Well they’re off!
As the backlash unfolds against the coverage of child sexual abuse, out come the false memory articles.
I have counted four in the UK press this week.
The first one was in the Sunday Times. I wrote about it here. It was copied in the Daily Mail a day later.
Then there was The Guardian with a review of a book that I wrote about here.(The review was written by a man who thinks the British Empire is a bit of a false memory too!)
Then there was The Conversation aticle which I mentioned here.
If there is one thing you cannot fault the false memory movement for it is timing. They are brilliant at it.
The backlash wasn’t unexpected. Already last year Tom Watson had written,

 Right now the Daily Mail is leading a campaign for deeper investigation into historic cases of abuse. Yet at any point in the future they are just as likely to do a ‘reverse ferret’ .

That point in the future would seem to be the Panorama Documentary.
The expression “reverse ferret” is new to me. Apparently it means:

a phrase used predominantly within the British media to describe a sudden reversal in an organisation’s editorial line on a certain issue. Generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position.[1]

The term originates from Kelvin MacKenzie’s time at The Sun. His preferred description of the role of journalists when it came to public figures was to “stick a ferret up their trousers”. This meant making their lives uncomfortable, and was based on the supposed northern stunt of ferret legging (where contestants compete to show who can endure a live ferret within their sealed trousers the longest). However, when it became clear that the tide of public opinion had turned against the paper’s line, MacKenzie would burst from his office shouting “Reverse Ferret!”

Boycotting Dissociation


A boycott is a collective action by a group of people who refuse to interact with another group of people or organisation in order to acheive a specific purpose, which is often political. One way of boycotting is to pretend that the other organisation does not exist.
The false memory movement deals with the subject of dissociation by boycotting it. It does not mention that dissociative disorders exist in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders.  It does not mention that the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation exists, nor the European Society for the study of Trauma and Dissociation.
If they do mention the existance of dissociation, then they use the words multiple personality and cite that this is an idea that became popular because of a film. Or they mention the word repression instead. Despite the fact that repression and dissociation are two very different concepts.
This boycott shows no sign of abating in the UK. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an article in the New Scientist that quoted a psychologist with deliberate ambiguity. This week an article in the Conversation mentioned repression when writing about false memories but failed to mention dissociation.


The Sunday Times and False Memory I

images (7)_edited

Yesterday the Sunday Times printed an article about false memory and it probably didn’t go as well as expected. The press just can’t get away with using the false memory argument anymore because of social media.
So the person who was supposed to  have got a false memory by doing a certain therapy went on-line to say that she had never done this therapy – and why hadn’t the Sunday Times interviewed her?
Then it turned out that the person who organised the therapy-that-didn’t-happen hadn’t been consulted or interviewed either. And that the Sunday Times had said that the charity concerned lay on a back street  ( like an illegal  abortion clinic?) and not on a busy road with shops.
Then another journalist wrote that the Sunday Times had got its facts wrong when it referred to the Cleveland case as being to do with false memory when it wasn’t. It seems that the Sunday Times also knew it was wrong here because in one pre-edition copy they had taken the reference to Cleveland away – and then they put it back again.
The article interviewed someone from the new Centre  for Memory and Law at City University. This may not be the best entrance for them – to be mentioned in such a shoddy article. Perhaps the False Memory Archive  (which is apparently housed at this centre) will also come under scrutiny? Does it contain third-party information about people who don’t think their memories are false?
Then there’s the fact that  the article about false memory wasn’t printed in a vacuum. Earlier this week Beatrix Campbell had described the fight to expose sexual crime against children as a “great social movement” and that the backlash was “routine and predictable“.
 And so it is.


The creative writing prize for debunking child sexual abuse

Dan Hodges in the Telegraph seems to be out to win the creative writing prize for debunking child sexual abuse. This is some of the imagery he has come up with in one article:-
1) witch-hunt
2) pious mantra
3) a circus, a grotesque carnival and a malevolent carnival where there are “politicians acting like prosecutors, journalists acting like judges, prosecutors acting like policemen, and policemen acting like politicians.”
4) national psychosis and a “madness that is not of one man”
5) a toxic critical mass
6) ripping to shreds (of reputations)
7) textbook case study of moral panic, victim blaming culture and contamination of the present.
 8) Every single one of us has, in some part, participated in it.
Well done Dan! I’ll be looking to see if anyone can beat you!

