Thursday, 30 March 2006

False memories: a conjurer's view.

A very interesting article by James Randi about the UFO phenomenon and fallibility of memory:
"...When it comes to witness reliability, I have a very specialized expertise, and I'll spend some time here explaining that talent.
As a magician (more correctly, a conjurer — but that's a matter for discussion elsewhere) I am well aware of two important facets of human experience: how people are fooled by others, and how they fool themselves.
That last angle enters in here strongly.
With some individuals it appears to be easy to not only ignore that their perception has departed from what they should expect of the real world, but that their memory and interpretation of a perceived set of sensory inputs is infallible and certainly represents actuality..."
A better performance from ABC-TV

Monday, 27 March 2006

Keeping track of the quacks.

Adriaan Mak is a Canadian parent who helped found the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in that country.
He has considerable experience, and perseverance, both as a commentator and activist.
Writing for he observes that
"...Many of the therapists, most of them so-called 'traumatologists' once involved in the Recovered Memory craze of the eighties and nineties, began to advertise their services as distress and bereavement counsellors.
The U.S. Government and businesses did set aside huge funds to help those distressed by the events that happened on Sept 11 and following get therapy from these quacks.
As one U.S. critic of the trauma therapy scene observed: 'Good grief!'...."
Adriaan recently wrote a letter to the Victorian Health Services Commisioner about the RMT Inquiry.
Health authorities in other states would do well to take heed of his views:
http: //Victorian Inquiry: letter from Adriaan Mak

Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Essential reading.

In September 2005, a letter was written by a group of prominent scientists and scholars in reponse to the draft version of the Victorian RMT document.
The signatories were Dr. Maryanne Garry, Dr. Pamela Freyd, Dr. Donald Thomson, Dr. Elizabeth F. Loftus, Dr. Lynley Hood, and Dr. Michael Corballis.
The letter is essential reading for anyone concerned about the practice of recovered memory therapy in Australia:
http:// Victorian Inquiry: letter from scientists and scholars

Friday, 17 March 2006

Peeling away a therapy onion.

by Bettina Arndt
Herald-Sun, Melbourne
17 mar 2006

Last year a Sydney mother, father and grandmother were awarded $165,000 in damages for wrongful arrest following allegations of sexual abuse by one of their daughters. The case was a classic, with a daughter alleging she’d been forced by these relatives to participate in all sorts of wild, sexual rituals involving animals, blood and menstrual fluid, horrific abortions and adults dressed in hooded black garments.

The committal hearings showed the daughter’s “memories” of these extraordinary happenings emerged as a result of 40 sessions with a therapist whose core business is digging for hidden evidence of abuse. Human memory is like an onion ring, he told the Court – “one peels away the layers of memory until the core is revealed.” Here was a clear case of recovered memory, with the therapist freely admitting his therapy aimed to peel the onion.

Onion peeling is on the nose. Around the world professional organizations warn of the risks of relying on memories emerging in therapy, particularly when hypnosis and dubious techniques such as bodywork or rebirthing are used to prompt these so-called recollections. Therapists have been sued, professionals struck off with legal cases highlighting the immense damage caused when false memories lead to accusations of abuse. Yet still it goes on. There are still shonky, so-called “therapists” causing havoc in the lives of families by assuming sexual abuse underlies all manner of psychological disturbance and using suggestive techniques to seek the proof. Few now admit to performing “recovered memory therapy” (RMT) since this type of therapy has fallen into disrepute but the results are the same. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…

It was seen as a major victory for these families when eighteen months ago the Victorian government called an enquiry into RMT. Last week the Health Services Commissioner released their report. The result is disappointing. The report denies there is any ongoing issue with this type of therapy and fudges relevant research findings – although it makes some important recommendations urging professional bodies to properly address issues of training and professional practice.

When the Victorian report discusses the recent NSW Supreme case, it fails to mention all the evidence which emerged in the committal hearings and claims the case had nothing to do with RMT. In a neat piece of bureaucratic double-speak, the report uses a narrow definition of RMT to suggest there’s no evidence this type of therapy is being used at all in Victoria - ignoring the fact that there are still plenty of therapists committed to the search for forgotten memories of sexual abuse. The results of their handy work is seen in the regular trickle of Australian sexual abuse cases which turn out to be based on false memories – cases being thrown out of court by judges now well-informed about the dangers of this therapeutic muck-racking.

Dr Elizabeth Loftus, - recently named as one the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century – is one of a group of academics who have attacked this one-sided report. In a letter to the inquiry, the academics point out the report’s literature review  distorts the vast body of research which has failed to provide any solid evidence that memories can be repressed and then recovered – research which shows traumatic events are highly memorable and seldom, if ever, forgotten.

