By: David Bloomberg
Date: Fri Feb 17 1995 23:24:28
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Doubt repressed memories
Therapist sees `people's lives destroyed by this'
THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
After years of helping her clients recover repressed memories of
abuse, therapist Linda Ross recently discovered that she herself was
suppressing something - her doubts.
In the past, when clients told her about their recovered
memories of satanic cults or other bizarre abuse, Ross never let on
when she did not believe them.
"The idea that a therapist would doubt the validity of a story
their client was telling was unthinkable," said Ross, who earned a
master's degree from the University of Arizona in 1986 and
practices in Tucson.
"I convinced myself the problem was with me," she said. "I
figured the stories were so horrible that I didn't want to believe
But when one of her clients began doubting her recovered
recollections of ritual abuse, Ross questioned her own faith in
"Some of the nagging doubts I had regarding repressed memories
began to surface," she said. "And it began to explain why some of
my sexual abuse patients weren't getting any better."
In the past year, Ross has studied research on the mechanics of
memory and attended seminars sponsored by the False Memory Syndrome
Foundation, a resource group for parents whose children have
accused them of abuse based on recovered memories.
"Sitting in a room with those people made me see how people's
lives are being destroyed by this," she said. "I hear therapists
say that it doesn't matter whether repressed memories are accurate.
Well, it matters a great deal to the people who are accused."
Ross has concluded that while some recovered memories may be
accurate, there is no way to know for sure without corroborating
evidence. Therefore, she no longer feels comfortable either helping
clients search for memories or quietly supporting the memories they
recover on their own.
Her new skepticism doesn't affect her faith in clients who
always remembered their abuse. But she no longer believes some of
the repressed memories she helped former clients recover through
question and answer sessions.
"It was a dance between myself and the client," she said. "My
questions were very benign - what time of year did it happen? What
did the room look like? But they wound up having a suggestive
quality because they led the client to enhance her story in ways
she hadn't considered."In turn, the details her clients provided
convinced Ross the stories were true. But she now realizes imagined
accounts of abuse can be as rich in detail and emotion as actual
She said her research also dispelled other myths she shared
with many therapists - that patients who have eating disorders or
who cannot remember certain periods of their life are usually
hiding repressed memories of abuse.
Most importantly, though, she says she's learned it's better to
doubt her clients' repressed memories than to encourage them to
live a lie.
"I'm not making so many assumptions," she said. "We need to
make sure people are dealing with something that's real."