who say they mix fact and fantasy 12/13/94 Newsday IN THE NIGHT, Paula will sometimes sit on her children's beds, holding their hands, stroking their heads, marveling at their innocence. She wonders, in these still moments, whether there will come a time after her children grow up when their memories will somehow twist even these simple acts of love into something else, something grotesque. After all, it happened to her. When Paula visited her sister's therapist, she was told she probably was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, even though she had no memory of any abuse. In fact, she told the therapist that her parents were warm and caring. But the therapist, who said in court records that she has treated dozens of clients with repressed memories of sex abuse, promised to guide Paula and her three sisters in a hunt to discover a dark and frightening past. "We never went in another direction," Paula recalls. "We abandoned our childhood images of our wonderful parents." Now, after six years of lost contact with her parents, a bitter court action taken against them, and fictitious visions of ritualistic torture in her head, Paula has come to believe that the abuse she was led to remember never occurred in her childhood home. "This kind of therapy needs to be stopped," she says. Paula, who asked that her real name not be used, is one of a growing number of adults who - under the direction of a psychotherapist - are uncovering decades-old "memories" of sexual abuse that includes such things as satanism and animal mutilation at the hands of their parents. A growing number of therapists mistakenly believe that any problems in adulthood can be traced to abuse in childhood, even if it can't be remembered. "I hear people saying they remember events at six months {of age}. It is impossible," said Elizabeth Loftus, a memory researcher at the University of Seattle and co-author of "The Myth of Repressed Memory." "People don't want to face the truth that we've got a big problem with lots of psychotherapists doing things that are risky, if not dangerous." As more than 800 lawsuits pitting child against parent work their way through the courts nationwide, professional associations are trying to piece together oftenconfusing information concerning the phenomenon in order to come to an agreement about repressed or recovered memories. At issue is whether such vivid, long-forgotten memories of sex abuse are more often real or imagined, or a mix of both. Some people are saying that this chase to dig up buried memories of childhood sex abuse is a witch-hunt. Since 1992, more than 15,000 family members who say they were falsely accused of abuse in a recovered memory case have contacted an organization that deals with what has been termed "false memories" of sexual abuse. Additionally, experts say, the issue has polarized members of the psychiatric profession who have mixed opinions on whether such traumatic experiences can be tucked so tightly in the mind that they are not accessible for years on end. Memory is a creative process kept together by a mysterious mix of electrical signals and brain chemicals. Studies have shown that humans reconstruct events from bits and pieces of stored information. It is not like a video camera, where exact details of an event can be stored and summoned in an instant. "We fill in the blanks in a way that makes sense to us," said Pamela Freyd, executive director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, the group that was formed in 1992 to stem the tide of false accusations. The Freyds have a daughter, now a cognitive psychologist, who said she had buried memories that she was molested by her father. "People set out on a search for these memories so that they can get better," Freyd said. "We have no way of knowing the truth or what's fiction." Freyd's organization co-sponsored a meeting over the weekend on the clinical and legal issues of "false memory syndrome" in collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. Most memory researchers say it is virtually impossible to repress memories over many years and then recall them in precise, gory detail. They provide evidence that much of the so-called repression stems from prodding by psychotherapists. At the opposite end of the debate, many psychotherapists argue that the new memories surfacing through the therapeutic process are as real as the event itself - no matter how long ago it occurred. What worries some researchers is the use of aggressive memory recovery techniques like hypnotic age regression, use of sodium amytal or truth serum, sexualized dream interpretation and other unproven techniques that they say can be dangerous. "People are using fragments from dreams and hypnosis to diagnose and confirm memories of abuse. It's alarming," said Michael Yapko, author of a book on the issue, titled "Suggestions of Abuse." While the issues are far from settled, a report issued last month by the American Psychological Association suggests that the phenomenon of recovered or repressed memories is a rare one. "Most people who were sexually abused as