Recovered Memories in Popular Culture
FMSF News Alert - February 4, 2013
Most members of the FMSF can recall the earlier days of this phenomenon, when claims of repressed memory and multiple personalities were mainstays on network television. In 1990, the media was replete with such stories: George Franklin was convicted of murder that year based on the repressed and recovered memories of his adult daughter; Mark Peterson was convicted of rape for having gotten consent from only one of his date’s multiple personalities; and Oprah Winfrey spotlighted Truddi Chase’s story of repressed abuse and resulting "troop" of 92 alters. Soon, other daytime talk shows competed to host the therapists who specialized in unveiling these previously untold abuses and every soap opera seemed to have a character recovering memories in the plotlines.
Over the next decade, we witnessed a tremendous swing in the portrayals of recovered memory. As convictions based on this theory were overturned and lawsuits levied against the practitioners, skepticism worked its way into the popular culture. Investigative news programs and documentaries such as Ofra Bikel’s "Divided Memories" provided viewers with a better understanding of the complex issues involved.
Are we now seeing another shift in media portrayals? While we have continued to have positive outcomes in the courts, there appears to be an up-surge of pop culture interest with claims of repressed memory and multiple personalities. Some, but not all, of these portrayals are being openly challenged by the viewing public who demand skepticism even when it is not apparent in the original broadcast.
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Recovered memory in recent Popular Culture
DR. DREW PINSKY
Last October, celebrity MD "Dr. Drew" interviewed actress/song writer Gloria Loring about her new book Coincidence is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous. Dr. Drew concentrated on Loring’s disclosure of having recovered repressed memories of sexual abuse.
Dr. Drew is best known as an addiction counselor to the Stars. He received his MD from the Keck School of medicine at USC and now teaches psychiatry there. With that in mind, his comments on the show regarding "body memories"* are particularly disturbing:
Dr. Drew: "You’re describing something that happens specific to very young sexual abuse survivors because their body becomes the source of the distress. And so the body becomes dangerous and painful. And a lot of people with chronic pain have experienced this because the body then is disconnected from your ‘self’, from your brain, and in order for it to tell its tale of woe, it can only do it through primitive means like pain, and numbness, and dissociations."
When a caller starts talking about having "body memories", Dr. Drew nearly interrupts with "Yeah! Yes. Yes". After the call, he follows up with "People think that there’s got to be an explicit memory, you know, like a visual memory of what happened. No. It’s the imprint it leaves on your body and nervous system."
* Body Memories: The theory that the body will remember what the mind forgets. In recovered memory therapy this concept ranges from belief that a physical abreaction is evidence of hidden memories to a belief that traumatic memories can be literally stored in cells throughout the body rather than in the brain.
(Thank you to all who took the time to contact the Anderson Cooper Live Show with your complaints about this content.)
On January 2, 2013, The Anderson Cooper Live show featured what promised to be an "exclusive" interview with a woman who "breaks her silence" about having developed multiple personalities as a result of childhood abuse.
This content turned out to be neither "exclusive" nor a breaking of "silence". Instead, it was yet another platform for artist Kim Noble to highlight her claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse, allegedly revealed to her after years of treatment with therapist Valerie Sinason.
According to this 2008 video about Noble, "Kim has no memory of possible violence during her childhood. She was told she was abused as a child but doesn’t want to know."
Kim Noble seemed to be back down to around 20 personalities from her reported 100 or so when she interviewed with the UK’s Guardian in 2011. This discrepancy was not covered in her Anderson Cooper interview, nor was her therapist’s outright dismissal of other possible reasons for Noble’s lapses in memory:
From All of Me by Kim Noble:
Noble: "I drink a lot."
Noble’s book was offered free to select viewers of the Anderson Cooper Live Show.
Jimmy Savile is a UK radio and television celebrity who has long been plagued with accusations of child molestation. While there were several investigations during his lifetime, the number of accusations has reached extraordinary proportions since his death in 2011. According to some reports, Savile is now the subject of over 450 allegations.
Just days after the airing of the Anderson Cooper Live Show with Valerie Sinason’s patient Kim Noble, news broke that Jimmy Savile had been involved in Satanic Rituals. These new allegations came by way of the repressed memories of other Valerie Sinason clients.
If these claims prove to be unfounded, then they have done nothing but distract investigators and take needed attention away from any possible true victims.
NBC - Do No Harm
On January 31st, a new drama aired on NBC entitled Do No Harm. The show appears to be the fictional account of a neurosurgeon who suffers from Multiple Personality (Dissociative Identity) Disorder. According to David Schulner the show’s creator it is a "sexy wild fun ride" displaying the dual characters of a serious neurosurgeon and his devious alter as a modern day Jekyll and Hyde.