What’s going on here? Those conducting the Victorian enquiry seem to have been swayed by vigorous objections of people working with victims of sexual abuse who interpret any doubts about repressed memory as an attack on their work and the victims they are trying to help. But this is madness. Surely it is possible to acknowledge the worrying prevalence of sexual abuse and the appalling toll it takes on its victims while properly using scientific research to inform the public about the likelihood of memories being real or created. The community needs to be warned of the dangers of therapy which aims to discover memories of abuse, in the absence of any other evidence this has taken place. The inquiry was an important step towards acknowledging the tragic effects on families of false accusations spawned by this therapy - but the results fall sadly short. "

Complete text reproduced with permission of the author.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

The persistence of 'cellular' memory.

Could some alternative health practitioners be unwittingly 'recovering' memories among their clients?
There may be cause for concern. Two recent articles from The Age in Melbourne have promoted the idea of cellular memory.
Certain aspects of this seem rather familiar (like an alternative health version of Courage to Heal, perhaps).

From the article Kinesiology.
"...Trinity Nebauer doesn't discuss her problems when she visits her kinesiologist. She lets her body do the talking for her.
Kinesiology practitioners rely on muscles, joints and reflexes to obtain specific information from clients. While questions are asked, gentle pressure is applied to certain parts of the body. The body gives its own answer through delivering a physical response, such as a twitch.
Nebauer says muscle testing enables kinesiologists to "tap into cellular memory" as a means of gaining access to information that may have been repressed..."
From the article Body of Work.
"...Another key concept is that of "cellular memory", a kind of bodily imprinting of early traumatic experiences - for example, separation from a parent - that might have vanished from conscious memory but which persist in the form of ongoing problems such as migraines, depression or panic attacks.
"What seem to be unrelated symptoms are often a reliving of those experiences," explains (therapist) Kitson, whose manner is so calm that you start to unwind simply listening to her speak. "The responses are still being played out in the body even though the mind's saying, 'I don't know what the problem is down there but I wish it would stop'."
As with, for example, the victim of long-term parental sexual abuse who had so shut down her physical responses that by her late 40s her joints had stiffened to the point of immobility, in effect disabling her..."

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Question: what is a 'suitable professional organisation'?

Recommendation number three, from the Victorian RMT Inquiry:
"...All unregistered providers of trauma counselling, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy services become members of a suitable professional organisation within their profession..."
In the USA, Steve Eichel has demonstrated that such a recommendation may be of limited value.
According to his research, you don't even need to be homo sapiens to join some 'professional organisations'.
It's worth re-visiting his website, which has been updated with a follow-up article.

P.S. Don't miss the 141 Factor coverage.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

A Dutch pun.

Kitty Hendriks is a prominent activist in the Netherlands.
She uses the word "traumaversterking" as a pun on "traumaverwerking", a word RMT practitioners there are apparently fond of using.
According to her site, traumaverwerking is an abreactive technique meaning "working through trauma".
By contrast, "traumaversterking" (sterk = strong) means "trauma inducing".
Kitty has put together a very comprehensive site, with many links in both Dutch and English.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Old versus New: first impressions.

The Victorian RMT Inquiry is a large document, and the final version has only been available for a short time.
However, one contributor has had the opportunity to do a rapid scan, comparing old versus new.
Bottom line: there don't appear to be major changes.
This is not a definitive summary, but some first impressions:
  • The main change is the change of the definition 'false memory advocates' to 'critics of recovered memory therapy'. They also noted this group includes mental health professionals.
  • There were a few minor concessions eg - instead of saying the review found 'no' research on clinical techniques used to recover memories of trauma it is now 'little'.
  • Deletion of the line 'The media reports do not show reliably that RMT exists in Australia.'
  • It no longer states that professional guidelines on recovered memories are 'reasonably consistent' - the report now just states that the guidelines exist.
  • The section that recommended the government undertakes a review of the risks and examines any need for further regulation of unregistered providers of counselling and psychotherapy service has been deleted (presumably because the review happened at end of last year)
  • Hypnotists were added to the list of unregulated providers who should become registered 'with a suitable body' (The question is asked -- What is an appropriate body? One major counselling organisation has no guidelines at all regarding recovered memories.)
  • After the section on the places where mediation could be offered, it was added that complainants could use the courts.
  • There appears to be only one new reference added:
  • Poole, D.A., Lindsay, D.S., Memon, A., & Bull, R. (1995). Psychotherapy and the recovery of memories of childhood sexual abuse: U.S. and British practitioners’ opinions, practices, and experiences. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63, 426-437.