children remember part or all of what happened to them," said Judith L. Alpert, a psychologist in New York City who co-chaired the six-member panel. The preliminary report, based on the panel's analysis of the latest research in the field, also stated that it is possible for such memories to be forgotten for a long period of time, and then remembered. The members of the group - made up of memory researchers and trauma experts - agreed that it is also possible to construct false yet "convincing pseudomemories for events that never occurred." According to Paula, that is precisely what happened when she was ushered into a therapist's office to talk about abuse she never remembered happening. "The theme was that if someone said they were abused, it must have happened," Paula recalled. Paula was asked during the first session to picture her father walking into her room. Sitting on the bed. Can you see him touching you? "We did dream therapy," she recalls. "I didn't really believe it. The more she talked about sex abuse, the more my dreams were filled with sex abuse. She told me that the dreams were literal." First, it was her father. In time, her mother was part of the insidious sexual tale. Then, Satan entered the picture. "We all began to believe that our parents were part of a satanic cult," Paula said. Her sisters had memories that her mother killed a cat and that her father tied one of the sisters between two deer and poured blood over her head. "I was really confused. My folks, almost 80, were calling me, trying to figure out why we were doing this," said Paula, now 37. The therapist diagnosed Paula with Multiple Personality Disorder, a condition that is often attached to traumatic sexual abuse. A person with MPD splits off into many separate selves so that he or she can compartmentalize the trauma and function in life. "I functioned like a multiple for about a year," she said. "I created five personalities. My sister was also diagnosed with the same condition." Soon, the family was split between the believers and the nonbelievers. Paula, believing in the memories, moved without telling her parents where she was living. Her sisters wrote horryifying letters telling their parents that they no longer wanted contact. Settling in a new city, away from the therapist, helped Paula more than she had foreseen, she said. "The more I got away from it, the more it didn't make any sense," she said. After six years, she said, she was ready to make amends with her parents, who did not even know they were grandparents to two more children. They saw each other in September. "These are not the monsters we created them to be," she said, sadly. However, her sisters continue to stand by their claims. They sued their parents in a Seattle court, but the judge said he saw no convincing evidence that the elder couple sexually abused their children. "It will affect my family for generations to come," Paula said. No one doubts that sexual abuse of children is underreported. Diana Russell, professor emeritus of sociology at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., conducted a study in the late 1970s, interviewing almost 1,000 women, and found that 16 percent said they were sexually abused before they turned 18. She suspects that the rate is even higher, but that many forget about the abuse. Other studies suggest that sex abuse may be as high as 30 percent in women, while studies of men suggest that about 10 percent have been abused as children. Russell and others believe that it is possible for people to repress traumatic memories, especially if the abuse occurs before verbal memories. Indeed, the father of psychoanalysis wrote volumes on repression. Sigmund Freud believed that it was a key defense mechanism that protects the unconscious mind from painful experiences. Emotions, Freud said, have strong effects on memory. But is it the unconscious mind at work, digging an underground camp to keep stressful memories from rising to the surface, or do people want to plain forget horrible events? Dr. Lenore Terr, professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco and an expert on childhood trauma, told colleagues at a recent meeting of the American Psychological Association about 22-year-old Henry Miller, who with the help of his niece, contacted the Polly Klass Foundation in California last year. Miller said he always believed that he had been born to someone other than the parents rearing him. The niece asked whether there had ever been someone kidnaped who matched Miller's description. After a week, Terr - who has since written a book titled "Unchained Memories" - said that the foundation sent a poster of a missing 4-year-old black child from Inglewood, Calif. "The child's face was Henry's," Terr told her colleagues. His name was Kevin Portis. But is this repression or forgetting? "When you look at people who have been in concentration camps, tortured or brain-washed, they don't repress. They just don't want to remember," said Dr. Elissa Benedek, director of research and training at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ann