Table of Contents
Ignoring the Presenting Problem
Editor’s Comment: A recurring theme in the reports from retractors is one of the presenting problem going untreated. Instead the therapist switches the patient’s initial concern to that of child abuse. For further reading on this topic:
Campbell, T. W. (1992) Therapeutic relationships and iatrogenic outcomes: The blame-and-change maneuver in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Vol. 29 Fall 1992 No 1 pp 474-480.
Williams, M.H. (1985) The bait-and-switch tactic in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 22, 110-113.
These are just a few of the many stories written by retractors that readers may find in the FMSF Newsletter Archives.
I’m writing my story so that perhaps it might help one of the families to have some hope or encourage a retractor to come forward. Telling my story to others is also a way for me to heal myself and to make some amends to my family, especially my mother.
I entered therapy in the late fall of 1985 because I was unhappy at the way I was dealing with my son, age 9. I thought he might need some counseling because he had seemed very angry for a young child. I wanted a therapist who could work with both of us. At the same time that I began therapy, I also became aware that I was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. My therapist was a real leader of this movement attending national conferences and beginning meetings in this area.
Soon the therapy began to focus only on my adult child issues and we did no work with my son. As I described my childhood, my therapist would say things like "being a adult child is like growing up in a concentration camp."
I will agree that my home was quite dysfunctional because in fact my dad was an active alcoholic throughout my childhood. I did indeed have some real memories of some pretty chaotic and scary times. As this "therapy" proceeded to dredge up everything negative about my childhood I began to get very depressed. Clinical depression unfortunately runs in my family and I had previously been treated for it. I began treating my depression with alcohol until I realized that I was drinking every night. I entered a rehab and got sober and have never had a drink since.
My therapist, however, kept me involved in digging up my past. He kept looking for more, more, more! He kept asking me if I had any memories of being sexually abused and I kept saying no. He then began telling me that I had all the symptoms of an incest victim and that the only way out for me was to "recover a memory, relive it and heal from it." I was so depressed and I desperately wanted to feel better. I began to have a series of hospitalizations as I grew more depressed and suicidal. I asked a psychiatrist at one hospital if my psychological testing showed any indication of sexual abuse and he said no. He thought my main issue was my marriage. My outside therapist disagreed and kept pushing. I was finally hospitalized in a women’s program whose main focus was on sexual abuse issues. I still continued not to have memories. I felt like I was flunking therapy. At the hospital, I watched real victims really struggle with their issues. As I look back now I am convinced that there was another woman whose memories were false. I didn’t believe her even then. I began to have periods of severe anxiety and I was told these were probably "body memories" and "flashbacks." I thought this is what I had to do to get better. By now I was diagnosed with PTSD and MPD. The hospital was trying to teach me how to "manage the flashbacks."
When I left the hospital in March of 1989, I still had no memories and I was obsessed with finding one. All my energy was focused on journals, therapy etc. I had to get help taking care of my children and my house. My therapy was my life. When I was not in the therapist’s office, I was thinking about all the time of talking to him. I spoke with him on the phone every night for about 20 minutes.
Finally, I recalled having been given an enema as a child. The therapy became focused on regressing me to an early age around five and reliving the enema over and over again. He tried to convince me that my mother took great pleasure in inflicting this kind of pain on me. He called her a sex addict and sexual pervert. He said my parents were toxic for me and that I should screen all my phone calls and not see them.
This was so painful for me because I really did love my parents. I was incredibly torn between my loyalties to my family and the clutches of this therapist. He had created such a sick dependency that I thought I had to let him know my every move. He also was trying to convince me that an older uncle and my older brother had also molested me.
Twice a week, I would go to therapy and be told the only way to feel better was to relive these memories. He would sit next to me on his couch covering me with a blanket while I, in a regressed, hypnotic state would start to have these "body memories." This therapy continued and I had to be hospitalized six or seven weeks at a time. I’m now convinced that my depression and suicidal were mainly caused by the incredible conflict between wanting to be with my parents and pleasing my therapist.
He had never done this kind of therapy before and he kept telling me how much he was learning from me. By now I knew that I was very special to him especially when he told my "inner child" that she could be his little girl. I would do anything that he wanted me to do to please him and to keep this "nurturing" relationship going.
Everyone around me saw me going "down the tubes" and were really concerned. My brothers actually found out the home address of the therapist and were very tempted to hurt him physically. They were tired of watching me destroy the family. I couldn’t listen to anyone. I was totally "owned" by the therapist.
In the meantime, my mother’s health was deteriorating mainly due to stress. She had idolized me, her only daughter and the pain she was in over this was incredible. I saw my mother in September of 1990 and was shocked at her appearance. I then became acutely aware that I wanted again to be close to her. I started to ask my therapist to help me heal the relationship. It never happened because his own issues got in the way. My mother died in January, 1992 and I never had a chance to tell her how sorry I was. I now have to make my apologies at her grave. You cannot imagine how painful this is.
After her death, I stopped working on my earlier issues and began dealing with my loss and my marriage which was falling apart. I began to slowly wean myself from the therapist. My husband and I had started marriage counseling with another therapist who I began slowly to trust. In the meantime I had been reading the case of Dr. Bean-Bayog and Paul Lozano and heard about FMS. It took me eight more months to finally get clear. I went to see the marriage counselor and sobbed my way through an hour session telling her what I believed now to be the truth.
I then typed my therapist a four-page letter stating what I thought had really happened in our relationship. I also told him I was not going to pay him any more money, although he was claiming that I owed him $3,800. As it was I had paid him out of pocket around $10,000 and I am not a rich woman.
In the meantime I contacted a lawyer who sent him a request for my records. He didn’t reply to either of us for about two months when he sent me a brief note congratulating me for making so much progress in therapy with him and asking for payment.
This past year has been very painful to me as I’ve really begun to acknowledge what I lost as a result of this therapy. I went from being a very productive woman who was raising three children and was serving on a school committee, (I had formed a parent-teacher organization and was quite known and respected in my community) to a dependent depressed, regressed, and suicidal woman.
