OCT 27 '94 AUST PSYCH SOCIETY 613 663 6177
The Australian Psychological Society Limited
Guidelines Relating to Recovered Memories
A CODE OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT
The Australian Psychological Society Code of Professional Conduct sets
forth principles of professional conduct designed to safeguard
o the welfare of consumers of psychological services
o the integrity of the profession
The General Principles of the Code are:
Psychologists remain personally responsible for the professional
decisions they take
o Psychologists are expected to take cognisance of the foreseeable
consequences of their actions and to make every effort to ensure
that their services are used appropriately.
o In working with organisations, whether as employees or
consultants, psychologists shall have ultimate regard for the
highest standards of their profession.
Psychologists shall bring to and maintain appropriate skills and learning
in their areas of professional practice
o Psychologists must not misrepresent their competence,
qualifications, training or experience.
o Psychologists shall refrain from offering or undertaking work or
advice beyond their professional competence.
The welfare of clients, students, research participants and the public,
and the integrity of the profession, shall take precedence over a Psycho-
logist's self interest and over the interests of the psychologist's
employer and colleagues.
o Psychologists must respect the confidentiality of information
obtained from persons in the course of their work as psychologists.
They may reveal such information to others only with the consent
of the person or the person's legal representative, except in those
unusual circumstances in which not to do so would result in clear
danger to the person or to others. Psychologists must inform their
clients of the legal or other contractual limits
o Psychologists shall refrain from any act which would tend to bring
the profession into public disrepute.
B GUIDELINES RELATING TO RECOVERED MEMORIES
These guidelines set forth conclusions and recommendations designed to
safeguard psychologists and clients who are dealing with reports of
I Scientific Issues
Memory is a constructive and reconstructive process. What is
remembered about an event is shaped by what is observed of that
event, by conditions prevailing during attempts to remember, and by
events occurring between the observation and the attempted
remembering. Memories can be altered, deleted, and created by events
that occur during and after the time of encoding, and during the period
of storage, and during any attempts at retrieval.
Memory is integral to many approaches to therapy. Repression and
dissociation are processes central to some theories and approaches to
therapy. According to these theories and approaches, memories of
traumatic events may be blocked out unconsciously and this leads to a
person having no memory of the events. However, memories of these
traumatic events may become accessible at some later time. Although
some clinical observations support the notion of repressed memories,
empirical research on memories generally does not. Moreover the
scientific evidence does not allow general statements to be made about
any relationship between trauma and memory.
"Memories" that are reported either spontaneously or following the use
of special procedures in therapy may be accurate, inaccurate, fabricated,
or a mixture of these. The level of belief in memory or the emotion
associated with the memory does not necessarily relate directly to the
accuracy of the memory. The available scientific and clinical evidence
does not allow accurate, inaccurate, and fabricated memories to be
distinguished in the absence of independent corroboration.
Psychologists should recognise that reports of abuse long after the
alleged events are difficult to prove or disprove in the majority of
cases. Independent corroboration of the statements of those who make or
deny such allegations is typically difficult, if not impossible. Accord-
ingly, psychologists should exercise special care in dealing with
clients, their family members, and the wider community when allegations
of past abuse are made.
II Clinical Issues
Psychologists should evaluate critically their assumptions or biases
about attempts to recover memories of trauma-related events. Equally,
psychologists should assist clients to understand any assumptions that
they have about repressed or recovered memories. Assumptions that adult
problems may or may not be associated with repressed memories from child-
hood can not be sustained by available scientific evidence.
Psychologists should be alert to the ways that they can shape the
memories reported by clients through the expectations they convey, the
comments they make, the questions they ask, and the responses they give
to clients. Psychologists should be alert that clients are susceptible
to subtle suggestions and reinforcements, whether those communications
are intended or unintended. Therefore, psychologists should record
intact memories at the beginning of therapy, and be aware of any
possible contagion effects (e.g., self-help groups, popular books).