Arbor, Mich. Believers in repressed memories point to the latest study by the University of New Hampshire's Linda Meyer Williams in this month's issue of the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology as proof that repression exists. In the 1970s, Williams was part of a study examining young children brought to the emergency room after rape or sexual abuse. The children ranged in age from newborn to 12. Recently, Williams was able to find more than 100 of these women in an attempt to determine whether they remembered the abuse that had occurred 17 years ago. The women were asked a series of questions, including whether they were ever treated at that hospital and whether they had ever been sexually abused, and the nature of the incident. The researchers found that 38 percent did not recall the abuse or chose not to report it to the researchers. But before this can be taken as a sign of repression, Williams also reported that 68 percent of those who did not recall the index event told about some other sexual abuse, suggesting perhaps that the earlier event was not as salient in their minds as the more recent incident. This type of forgetting, experts have shown, is common. "People can forget all kinds of things that might, at first thought, seem surprising," said the University of Seattle's Loftus, who was also part of the association's workshop of repressed memories. She said that studies have shown, for instance, that 25 percent of people failed to recall serious automobile accidents nine to12 months after their occurrence; more than 20 percent who had a family member die when they were 4 years old have failed to recall a single detail about the death; more than 15 percent of subjects failed to recall a hospitalization approximately nine months after discharge. "Normal forgetting of all sorts of events is a fact of life," Loftus said in an editorial accompanying Williams^ new study. "Remembering the past in detail can be considered the exception." Loftus has done experimental studies showing that the mind can be manipulated to create memories of a false truth. "There is no cogent support that we can repress streams of memories," she said. The problem, Loftus and others say, is that many therapists accept a patient's memory without attempting to confirm it. Terr agrees that verifying an event is important. She recently treated a women who had to be escorted up an elevator for a therapy session. She had a vague return of a memory that she was falling through a hole and a man was abusing her. At Terr's suggestion, she asked an old childhood friend who immediately knew where the memory came from. A neighborhood man allowed the children to play in his laundry chute, whooshing from bathroom to basement, where they would end up on a table. The friend said that she was never abused by the man, but that her sister reported that he had raped her. "Sometimes these memories sound so patently false," Terr said. "But if it is confirmed, it helps patients to deal with some lifelong scars." Terr adds that a memory of something may plague a person, but the details, even when they emerge, may not be completely accurate. "People can forget for twenty years," added Dr. Judith Herman, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard. She conducted a study in 1987 showing that there were high rates of independent corroboration among survivors of child sex abuse. But Yapko, who conducts research on suggestibility and memory, says too many therapists are using hypnosis to dig up memories. "I got a call from a woman who told me that she had spoken to a therapist over the phone, who suggested that her lowself-esteem was the result of childhood incest. The woman wanted to be hypnotized," Yapko recalled. Studies on hypnosis suggest that it decreases the accuracy of memory recall and increases the level of certainty. In other words, Yapko added, "people are very wrong and very sure." Believing hypnosis is a lie-detector or a technique to tap true memory, he added, is dangerous. He recently completed a study asking 800 therapists information on their use of hypnosis. "Most therapists are practicing their profession on sheer myth and misinformation," said Yapko, a clinical psychologist in Solana Beach, Calif. "We are violating due process if we use a memory to validate the truth," said Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a well-known psychotherapist and expert on hypnosis in New York. He said that people who fall into a trance easily are very suggestible. "The therapist may say something and the patient builds up a fiction of false memories. They become honest liars." Richard Ofshe agrees. A sociologist at the University of California in Berkeley, Ofshe studies the phenomenon of repressed memories. He fears that people who go to inexperienced therapists may end up seeing things the therapist wants them to see. Ofshe believes that people who lived through horrendous experiences are aware of them. "It is insulting to every person who has suffered through any trauma," said Ofshe, whose own book, "Making Monsters," came out earlier this