I’ve lost six and a half years of my life, a chance to have an intimate relationship with my mother, time with my three young children, and my marriage of 21 years. I also was forced to drop out of a graduate program which had only accepted 49 students out of 750 applicants. I have lost so much in terms of self-esteem and confidence. It is amazing to me that this situation could have occurred and wrecked such havoc in my life. I will forever carry the burden of probably hastening my mother’s death and for the grief that I had caused my family.
I hope so much that telling my story will save at least one child-parent relationship. I strongly believe that these stories must be told because I suspect that similar situations have occurred all across the country.
Editor’s Comment: Many former patients have described becoming dependent on their therapists. That is one feature of the following excerpt from a report by Lauri.
I was not the only MPD patient. My therapist had a group of five women participating in this dysfunctional, cult-like treatment. Our therapist was using mind games to control us and convince us he was the only person who could help us. In "private", he would drop comments about the other MPD "girls." As patients, we became very competitive and jealous of each other.
I was especially jealous of one woman who was very pretty. He had made sexual advances toward one of her sexiest alters, and I was convinced he was infatuated with her. He would play his guitar and sing for her, but never me. He compared the two of us and said we were very much alike. He often confused our names which made me feel hurt. I wanted him to like me in the way he liked her.
I clearly understood the sickest patient received the most attention. So, I devised behavior that would get his attention: act like a five-year-old, come intoxicated to my session, threaten him with a knife, or even attempt suicide. Everyone of us in the support group were in some way in love with our psychologist.
I wanted to be the best. I became a model MPD patient and exhibited all the right traits. I learned MPD and let it in, but soon it took control of my mind and body.
The doctor decided I needed five to seven years of therapy. He explained to me and my husband, "Because Lauri now has MPD behavior, it follows that she had MPD. Thus, some terrible abuse in her childhood must have caused it. So terrible that she’s repressed those memories deep in her mind. With my help, the alters will reveal the abuse, then she’ll remember her own experiences. Finally, she will work through those old feelings and get better."
This is about the time he raised his rates to $120 per hour.
We bought it, and I worked hard to recall repressed memories. Of course, there were no real memories, but the mind is an amazing thing. Let me explain, in lay terms, how repressed memories were created on one occasion. The therapist called up Beth, a 5-year old alter, and hypnotized her. He suggested sexual abuse had occurred at the hands of her Daddy. He explained she needed to see a "big movie screen" in her mind and tell him what she saw. Then, he asked leading questions about touching, etc. Beth performed just as the therapist predicted she would. Beth and I were rewarded with much attention and sympathy.
In reality, I didn’t have those memories, but the doctor considered them true and wanted more. For months, I allowed other alters to write anything they could remember. The memories grew worse and worse and I became horrified. I thought it was all true, and I felt worthless and betrayed.
I recalled various fragments of movies, books, talk shows, and nightly news, and soon I had plenty of child abuse memories. But, it didn’t stop there. Eventually, I said I had taken part in Satanic Rituals, been buried alive, drank blood, and helped to kill a baby. With every new memory, my therapist was intrigued and building a case to prove he was right about me all along. I was rewarded with his attention to me and was his "best" patient. But, I started to have feelings of death and became suicidal.
I truly exhibited all the MPD symptoms even though I had learned them. Control of my mind, emotions, and will was given to the personalities the therapist had empowered.
My Mother Abused Me, Didn’t She?
by Elizabeth Godley
Reprinted with permission from Modern Woman, January 1994
I was 38 and living alone, picking up the pieces after a failed relationship. Even though I had friends and a good job, my life felt empty. I felt guilty, unlovable and alone in the world. It was my second visit to a new therapist when, in the middle of a conversation about my troubles, she shattered my composure with an unexpected question. "Elizabeth, do you think you might have been sexually abused by your mother?" My reaction was immediate and devastating. I was flooded with nausea. I felt lightheaded and breathless. Was this the reason I’d been in and out of therapists’ offices for the past 20 years, seeking comfort for the debilitating depressions that plagued me?
My new therapist, a former nurse with a Ph.D. in psychology, was beginning to forge a reputation for treating incest survivors, an emerging issue at the time. She was struck by the way I responded to her question about my mother. Convinced we were on to something, she urged me to remember as much as I could of this traumatic event. In my apartment that evening, I dutifully began to "remember": I was four years old...my mother and I were in the woods near our house, where we often walked, picking huckleberries (my mom taught me the names of all the trees and plants in the lush coastal forest)...we sat down under a tree and my mother forced me to do certain things...
I reported this scene to my therapist. Then, I acted on her suggestion that I write letters to both my parents to vent the rage and pain I felt about my discovery, and to say I didn’t want to see either of them in the foreseeable future -- perhaps ever.
My mother’s response was unwise, but understandable. She was shocked and frightened by my accusations. She sent me a brief, angry note, letting me know that I should not blame my problems on her. My therapist interpreted her defensiveness as further proof that my mother had abused me.
For the next four years, I had no contact with my mother, and almost none with my father. I believed that my parents were toxic, and my memories of sexual abuse gave me good reason to cut them out of my life. After three years of weekly and twice-weekly therapy sessions, I was beginning to think there was no cure for my depressions. I felt I was wasting time there, and wanted to get on with my life.
The truth dawned slowly, gradually, in a process that intensified after I stopped seeing the therapist. My sense that I had made up my memories of abuse became stronger. I had recently married, but within six months my husband and I began having difficulties. We consulted a counselor, who was concerned about my estrangement from my parents, and who told me I could not resolve problems in my marriage until I came to terms with my family. That made a deep impression on me, and I became more and more certain that my mother had never abused me. But why had I accepted the therapist’s theory so easily?