The Strange Case of Thomas Quick

51GLkF8W9mL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200__editedThis book is published by Portabello Books and describes how a petty criminal became convinced that he was a serial killer because of the school of psychotherapy practiced at the psychiatric prison in which he was incarcerated. This school of pychotherapy was lead by a woman who practiced recovered memory therapy and sought to find evidence of sexual abuse in all her clients
If true, this is terrible. But I suspect that it may not be true because the writer of The strange case of Thomas Quick inherited his interest in the case from another deseased journalist who had links with the false memory movement before he even met the person who called himself Thomas Quick. This persons name is mentioned in a UK false memory newsletter from 2005 (1)
In other words, the book can be seen as the result of an agenda in seach of a story ( arbeit a very good story) rather than the other way round.
The book has structural similarities with another classic piece of false memory literature by Debbie Nathan called Sybil Exposed. Both books tell a gripping story about a vulnerable hero who meets a psychotherapist who encourages them to remember things that had not happened and make up stories about multple personalities that do not exist.  At first the hero knows that they are making things up but eventually they get sucked into the therapist’s vortex.  The hero changes their name and cuts themselves off from their family.
In other words, the book’s structure can be seen as an example of standard false memory movement genre
One problem I have with the book is that the publishers blurb says he was a petty criminal before he received psychotherapy from the wicked therapists.
According to my reading of the book he had comitted the following acts before having therapy
  • numerous sexual assauts against minors
  • threats to kill minors if they told of these assaults
  • two instances of attempted murder, one of them against a minor
  • one instance of grooming a minor over a period of four years and getting him to commit arson and armed robbery
  • arson
  • armed robbery
  • holding a family hostage at gunpoint over a period of many hours – including a baby ( as part of the armed robbery )
  • numerous drug offences
  • forgery
Maybe there has been some kind of mistake in the translation. Or perhaps these crimes are seen as petty in Sweden


(This link no longer works. The organisation’s archive is held at the Centre for Memory and Law, City University, London)

What would society look like if the false memory movement acheived its goals?

ladda ned (4)_edited
One of the stated goals of the false memory movement  is that psychotherapists should not allow clients to explore memories of sexual abuse unless their clients´ memories have can be corroborated. This was the stated aim of Paul McHugh in the early 1990’s ( see the book  Try to Remember ). It is also expressed in the opinion article of the New Scientist in October 2015.
How would this corroboration work in practice?
When used in this context, corroboration has a legal meaning. The only way to establish if a memory has corroboration or not is to wait for the outcome of a legal process. Any other “proof” of corroboration would be subject to bias.
So complainants waiting for trial would not be allowed access to therapy,
People who have been abused by family members and don’t want their abuser to go to trial because it would cause complications at home would not be allowed access to therapy.
People who have been abused a long time ago when no-one else was around would not be allowed access to therapy
But what about help-lines of a charity, would they be required to have legal proof that sexual abuse actually occurred before taking a call?
“Hello this is the Samaritans. you can talk to us about anything except sexual abuse”
What about telling a friend that you have been sexually abused? Will that be allowed if a case hasn’t gone to court?


Will there be a growth in off-shore therapy? Where those who can afford it will have psychotherapy with private therapists who are registered non-doms? And those who can’t afford it will just have to keep their mouths shut?

Abuse, psychotherapy and mainstream media


When the issue of child sexual abuse moved from being a private to a public issue in the 1980’s and early 1990’s psychotherapists were wrongly blamed for causing this social change.
The false memory movement wanted to show (for legal reasons) that adults´ memories of sexual abuse as children could be produced iatrogenically through psychotherapy and they exploited professional differences within psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry to argue that some types of psychotherapy brainwashed people more than others.
The false memory movement created a strawman called Recovered Memory Therapy and attempted to show that this therapy was responsible for the fact that child sexual abuse had become a public issue
To prevent a compete breakdown of relationships between and within these professions, in 1993 a group of researchers in the USA wrote to the APS Observer that they had
“a common concern for the responsibility of psychology as a science”
and suggested that
“for the sake of intellectual honesty, let’s leave the term ‘false memory syndrome’ to the popular press.”
I don’t know if any similar letter was written in the UK ( please tell me if this was the case) but it seems that the legacy of “false memory syndrome” is today stronger in the UK press than in the USA.
I understand that psychotherapists in the UK don’t want to put themselves on the firing line anymore. They are trained to look for complexity which is the exact opposite of simplistic stories about brainwashing.
But I would like to include a quote from Marjorie Orr about this issue
The primary focus of therapy clearly lies within the consulting room. But therapists are also members of wider society, with responsibilities beyond their individual patients. Like other members of the public, they presumably want justice, fairness and protection for the vulnerable.

Traumatic memory is a complex field. The business of therapy is to understand how memory works (and dysfunctions) in the shattered personalities who come for help. That corpus of knowledge needs to be disseminated more widely in understandable language – to the general public and to the legal professionals.

For this to happen, our therapy organisations need to reach out beyond their insular (and schismatic) professional arena to engage with the media and those involved in the justice system….

….In general, therapy organisations have been too timid and too wrapped up in their internal battles to find a voice out in society. There is a vital need for human behaviour and relationships to be more widely understood, both in court and in society in general. The public clearly have a desire for deeper understanding of human psychology and our therapy organisations have a vital part to play here if they can galvanise themselves.

I don’t understand why some psychotherapists in the UK who work with trauma are hung out to dry in the mainstream media over and over again whilst others do not use the mainstream media to publicly express their support for them.
Again, if I am wrong or being unfair here, please let me know
See also
So-called recovered memory therapy
What would society look like if the false memory people got their way?
The strange case of Thomas Quick (book review)
A dedication to those who listen

So-called Recovered Memory Therapy

recovered memory therapy

False memory movement literature makes frequent reference to something called recovered memory therapy. But what is this so-called therapy?