year. Even if "memories" of abuse are unearthed in therapy, scientists have no idea whether the excavation actually helps people get better. In fact, many patients are now suing therapists, saying that they were forced to experience and believe events that never happened, Ofshe added. Some of the repressed memory cases contain eerily similar stories of satanic abuse, none of which has ever been confirmed. While the debate rages, new evidence on trauma does suggest that forgetting may be part of any stressful experience. Diana Elliott, a research fellow at Harvard University Medical School, and her colleagues have studied 10 types of traumatic events - including war, natural disaster, rape and eyewitnesses of violence - and found many people who suffer through all these experiences had some memory loss, or dissociation, about the event. The subjects were asked whether there was a period in time where they had fewer details of the event. "There is nothing unique about sex abuse that causes people to dissociate," said Elliott, who reported her findings last month at the meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. Delayed recall was found across all traumas, Elliott said. Reports of delayed memory were least likely to be found among natural disaster survivors (9 percent), to 42 percent of those serving in combat. About 44 percent of child abuse survivors had, at some point in time, forgotten details of the incident. Does therapy trigger the recall? No, according to the Harvard study. In another study conducted with John Briere, Elliott found that those with delayed recall during the past two years had more symptoms than those who remembered memories more than two years ago. "There is something about remembering and the passage of time that helps people," she said. Laura Brown, a forensic psychologist in Seattle who was also on the APA panel, said that a "good thing that comes out of this controversy is that both sides - trauma and memory researchers - are talking more." She cautions against seeing any therapist who has only one hypothesis about treatment. "There is nothing wrong with a therapist asking about any history of abuse," she said. "But beware when the therapist focuses solely on that issue." QUOTES: 1) `The good thing that comes out of this controversy is that both sides trauma and memory researchers, are talking more^ Laura Brown. a forsenic psychologist in Seattle, Washington. 2) Normal forgetting of all sorts of events is a fact of life. Remembering the past in detail can be considered the exception. There is no cogent support (for the theory) that we can repress streams of memories. Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist at the University of Seattle and co-author of "The Myth of Repressed Memory." 3) `Sometimes these memories sound so patiently false. But if it is confirmed, it helps patients to deal with some lifelong scars. Dr. Lenore Terr, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, in San Francisco and author of `Unchained Memories^ 4) `Most therapists are practicing (hypnosis) on sheer myth and misinformation^ Michael Yapko, a clinical psychologist in Solana Beach, Calif. and author of `Suggestions of Abuse' Recollections The impact of the growing trend toward the finding of "recovered memories" of sexual abuse. The Cost The average amount paid in 1993 per repressed memory claim in Washington state. The costs are significantly more than other types of Crime Victims Compensation claims in the state. Repressed memories $4,555 Nonsexual assault $1,524 Family sexual assault $1,086 Non-family sexual assault $600 Those Affected A breakdown of accusations made in a study of affected families: Accuser 92% are female 74% are between ages of 31 and 50 64% of accusations are "repressed" between 20 and 39 years 42% are first born 31% have education beyond college 26% report memory of abuse prior to age 2; 50 percent prior to age 4; 66% prior to age 6 Accused 74% have never been divorced 67% have no contact at all with accusing child, others only limited contact. 62% accused fathers of active abuse, and mothers of being "in denial" 30% accused both mother and father of active abuse. 22% of accused are in their 70s or 80s. 18% are accused of participating in satanic ritual abuse. 16% have been threatened with or are involved in legal action. Siblings 71% do not believe the accusations. Things to Consider There is no single set of symptoms which automatically means that a person was a victim of childhood abuse. All therapists must approach questions of childhood abuse from a neutral position. The public should be wary of two kinds of therapists: those who offer instant childhood abuse diagnoses, and those who dismiss claims or reports of sexual abuse without exploration. When seeking psychotherapy, the public is advised to see a licensed practitioner with training and experience in the issues for which treatment is sought. SOURCE: American Psychological Association, Washington State Institute for for Public Policy, False Memory Syndrome Association.


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