Certainly, I was desperate for answers -- a drowning woman grasping at anything to keep afloat. On the surface, I appeared to have everything -- a promising career, intelligence, attractive looks -- but I was miserable. My temper was explosive, my relationships with men stormy; I was extremely vulnerable to criticism; my self-esteem was non-existent. At work, I couldn’t get along with my supervisors or my colleagues. So when I was offered an explanation for my depression and problems, I lunged at it. It was easier to blame my mother than to accept responsibility for my unhappiness. Guided by my therapist -- and I believe she meant well -- I began to enjoy my status as a victim; she rewarded me with outpourings of sympathy and commiserations, as well as an entree into a select group of her patients, all incest survivors. I now had an answer to all my questions about myself. I no longer had to think or struggle. Problems at work? With friends? With men? Well, what could I expect? I had been sexually abused. It was almost like joining a cult, with my therapist as guru and me a faithful disciple, the pitiful casualty of a horrendous crime.
The role of victim can be very appealing, as psychologist Carol Tavris points out in The Mismeasure of Women (Simon & Schuster, 1992). Tavris stresses she is not speaking of real incest survivors, and acknowledges as I do) the many thousands of women who have suffered real abuse as children and adults. But she believes sexual abuse "crystallizes many of society’s anxieties, in these insecure times, about the vulnerability of children, the changing roles of women, and the norms of sexuality." Those who feel vulnerable and victimized, and who wish to share in society’s sympathy, are drawn to identify with incest survivors, Tavris suggests. "For some women, the sexual-victim identity is...a lightning rod for the feelings of victimization they have as a result of their status in society at large." When incest was first in the news a decade or so ago, "public horror and outrage focused on the perpetrator" -- usually a man, Tavris writes. Today, though, much of the fury is directed at mothers, who are blamed for failing to protect their daughters, for "enabling" the abuser.
I can relate. By falsely accusing my mother of sexual abuse, I tapped into a dark pit of rage against her; rage that had been repressed for more than 30 years. An only child, I grew up under the thumb of authoritarian parents who pushed me to be the perfect daughter. Negative emotions were squelched, painful issues never discussed. Heading the list of taboo subjects was the stillbirth of a baby that happened when I was about four years old. Fifteen years later, that childhood event returned to haunt me. I got pregnant with my first serious boyfriend, and went through a hellish abortion. Even though I was living at home and going to university, I managed to keep the abortion secret from my parents. I tried to ignore my anguish, in vain, just as my parents had tried to ignore the stillbirth long ago. But my guilt, anger and misery festered. By the time I was 38, I was a walking time bomb. My therapist unwittingly lit the fuse.
It wasn’t easy making up with my parents. For help, I turned to a new psychiatrist, a women recommended by my general practitioner. I was on her waiting list for a year. But finally, with her support, I was able to put to rest my haunting "memories." She asked me if I recalled any molestation as a child, and I recalled two incidents. One occurred in a movie theater; I was about seven, and a man sitting next to me put his hand on my knee. The other occurred when I was 12 or so, at the beach near my aunt’s summer cottage; a man insisted I touch his penis. Both times, having been brought up to do what I was told, I complied. But I never told a soul, thinking I’d done something shameful. My psychiatrist suggested that since these two incidents were clear in my mind, it was unlikely I had repressed other memories of abuse by my mother.
That weight lifted. I did some belated maturing, and learned to recognize my feelings, communicate my needs and clarify my expectations. I began to understand that my depressions were likely caused by guilt and unexpressed anger at my mother, not sexual abuse. Deep down, I felt I’d failed her. Just as important, I felt she’d failed me -- first, because of my sibling’s death (I hated being an only child) and second, because I hadn’t been able to confide in her about the abortion.
Over the past few years, I’ve opened up to my mother, telling her the secret I’d kept all those years, and the change in our relationship has been dramatic. No longer mystified by my moods -- and no longer worried that I blame her -- my mother feels more relaxed when we’re together. Unencumbered by guilt, I now trust that she loves me, even knowing the "worst," the parts I kept hidden. We’ve recaptured some of the closeness we enjoyed when I was a small child.
It’s been a relief to find out I wasn’t the only troubled woman to seize upon sexual abuse as an explanation for everything that was wrong with my life. Hearing about other women with stories like mine, and speaking with mothers, fathers and siblings who have been falsely accused, has helped me understand a very difficult period in my life.
Therapist Not Needed to Recover Memories
Editor’s Comment: Another theme that runs through the reports from retractors is the spreading of stories within survivor groups. For further reading:
Boakes, J. (1997) Group therapy in the treatment of childhood sexual abuse. Psychiatric Bulletin, 21, 754-756.
I have been moved by the account of Laura Pasley in her article "Misplaced Trust" (Skeptic 2(3), May) to give you an account of my own seduction into the false memory hysteria and subsequent retraction. Laura’s account of the process of ever-expanding stories of recovered abuse memories, "Each week we sat in a group and the stories were enough to make a strong stomach sick...one woman might have a flashback one week about her parents or someone else in the family and then the next week another one would have a similar memory come up... [i]t was not long before my own flashbacks got even more bizarre."
My experience departs from the norm in two respects: (1) my induction into the realm of false memories took place without a therapist as such, and (2) I am a male. I believe my experience indicative of a process that, once an irrational hysteria such as this gains momentum, it begins to show up in more generalized areas outside formal treatment milieus. Here is my story.
In the late 1980’s, in the face of numerous personal issues I didn’t feel were being helped by traditional psychotherapy, I began to attend one of the "anonymous 12 Step" groups, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). These meetings are, as you probably know, run on a model similar to Alcoholics Anonymous or Alanon, but with a significant difference: there is an explicit emphasis on intense personal self- exploration which parallels, and perhaps in some ways exceeds, the format of group psychotherapy. In my case, these intense explorations seemed to be increasing my psychological distress, but I was assured by other members that "you have to get worse before you get better... giving up your denial is going to put you in touch with the pain of the damaged child within, etc. etc." I had also heard in a tape of Charles Whitfield, author of the book Healing the Child Within, stating that it is a normal consequence of the healing that one’s self-esteem would plummet before it was rebuilt on a healthier foundation. I bought all these reassurances and was determined to throw myself into the work of the group to achieve a "recovery" from my problems.