Victorian RMT Inquiry: final version now available.

Download the final document from the Victorian Enquiry Into Recovered Memory Therapy at:

Monday, 6 March 2006

'Serious concerns' about the Victorian report.

According to an article in the AFMA Bulletin, released over the weekend, an eminent group of scientists and independent scholars has expressed serious concerns about the draft report of the Victorian Government’s Inquiry into the Practice of Recovered Memory Therapy.
In a joint letter to the Project Officer, the group has rejected a number of statements in the draft report as “one-sided” and “ incorrect”.
The group was made up of Dr Maryanne Garry, Dr Elizabeth F. Loftus, Dr Pamela Freyd, Dr Lynley Hood, Dr Donald Thomson, and Dr Michael Corballis.
In their letter, the group said their members were “dedicated to seeing that the scientific literature on human memory is presented accurately. As such, we have serious concerns about the draft report.”
They found evidence used in the draft report as “woefully out-of-date”, lacking scientific evidence, and either misinterpreting or containing methodological flaws which do not support the claims.
Adriaan Mak, of Canadian False Memory Support Groups, has also been critical of the Victorian Inquiry’s draft report.
Source: AFMA Bulletin.

Sunday, 5 March 2006

Problems with Sybil.

From the latest FMS Foundation Newsletter:
"...CBS is remaking the movie Sybil with plans to air it this spring.
It was filmed in Halifax during January and February, is directed by Joseph Sargent, and stars Jessica Lange, Tammy Blanchard and JoBeth Williams.
The movie "is based on one of the first documented cases of multiple personalities."
And that is the problem. Since the gripping original 1976 movie, after which the number of diagnosed cases of multiple personality soared, Sybil has been shown to be a hoax.
Her multiple personalities were caused by her unduly suggestive mental health treatment....
The remake of Sybil without clarification that this is not a documented case of multiple personality is an ethical issue.
The publisher of the Wilkomirski memoir withdrew it from sale once it was shown to be false...."
Also in this edition, The Memory Wars:
"....It was a tragic mental health scandal: accusations resulting from supposedly long-repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse brought to light by self-deluded therapists and questionable and suggestive techniques such as hypnotism.
The false memory wars, which raged throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, are slowly subsiding, but they are far from over...."
More at:

Friday, 3 March 2006

An open letter from Narelle Merrit in Queensland.

" All Mental Health Practitioners, Counsellors, Politicians, Church Healing Ministries and Psychologists:
This is an open letter warning about dangerous forms of therapy including repressed/recovered memory therapy (which includes therapy based on Multiple Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder ) and a new and rampant purportedly Christian healing ministry called Theophostic Prayer Ministry marketed by Ed Smith In the U.S.A....
This is just a brief account of my true story. My name is Narelle Merritt and I reside in Brisbane Queensland, I have spent the last three years in total agony and emotional pain because I become involved with a freelance so-called therapist on the QLD Gold Coast who practices a mishmash of repressed memory, body memory and Theophostic Ministry on her unwitting patients....
This therapy is DANGEROUS and can and has resulted in the destruction of countless (thousands) of families including my own....
Theophostic Prayer Ministry used the following techniques on my family and I: Guided imagery, reference to 'Body memories', hypnotic trances, suggestibility, heavy emphasis on 'abreaction', constant reinforcement of the fact that all the bizarre memories were true because the therapist had heard it all before...."
For the complete text of Narelle Merrit's letter, see:

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Fudging food memory.

"...What if you could be tricked into thinking that chocolate eclairs had made you violently ill as a child -- or that your favorite food was broccoli?
At the University of California, Irvine, psychologist Elizabeth Loftus -- better known for challenging the reliability of recovered memories in high-profile sexual-abuse cases -- says she and her colleagues stumbled over the idea while conducting other research.
In an initial test, about 30 percent of the subjects were persuaded to believe a lie...."
Orlando Sentinel, February 28, 2006

The 20 Most Psychologically Intriguing Legal Cases.

From investigations into Lee Harvey Oswald's troubled adolescence to courtroom debates over Mike Tyson's violent tantrums, the 20 most psychologically intriguing legal cases of the past 50 years are chronicled in a new book coauthored by a University at Buffalo law professor and a clinical psychologist who is a graduate of the UB Law School.
Includes Gary and Holly Ramona, Recovered Memories or False Allegations? -- This civil trial of a father accused of sexual abuse by his daughter cast doubt on the validity of "recovered memories," which were central to the daughter's accusations.