DR. PHIL MCGRAW
On January 11, 2013, the Dr. Phil Show aired an episode about Mentally Ill Moms which featured a mother with supposed multiple personalities.* The woman, known as Jenny Hill, is the subject of the book Twenty-Two Faces and was joined on the show by her son Robert Steffen and by the book’s author Judy Byington. (Snippets of the conversation can be found at the bottom of the *linked website. Please take a moment to view this content.)
In the book, Jenny is a victim of Dr. Greenbaum -- the Jewish Nazi described in Corydon Hammond’s infamous 1992 speech.
Dr. Phil (to Jenny Hill): "So tell me how you’re doing. Let’s forget about these guys for a minute."
(Perhaps this is quibbling over details, but at the time Jenny Hill’s abuse allegedly took place, Hammond’s Dr. Greenbaum would have been in his 30’s -- hardly an "old man" even in the eyes of a little girl.)
As we announced in previous FMSF News Alerts, this show had been originally scheduled to air on October 31st, 2012. At that time, journalist Doug Mesner issued an Open Letter to Dr. Phil* regarding this up-coming content and a lengthy discussion ensued via the James Randi Educational Foundation’s (JREF) online Forum. The show was suddenly postponed, then announced again in January.
(*Mesner’s Open Letter elicited some bizarre anti-Semitic responses.)
Following the Dr. Phil episode, Byington’s book took a beating in the Amazon.com ratings and comments. Byington herself has commented on several of the negative ratings on that site.
When accused of practicing therapy without a license, Byington says she was never Jenny Hill’s therapist -- a claim that is belied in videos posted by her publisher.
INSIGHTS FROM THE SON OF A RECOVERED MEMORY PATIENT
Dr. Phil McGraw may have inadvertently turned his show on its head by including Jenny Hill’s son, Robert Steffen.
Many of our membership have grandchildren with whom they’ve lost all contact following "the accusation". Worries about the well-being of those grandchildren and what they may have come to believe regarding their heritage are frequently expressed concerns by those accused. A handful of FMSF families are now regaining contact with those now-adult children of past RMT patients -- such as was noted in the Letter from a French Family in our November 21, 2012 News Alert.
Although Robert obviously cannot speak to the truth of his mother’s childhood experiences, he did know his grandparents and was witness to changes in his mother following her MPD/DID diagnosis. He has added many of his insights to his blog.
"Despite her handicap, my mom has always, always tried to be a good mom. Even when she was at her most difficult to take, most difficult to deal with, or her most damaging to me as a person and as a son, she has always tried her best to be a good mom".
"But my mom, if nothing else, is a lot to take in. She’s often blunt, direct and graphic, to the point of leapfrogging over and into people’s strongest discomfort zones."..."It isn’t that she’s out to deliberately offend people, not usually. It’s more that she just doesn’t perceive the borders where other people are comfortable, and when she’s crossing them."
"And, also, my mom has very often been victim-prone and accusatory. She tends to see abuse everywhere, and in almost anyone."
"Was there an original instance of abuse that broke her in this particular way, forcing her to seek a familiar horrible situation from her childhood again and again? Or was there never any abuse at all, and claims of abuse early in her life are just as false as the many abuses alleged and disproved or dismissed later in her life? I’ll never know the answer to that, not for sure."
"And yet, I’ve seen the other side of this coin, where my mom’s allegations of abuse have been weaponized, used to hurt. The allegation of abuse carries as much weight as being found guilty in some eyes, and this is a very potent weapon to wield against someone."
"Evidence is the key, the equalizer, and should be what everyone uses as their guide when deciding what to believe, and what not to believe. "
(Read more of Robert’s comments and insights at robsteffen.com/folio )
FMSF MEMBERS CALLED TO ACTION
The questions for us as FMSF members are, "When is it appropriate to take action?" and "What is the appropriate action to take?" when we find these subjects displayed in our popular culture.
NBC’s "Do No Harm" melodrama is fiction, and we certainly cannot expect to regulate the entire market of make-believe to adhere to scientific standards. Some FMSF members felt that it was unnecessary to respond to the Anderson Cooper Show because they no longer considered him credible due to unrelated hijinx. While the Dr. Phil show proved to be the least egregious of our examples, it had been challenged prior to its broadcast. Did this have an effect on the final edit? We may never know.
It’s important that we choose our battles carefully then respond in a way that brings the appropriate amount of skepticism into the discussion. When and how do you feel it is appropriate for the FMSF to issue a membership Call to Action on issues of repressed memory and multiple personality in the popular culture?
We are interested in your thoughts and ideas about this subject matter. Please add the subject line "FMSF Pop Culture" to your response and if you do or do not wish for your comments to be added to a post on our upcoming (revamped) website. You may include a pseudo-name if you’d like your comment posted anonymously.