I began to attend meetings at least once a week, all the while sinking into greater and greater turmoil; I also avidly read all the then current books by the various people such as Whitfield, Bradshaw, etc. So, when some ACA members announced that they were forming a special, closed time-limited intensive group structured around the workbook "The 12 Steps for Everyone", I was quick to join. These new meetings were longer (3 hours) than the standard ACA meetings and every attempt was made to encourage "work" on each member’s part to the greatest degree possible; an elaborate phone network was established, and between meetings we all agreed to use the workbook format to engage in intensive autobiographical writing, the "searching and fearless moral inventory" prescribed by step 4 of 12 steps. In the first two weeks I wrote over 180,000 words in my desperation to see this effort work for me. I spent endless hours on the phone between meetings with other group members; these conversations were often punctuated with tears, various formulaic exhortations from the program, particularly surrounding the Catch-22 notion of "denial" the underlying assumption was that the real truth lay buried in repressed memories but that to avoid the pain of their devastating truth we all habitually relied upon various cover thoughts and behaviors that collectively comprised our "denial." It seemed that any new insights that came about from this self exploration which were undramatic or contained elements of mitigation of circumstances, were quickly adjudged to be just another layer of denial. To demonstrate "progress" I found myself making more and more dramatic and condemning interpretations of my recollections of the past, for which I was rewarded by the group for showing "the courage to heal."
Then at one of the meetings, during a "guided meditation" that followed a very intense session of dramatic "sharing" by several of the group, one woman let out a blood-curdling shriek followed by her collapsing on the floor in hysterical sobbing, yelling, "No, no, oh my God, no, not again, I’m just a little girl." This was followed by a halting, wide-eyed description by the woman of someone sexually molesting her as a child. At this point, one of the more self-assured members of the group who had gradually assumed an unacknowledged but distinct role as leader, rushed to her side and said such things as "you are in a safe place now, don’t lose it, there is more, take a look at it, tell us, don’t be afraid, we’re all here to protect you, let it out, face it, deal with it, etc." For the remainder of the evening and much of the subsequent meeting, this woman proceeded to recall more and more lurid details of her having been molested not only by her father but by other males from her neighborhood. Then another woman in the group suddenly broke down and said that something the first woman had said had triggered in her the recall of a scene of being sexually molested. During all this I was becoming more and more uncomfortable and upset. Then suddenly I had a vague recollection of some kind in which I seemed to recall being held in a dark place by a person whom I couldn’t identify who was molesting me as a young boy.
Now with three people all sobbing and competing for the group’s attention, the meeting broke up in chaos, with assurances all round that there would be a great deal of mutual support by phone and in person until the next scheduled meeting. At the next meeting, three people advanced various excuses why they couldn’t honor their commitment to complete the group’s work; the spell was broken. There was never another meeting.
Meanwhile I was still deeply bothered by the vague memory, which was more of a feeling than anything else. So, I sought out a person who offered "hypnotherapy" (an unlicensed person whose ’credentials’ consisted of a mail-order diploma as it turned out). Sure enough, under the probing of this "hypnotherapist", I began to fill in details of the supposed molestation. The one thing I couldn’t conclusively get clear was the identity of the perpetrator. I eventually concluded that it must have been my grandfather, although I never did have a clear mental picture of him. Still, I was plagued by uncertainty as to the details that I had "remembered" in the hypnotic trance. Later I began to change details, as to where, what and who was involved. My ACA colleagues warned me that I couldn’t face that it was my grandfather, and that denial was reasserting itself.
Nonetheless, some tough-minded part of me allowed me to begin to question this sink hole of non-sequitur reasoning, so I pulled back from the meetings to get some distance from the influences. At this point it is important to note that I had in fact experienced an attempted molestation as a young boy, by a chef in my father’s restaurant who had exposed himself to me and grabbed me; I was able to quickly squirm free of his grip and flee. While frightening and creepy at the time, I don’t believe that experience was particularly traumatic, and it isn’t something that was repressed; I hadn’t thought about it for years, but it was certainly an ordinarily accessible memory. I began to realize that I had taken the uncomfortable feelings I had experienced from that episode with the chef and amplified them in response to the hysteria and group pressure to recall something truly horrible to account for my adult "dysfunction." When the two women in our group were successful in gaining all the group’s attention and solicitation following their dramatic recalling of sexual molestation, in retrospect I can see how i would have been motivated to become part of the process by coming up with "memories" of my own, based upon a real but essentially trivial incident.
I tried going to a few more ACA meetings, but with my new perspective, I began to see clearly the extent to which there was an irrational cult atmosphere with people continually absorbed by their personal problems and the group process, but without any indication that they were truly becoming healthier individual if anything they seemed to be less in control of their lives and morbidly dependent of the group.
Still, it wasn’t until I began to receive material from the FMSF that I was able to completely dispel those lingering doubts as to whether my conclusion was the right one, so powerful is the concept of "denial" to undermine one’s confidence of one’s own conclusions.
So, there you have it; slightly unusual, but it fits the pattern.
Retractor from Victoria, BC
Wanting to be a Victim
Editor’s Comment: The writer of the next article provides a remarkable insight into the appeal to her of thinking of herself as a victim. "As this progressed more memories came, and my diagnosis was changed to Multiple Personality Disorder. This was a relief to me because it meant that I could be cured if I worked in therapy, whereas schizophrenia was more hopeless."
I received a copy of the September newsletter yesterday. In the letters section on pages 14-15 there is a letter from a Dad who is angry at his daughter for accusing him of abusing her. He seems unsure whether he is justified in feeling anger towards her, instead of feeling anger at her psychiatrist. I would like to comment on this letter, and speak about retracting in general, from my point of view.
