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