Recovered memory

The term recovered memory is a term that has been used by some trauma survivors and experts to explain what happens when they have PTSD flashbacks of traumatic experiences.

It often happens that survivors of trauma are later able to verify that the images, sounds and smells that occur in flashbacks are grounded in events that actually did happen.

I don’t use the term recovered memory  myself, but I think that other people should be able to do so without fear of being ridiculed.

A very good source of information about recovered memory is Ross Cheit’s blog Recovered Memory Org

´Recovered memory therapy`

The term recovered memory therapy is frequently used by the false memory movement. However there are no schools or training for this therapy. In 2007 the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation described it as a straw man. (1)

In my opinion the term is part of the movements’  colourful and dramatic use of language and is often used alongside other words and phrases such as witch-hunts, satanic panic, inplanting etc.

A deliberate mix-up?

The October 7 2015 issue of New Scientist magazine published an article where the terms recovered memories and recovered memory therapy seem to be mixed up. This is an extract from the article

“The consensus is that recovered memories can be accurate or inaccurate or a mixture,” says Bernice Andrews of Royal Holloway, University of London, who acts as an expert witness in court cases. She says memories that re-emerge spontaneously are more likely to be real than those from recovered-memory therapy

Bernice Andrews may have used the phrase recovered memories.  But did she also use the phrase recovered memory therapy?

She didn’t.

The next month the New Scientist printed the following letter from her

Discussing the issues of “lost” memories and therapy, you report me saying that memories that re-emerge spontaneously are more likely to be real than those from recovered-memory therapy (10 October, p 8). To put the record straight, I did not use the term “recovered-memory therapy” and would never do so. It is a term with no specific definition, often used indiscriminately to describe any therapy (appropriate or otherwise) that might have preceded memories of abuse.
In my role as an expert witness in the courts I recognise that recovering a memory in therapy per se does not necessarily render it unreliable, and the majority of therapists do not use inappropriate practices. In legal cases it is necessary to weigh up a variety of factors that might increase or decrease the likelihood of a memory being reliable before giving an opinion. It is important that experts ground the testimony they provide in scientific evidence rather than opinion, whether they are representing the prosecution or the defence.
For the avoidance of doubt, I do not believe that memories recovered in all forms of therapy are less likely to be real, because there is no consistent scientific evidence to support such a claim. It is, however, universally recognised that certain therapeutic techniques such as hypnosis may be risky if used inappropriately.
London, UK

So Andrews makes a distinction between poor therapeutic practices and recovered memory therapy.

Could it be the case that using the term recovered memory therapy actually hinders the development of better therapy by dismissing a whole variety of practices without investigating them properly?

I suggest that this is the case


(1) In October 2007,Scientific American published an article critical of a form of therapy called recovered memory therapy. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation responded by criticizing the article for using the terminology “recovered memory therapy,” which they claim is a straw man for a non-existent modality.

(2) FMSF  –  the intials of the main false memory group in the USA

A BBC television documentary about child sexual abuse


.The UK a has a historical tradition of all-male spaces, whether they are prep and public schools, the upper reaches of the Houses of Parliament or children’s homes for boys. The richest and the poorest men have been sent away from their homes at a young ages, to be disciplined by other men.

There is evidence that there has been organised movement ( trafficking) of boys from some all-male spaces to others. This seems to have been secret to all but a few people, and those that speak about it are punished.

Faced with this problem, where does one start investigating?

The approach taken by a recent BBC documentary has been to frame the investigation in a single question. Is there evidence of a VIP paedophile ring? 

Unfortunately they did not define this hypothesis to their viewers

The word paedophile implies that when powerful men act in groups to do horrible things to less powerful boys – it is because of their individual sexual desires. Is this really the case? What if you really wanted to be Home Secretary and some friends said, OK, we’ll vote for you, but only if you pose for this picture in a frilly apron and a kid on your lap. My guess is that some people would agree – whatever their sexual preferences.

The word paedophile means that you can mix the word up with homosexual and argue that nobody knew the difference back then ( a terrible slur to those who did know the difference )

Then there is the use of the word ring when network would be more suitable.

So the program goes charging off to look for a paedophile ring like the holy grail whilst making light weight of other forms of institutional abuses.

And what do they find? Scared men. Men who sit in dark rooms with their backs turned, with hoods over their faces and talking through a voice machine. There is one man who isn’t scared to talk to the camera because his abuser is in prison ( a rather good reason for continuing investigations I would think ). Then there is another man who says that he previously said he was abused by a home secretary – but he was only joking.

This last interview is the most interesting. It may be possible that this man was previously joking.  But it is also possible that he is stating that he doesn’t want to be a tabloid victim. He won’t sit in a darkened room with a hood on anymore. He would rather  talk in his own voice  to people he trusts.

And not on Panorama