First of all I do sympathize with this gentleman’s anger at his daughter. I have been wondering why more parents of retractors and so called survivors are not angry. It has to be horrible to face accusations of this sort. I am a person who is in the process of retracting her story. I have not yet reached any absolute conclusion about the events in my life. It has only been in the last several months that I have been willing to look hard at False Memory Syndrome and how it may apply to me.
I did not set out intentionally to hurt anyone, including my parents. I have had problems with mental illness since my early teens. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was twenty years old. I spent about five years in the mental health system being treated like a chronically mentally ill person. I was prescribed anti-psychotic medication that eventually led to early signs of tardive dyskinesa. This was a desperate fearful time in my life, and I began searching for an alternative answer. I had a case manager who wanted to be a therapist with me. She began probing, and slowly but surely, I began coming up with vague memories of sexual abuse. As this progressed more memories came, and my diagnosis was changed to Multiple Personality Disorder. This was a relief to me because it meant that I could be cured if I worked in therapy, whereas schizophrenia was more hopeless.
I continued to work with this therapist for four years. The memories grew more complicated, gruesome, and detailed. My life also continued to get worse at this time. I read all the right books, including The Courage to Heal. I spent most of my time alternating between numb denial of what I was doing and hysterical panic. At one point I was hospitalized for three months in a Dissociative Disorders unit to receive more intensive treatment. It was then that the subject of ritual abuse came up. I resisted this idea as long as I could, but was under a great deal of pressure to accept it. I am sad to say that eventually I caved in and began to come up with ritual abuse memories, as well as cult alters. This was not a conscious process on my part. I didn’t wake up one day and decide suddenly that I had been abused in a cult. It was gradual and directly related to subtle and not so subtle pressure from the staff in this unit and other patients. I was led to believe that I would not be released if I remained "in denial" about my abuse. I am not proud of it, but I capitulated, and gave them what they wanted.
My therapist at home was untrained in dynamic psychotherapy. She viewed me as a fascinating and interesting client. In fact, I was her only client. I was flattered by her attention, and this probably led me to attempt to please her. Pleasing her involved coming up with still more memories of abuse, and working hard in therapy and never doubting her abilities. At some point she grew tired of my dependency, and abruptly terminated therapy. I was devastated at the time, but it was actually a blessing in disguise.
I have been in therapy for two years with a woman who makes no effort to decide what my issues are or lead me in any particular direction. A few months ago I read the book True Stories of False Memories, and was very moved by the stories in it. I felt a stirring of recognition. I opened up my mind at that point and came to realize that not only had I been duped, but that I had actively participated in it.
Right now my heart goes out to all innocent persons who have been falsely accused of abuse of any type. I understand why they would be angry, and I think they have a right to their anger. Therapists and treatment centers are responsible for part of this epidemic of "repressed memories," but ultimately each individual must make their own choices. I take full responsibility for the accusations I have made. I have had to struggle daily with my sense of guilt and remorse. It is not an easy process-retracting things you were so sure of at some point. I fervently wish all this had never happened, but since it did, I am now seeking to repair the damage. I never accused my parents directly of abusing me, but they were aware of my MPD diagnosis and my hospitalization. I can’t make it up to them without causing them pain because if I tell them I made false accusations, then they will want to know what those accusations were in the first place. It is a dilemma.
I am truly sorry I allowed myself to be led so easily, and will not allow it to happen again. I am sorry that sexual abuse exists, and I am sorry that people are falsely accused of it. The FMS Foundation is right. False accusations detract from the real needs of sexual abuse victims. I hope that some of this damage can ultimately be repaired.
Getting to the Truth
Editor’s Comment: Many retractors were given misinformation about the accuracy of memories and about techniques used in their recovery. There is no "magic bullet" by which historically accurate memories may be recalled. For further reading on the use of "truth serum":
Piper, Jr. A (1993) "Truth Serum" and "recovered memories" of sexual abuse: A review of the evidence. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 21, 447-471.
I started seeing a therapist in October of 1990 due to post traumatic stress syndrome -- caused by being raped three times by an ex-fiancé -- in a period of two years. After a period of about nine to ten months, my therapist and my psychiatrist made the suggestion that I be hospitalized for a period of four weeks. From the time of admission on, everyone at the hospital seemed like zombies (mechanical robots). I had to wait until 10:30 p.m. to see my therapist. I was so tired of waiting for him that I didn’t want to see him at all. From then on, he would show up at various times of the day and I would see my psychiatrist every day -- usually during group sessions. My ex-psychiatrist is the one who started putting the abuse issues into my mind. And then, it was my therapist -- sometimes in the consultation room at the hospital. With my written consent, my therapist and my psychiatrist arranged for me to undergo sodium amytal. I had to write out 10 questions and submit copies to my therapist and my psychiatrist two days before I underwent it. The test revealed that I had been abused by my father. I only got to hear part of the tape before I was led to confront my father on the abuse charges. As far as I know, that tape is nowhere to be found -- it’s lost for good.
Little did I know then that my dad never did abuse me. It almost split my parent’s marriage of 32 years apart and destroyed the close relationship that my dad and I had. I am presently seeing another therapist who has helped me face a lot of the issues. I did not realize that my memories were false ones until a few months ago when a friend of mine had the same problems with the hospital and her therapist as well.
I am in the process of suing: the hospital, my ex-therapist, and my ex-psychiatrist for all of the damages they have done in my life. I am an FMS survivor and I hope and pray that my story will help others out there who were tricked into believing that they were abused by their fathers and also were abused by their therapists and psychiatrists as well.
Both Accused and Accuser
Editor’s Comment: Parents were often told by the accusers that they must enter therapy. Couple that with an underlying but unfounded belief in intergenerational nature of abuse and the following situation can arise.
I am both a falsely accused parent and a retractor. I went to a psychologist after my son accused me of acts I did not do. I also went to psychiatrist who specialized in hypnotherapy and Multiple Personality Disroder. I was helped to believe I had been victimized by my father and was therefore likely to have done what my son has suddenly begun remembering in therapy. My ex-wife died about a month after being accused of being an "enabler."