Psychologists should be alert to the role that they may play in creating
or shaping false memories. Equally, psychologists should be alert not to
dismiss memories that may be based in fact. At all times, psychologists
should be empathic and supportive of the reports of clients while also
ensuring that clients do not jump to conclusions about the truth or
falsity of their recollections of the past. They should also ensure that
alternative causes of any problems that are reported are explored.
Psychologists should recognise that the context of therapy is important
as is the content.
Psychologists should not avoid asking clients about the possibility of
sexual or other abusive occurrences in their past, if such a question is
relevant to the problem being treated. However, psychologists should be
cautious in interpreting the response that is given. Psychologists
should never assume that a report of no abuse is necessarily indicative
of either repressed or dissociated memory or denial of known events. Nor
should they assume that a report of abuse indicates necessarily that the
client was abused.
Psychologists should understand clearly the difference between narrative
truth and historical truth, and the relevance of this difference inside
the therapy context and outside that context. Memory reports as part of
a personal narrative can be helpful in therapy independent of the
accuracy of those reports. However, to be accepted as actual history,
those reports should be shown to be accurate. Psychologists should seek
to meet the needs of clients who report memories of abuse, and should do
this quite apart from the truth or falsity of those reports. Psycholog-
ists should recognise that the needs and well being of clients take pre-
cedence and should design their therapeutic interventions accordingly.
III Ethical Issues
Psychologists treating clients who report recovered memories of abuse
are expected to observe the Principles set out in the Code of Profess-
ional Conduct of the Australian Psychological Society, and in the Code
of Professional Conduct of the Psychologists Registrations Boards in
States in which they are registered as psychologists. Specifically,
psychologists should obtain informed consent at the beginning of therapy
in relation to the details of the therapeutic process and its possible
Psychologists should inform any client who recovers a memory of abuse
that it may be an accurate memory of an actual event, may be an altered
or distorted memory of an actual event, or may be a false memory of an
event that did not happen. Psychologists should explore with the client
the meaning and implications of the memory for the client, rather than
focus solely on the content of the reported memory. Psychologists should
explore with the client ways of determining the accuracy of the memory,
Psychologists should be alert particularly to the need to maintain
appropriate skills and learning in this area, and should be aware of the
relevant scientific evidence and clinical standards of practice.
Psychologists should guard against accepting approaches to abuse and
therapy that are not based in scientific evidence and appropriate
Psychologists should be alert also to the personal responsibility they
hold for the foreseeable consequence of their actions.
IV Legal Issues
Psychologists should be aware that some approaches and writings
concerning abuse and recovered memories urge clients to engage in legal
action against the alleged abuser and any others who may question the
accuracy of any recovered memories. Psychologists should recognise that
their responsibilities are to the therapeutic needs of clients, and not
to issues of legal action or revenge. Given that the accuracy of memor-
ies cannot be determined without corroboration, psychologists should use
caution in responding to questions from clients about legal action.
Psychologists should be aware that their knowledge, skills, and practices
may come under close scrutiny by various public and private agencies if
they are treating clients who recover memories of abuse. Psychologists
should ensure that comprehensive records are maintained about their
sessions with clients who recover memories of abuse.
Psychologists should in no way tolerate, or be seen to tolerate, child-
hood or adult sexual abuse, or abuse of any kind. They should ensure that
their psychological services are used appropriately in this regard, and
should be alert to problems of deciding whether allegations of abuse are
true or false. They should be alert especially to the different demands
and processes of the therapeutic and legal contexts in dealing with such
V Research Issues
Psychologists should be aware that research is needed to understand more
about trauma-related memory, techniques to enhance memory, and techniques
to deal effectively with childhood sexual abuse. Psychologists should
support and contribute to research on these, and related, issues
_Note_ These guidelines have been adapted from:
McConkey,K.M., & Sheehan,P.W. (in press)
"Hypnosis, Memory, and Behaviour in the Forensic Setting"
New York: Guildford Press.
Tel: McConkey 02 385 3034 612 385 3034
Sheehan 07 365 3917 617 365 3917
from outside Australia