Who’s Impaired -- Retractor’s Response to Colin A. Ross
Editor’s comment: Who might practice the type of therapy described in these reports? The following report provides an example of a well-trained individual who fostered false memories. For further reading:
Feigon, E. and deRivera, J. (1998) Recovered-memory therapy: Profession at a turning point. Comparative Psychiatry, 39 (6) 3.
Poole, D.A., Lindsay, D.S., Memon, A., and 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 (3), 426-437.
Yapko, M. (1994) Suggestions of Abuse. New York: Simon & Schuster.
I would like to respond to a specific portion of Colin A. Ross’s letter that was published in the February FMSF Newsletter in which he stated:
"It is true that there are impaired therapists practicing in the dissociative disorders field. I believe, based on my clinical experience, that some patients with Satanic ritual abuse memories are suffering from DSM-IV dissociative disorder not otherwise specified resulting from exposure to coercive persuasion and indoctrination in a destructive psychotherapy cult. However, the false memories are only a minor component of the problem clinically. Why? What is really harming patients and families is generic bad clinical practice and basic ethical and boundary violations. It is possible to have false memories in good therapy and no false memories in bad therapy.
The problem is not the existence of the false memories as such, it is how they are managed and handled in therapy."
As someone who experienced false memories from exactly what Dr. Ross described, a therapy cult, I beg to differ with his judgment that the false memories are merely a ’minor component of the problem’ It was the content of the false memories which led me to believe that I was molested by my father and then included my mother, that I was satanically ritually abused by my grandfather and my mother and a host of others. It was the content of the memories that totally alienated me from my parents and led to my complete inability to function as a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister, nurse. The content of the memories led me into a nightmare world where I was unable to discern what was real and what was not. I lived in total fear, for my life even, for months on end, that grew into years.
It was not until the false memories of satanic ritual abuse were well entrenched that my former therapist diagnosed me as having MPD, which led to yet another year of my further deterioration. One wonders if Dr. Ross bothers to listen to his patients if he truly believes the content of the memories are of only minor significance. Can he not imagine the horror of believing that those you loved and trusted were involved in unspeakable crimes against you? Can he not perceive that the very thought processes that continue from believing these lies can lead on into a world of unreality and madness?
My former therapist has testified that he still believes that my mother is a satanist, that my father molested me. Is Dr. Ross unable to see that there is something incredibly wrong with this picture? It was my therapist’s delusional belief system and techniques involving suggestion and persuasion that led me to believe the lies were memories. When I doubted the reality of the memories he insisted they were true. Not only did he insist they were true, he informed me that in order to get well I must not only accept them as real, but remember them all.
If this is a ’minor component of the problem’ to Dr. Ross, I would like to point out to him, as a former patient who believed false memories, that he needs to spend a lot more time listening to his patients as to the importance or lack therein of the so-called ’memories’. If my false memories had been so benign, I doubt they would have come so close to destroying me and my family. Perhaps Dr. Ross should spend some hours with families like mine, like yours, before defining what is actually the cause of the harm. Perhaps Dr. Ross should experience the reality of being falsely accused as a child molester before so cavalierly dismissing the relevance of the content of false memories.
It is also true that the content of the memories kept me from working on real problems with my family, whatever they might have been when I entered therapy. That there were problems my family and I don’t deny. That we were ever going to be able to dialogue and communicate about real problems, however, was precluded by the fact that my personal history had been totally rewritten and was not longer anything my family could have recognized, let alone dealt with. This is one of the many tragedies of false memories and the therapy that produces them.
These are my thoughts from my own personal experiences that I felt it was important to share. My heart continues to go out to all of you who have been falsely accused. I am ever grateful for my loving family who never gave up hope that I would come to my senses, forgave me the immense pain and suffering I caused them and accepted me with unconditional love when I finally awoke from the trance.
All the Symptoms
Editor’s Comment: Many retractors have written that they were told they had "All the symptoms of abuse." The American Psychological Association has written: "There is no single set of symptoms which automatically indicates that a person was a victim of childhood abuse. There have been media reports of therapist who state that people (particularly women) with a particular set of problems or symptoms must have been victims of chldhood sexual abuse. There is no scientific evidence that supports this conclusion." (Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse, 1995.) For more reading:
Levitt, E and Pinnell, C.M. (1995) Some additional light on the childhood sexual abuse-psychopathology axis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, XLIII (2) 145-162.
London, R.W. (1995, March) Therapeutic treatment of patients with repressed memories. The Independent Practitioner, 64-67.
The Foundation gave my father much needed support which helped him not lose his mind thought the whole episode. One of the most difficult parts of my therapy was that no matter how many times I told my therapist that I didn’t think anything happened with my father, she would counter by saying she was convinced that it had because of the "symptoms" I exhibited. She even loaned me "The Courage to Heal" to read. The line in that book about it not mattering whether you have memories or not was almost enough to convince me and keep me forever separated from my father. My recovered memory therapy was given by a graduate student in a Psy.D. program at a Christian university. Thanks for being there.
My Psychiatrist Suggested Hypnosis
Editor’s Comment: The misguided belief that hypnosis is the path to historically accurate memories of past abuse has been an undercurrent in the tide of recovered memories.
Perry, C. (2000) Hypnosis, False Memory Syndrome Foundation, Memory And Reality website.
Perry, C. (1995) The False Memory Syndrome and "Disguised" hypnosis. Hypnos, XXII (4) 189-197.
A while ago I got information from you for an essay I was doing on false memories in relation to my experience. I promised then that I would send you a copy of my essay when I was done. I got a 100 percent on it from a professor who ralely gives above an 85 percent. Here it is. I have no problem with my paper being used in the newsletter as I would love to help others. Clare (Editors note: Because of space limitations, we condensed Clare’s essay to include only her personal account.)
I was first told about False Memory Syndrome (FMS) a little over a year ago by a friend who was concerned about what was happening to me. I firmly told her that no therapist had ever hypnotized me or placed any memories in my head, and that the FMS Foundation was just a group of perpetrators who were trying to stop victims from breaking the silence. My opinions have changed drastically since then. Since November I have tried desperately to find answers to my false memories. Some of what I have learned about my own past, and false memories in general has surprised and greatly disturbed me.
For me it started when I returned to therapy after breaking up with a boyfriend. I had been terrified of him, or of being anywhere alone with him, but couldn’t explain why. I was too far into therapy when I found myself leaning towards sexual abuse. The feelings were so vivid, and real. I couldn’t deny what I was remembering. My therapist was excellent, and never pushed anything on me. Most of the time she helped me question it all, saying that there ARE other answers, but no matter how hard we looked, it kept coming back to incest. My memories of incest were just too believable.
I have analyzed these months of therapy over and over again since last fall. First of all, when I entered therapy I showed all the signs of being an incest victim, and I knew it. (I had read books about it.) I have since learned that sexual abuse is not strongly correlated with the symptoms that are associated with it. Also I, like many other people, held the theory that memory operated much like a videotape recorder, and that everything retrieved was accurate. These theories are now being challenged, and people are beginning to realize, as I am, that memories are not always correct. I have also learned that new information can be confused with old memories. I now know that what I thought was incest was based on another incident altogether.
I left therapy when I moved to a new town. I thought I was doing well and felt that I had dealt with most of the issues of abuse. I decided to seek a therapist in this new town just to make sure I would not have problems while in school. I denied that anything had ever happened to me but my psychiatrist suggested hypnosis to find out the truth.
I think this is where I made my mistake. Almost everything I read about FMS discusses how hypnosis or relaxation is used with gentle but direct questions which may lead to false memories. As Roseanne Arnold said on the Oprah Winfrey show, "When someone asks you, ’Were you sexually abused as a child?’ there are really only two answers: One of them is ’Yes,’ and one of them is ’I don’t know.’ You can’t say ’No.’" This is how I remember feeling during my hypnosis. I remember being asked a number of times, "Is there anything else you remember?" and later, "What is your name?" These two questions led to beliefs that would destroy the next year and a half of my life. After being asked the first question enough times, I began describing a dark room with people dressed in black robes holding candles. The second question led to answers of names other than ’Clare’. On my last session I asked that these issues not be discussed again, and was assured they would not be brought up under hypnosis. They were, and I was so confused that I stopped therapy completely. Unfortunately, the seed had been sown.
Although I tried to forget the incident, I could not. Four months later, while at a friend’s cottage, I drew a picture of a young child in a circle of people dressed in black robes. The child looked terrified. A friend saw the drawing and told me she knew someone else who had been ritually abused. She told me her friend had Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) and before I knew what was happening I was telling her about my alters (the names that I had not forgotten from hypnosis).
Over the summer of 1993 I spent most of my time with this friend. She argued in my defense when people told her I was making it all up, and she told me I was in denial when I tried to tell her it wasn’t true. In mid-July, I left home, leaving only a note telling my parents I could not see them any more. I gave no explanation, and no forwarding address. I had fallen into the last stage of my transformation. I was a full fledged survivor now, and I believed it all.
I found a new therapist who dealt with MPD and ritual abuse. In October I spent two weeks in a Psychiatric Hospital because of memories to do with Halloween. I dropped to part-time at school and continued finding more and more horrific memories from my childhood. Just before exams I attempted suicide for the first time. The letter I left said that I was tired of being a burden on my roommates and that I couldn’t go on with it anymore. Looking back, I remember having a strange feeling that it was all a lie, but I was in too deep to tell anyone.
When I look back on it now, I think it was easier for me to be a survivor than someone who just went to school or work and lived a boring life. It was easier to dump all my upsets, confusions and mistakes on someone else. I got caught up in the memories and beliefs and didn’t know how to get out and in many ways didn’t want to get out.
In the spring of 1994, I began to become aware of what was happening to me. It was too late to save the year. I lost almost all my credits in school. I decided to switch programs. I tried to straighten out my life and I made contact with my family again. I went to summer school and got nineties in my courses. I never told anyone my memories had been false.
In September it became very difficult to keep the lie going. Through tears I finally admitted to one friend that I. While in the hospital I wrote letters to friends telling them the truth and how sorry I was. Most friends stopped talking to me, either too hurt by what I had done, or just wanting me to hurt as much as they did. I was forced to move, find a place on my own and once again drop courses I was failing.
I am not the only one that has had these problems. The FMS newsletter published many letters of ’retractors’ and ’returners’ who are equally upset by what has happened to them.
It’s been five months since I admitted to friends that my memories were false. For the first time I read stories of people who believed their memories enough to hurt everyone around them, and now they are trying to recover from their mistakes. How many of us have to go through this hell before someone finds the answers?
When I first entered the field of psychology I wanted to study MPD. I wanted people to understand how real it is. Now I want to study FMS. I want to help find the balance between believing everyone and believing no one. People do not deserve to go through what I have gone through. It’s time to stop the False Memory Syndrome.
It Started with an Eating Disorder
Editor’s Comment: The misguided belief that eating disorders were caused by childhood sexual abuse has been endemic in many eating disorder treatment centers.
Harvard Mental Health Letter (1996, April) Childhood sexual abuse and eating disorders. 7.
Pope, H.G. and Hudson, J.I. (1992) Is childhood sexual abuse a risk factor for bulimia nervosa? American Journal of Psychiatry, 149,(4), 455-463.
Pope, H.G. et al (1994) Childhood sexual abuse and bulimia nervosa: A comparison of American, Austrian, and Brazilian women. American Journal of Psychiatry, 151 (5) 732-737.
I am a 43-year-old retractor. At the present time, I am very lost and confused. After six and a half years of therapy with an MSW in Texas, I began to wake up to my true reality and come out of the fog I had been living under. I originally went to this person for depression after being in a treatment center in Tulsa, OK for an eating disorder. When I first started seeing this therapist, I was sure I’d be safe because he was also a minister and that was extremely important to me. That proved to be a false sense of security.
I told my therapist that I knew I had been raped at the age of 15 by a friend of my father’s and that this had continued until age 19 when I married. I also told him I remembered being sexually molested by an uncle in my preteen and teen age years. I told him my father was an alcoholic and I told him that I was the oldest of five children - four girls and one boy. These things I knew. I knew my father was demanding and that he could be physically or verbally abusive. I knew I had a lot of resentment and anger toward him but I also had a great deal of love at the same time.
When I started therapy, I was in a marriage that was having problems. I was concerned about that. I was unhappy when I started therapy but in just a short time I was living in pure hell. I went from being a depressed person, but someone who could carry a 4.00 in college to having a diagnosis of Clinical Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Multiple Personality Disorder and being in a state where I could not take care of myself or anything else. During the time I was a patient of this social worker, I was seen by three different psychiatrists and hospitalized between 16 and 18 times. Each hospitalization was from five to thirty days at four different hospitals. Six of those times were for suicide attempts.
I was led to believe that I was physically, sexually, emotionally and ritually abused by both my parents, a grandfather, several other family members, doctors, pastors, police officers, family friends, and almost anyone you can think of.
My marriage, which had been on shaky grounds, was destroyed after 23 years together. I put my family, my husband, children, parents and siblings through pure hell. I was totally dependent on my therapist. If I questioned my memories, I was told I was in "denial."
I think the stress reached its peak when my then 16-year-old daughter started thinking of suicide and had to be hospitalized. In February 1994, I began to doubt the memories. When I returned to my parents’ home after the divorce, I was certain the memories were not true. I started to question my family in detail and read school and medical records. None of these things agreed with what I had been told had happened.
The night before I left, I sat down with my parents and siblings, nieces and nephews and my own children and told them that I did not believe in the things I had been thinking for the past few years. I asked each one of them separately to try to find it in their hearts to forgive me and I told them I would understand if they couldn’t, but I prayed that they would.
To my surprise they all hugged me and told me they loved me and welcomed me back. My father, who had never confronted me on any of these accusations, stood up, held out his arms and told me, "Well it is about time. I have missed my girl. I love you. Don’t ever forget that please." What joy I felt. I cried and said, "Daddy, I love you and always will. Please forgive me. I am so sorry." He told me to hush, that he did forgive me and that he had known that someday I’d wake up.
The next day, I went into town and told my now ex-husband what I had told my family. He said it was about time I woke up and he hoped I meant it. I never saw my therapist again.
Life has moved on. I stopped taking the medication I had been on for six and a half years. I had to file for bankruptcy and that was especially horrible because I had been able to deal with financial matters my whole life. I felt another part of my life had been shot. But now I am supporting myself, my daughter and my granddaughter. I am trying to deal with everyday life and trying to decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.
Editor’s Comment: Retractors have told of many examples of the use of extreme coercion as in the following report.
While I know you are familiar with all the methods that therapists use to create and maintain false memories, I want you to know that my therapist took this much further. As therapy progressed, whenever I disagreed with his insistence that I attend group sessions, he threatened to involve my husband and hospitalize me or go to my employer. If I tried to visit my parents without his permission, he said he would get a mental health warrant and detain me. While he talked about protecting my confidentiality, he reiterated his obligation to prevent me from harming myself. He repeatedly spoke with my daughter’s therapist, always with the concept of "working together" but I later saw this as a way to reinforce all the falsehoods. He told me that if I didn’t "work through the memories," my daughter could not be helped and any harm she caused to herself or others would be my responsibility. These threats kept me in a constant state of overt cooperation with my therapist as I tried to sort out all my conflicting ideas internally. I didn’t feel free to terminate therapy with him.
Beth’s Story: The Process
Editor’s Comment: Beth Rutherford, Springfield, MO went for counseling at age 19 due to stress from her work as a nurse in a cancer unit. The first time she went into the counselor’s office she was certain that she had a wonderful family and childhood. However, during two and a half years of therapy with a church counselor, she began recovering "memories" of being sexually abused by her father between the ages of 7 and 14. Allegations were made against her father (a credentialed minister). She accused him of many things including impregnating her twice and performing a coat hanger abortion on her. If prosecuted, he would face 7 years to life in prison. A series of events over many months brought Beth to the realization that these "memories" were false memories. Beth later retracted and rejoined the family. Upon being medically examined, Beth was found to be a virgin. She now is speaking out to help prevent what happened to her from happening to others.
How did the reconstruction of my childhood and supposed recovery of "past memories" occur in therapy?
It was a process. It happened slowly, and I never stood back and looked at ’A to Z’ all at once. I was absorbed into this process one "letter" at a time. The following is a general overview of the process:
Each one of these phases was groundwork for bringing me deeper into believing that terrible sexual abuse had actually happened to me. In my conversations with other victims of this therapy, this process seems to be a common thread in all of our experiences with Age Regression/Recovered Memory Therapy.
P - PUTTING DOUBT IN MY MIND
The starting point for me was the therapist asking me if I had ever been sexually abused. After I got over the shock, I emphatically said, "No, never!" I was told that I fit the signs (symptom list) of being abused.
The power of suggestion is an underestimated power. In my second session I happened to tell my therapist that I sometimes had strange dreams of heated arguments between my father and me, dreams of having my father send bears after me, and of his coming after me with a knife. I was told that these were dreams that sexually abused people have and, therefore, I had to have been sexually abused. This was the start of the downhill slide of my life for the next two and a half years.
The following are a few examples of the conversations that I had in therapy that put doubts in my mind, causing me to begin to wonder if perhaps I had been a victim of sexual abuse:
Therapist: You’re a high achiever in school (4.0 GPA). This suggests that you have been sexually abused.
Therapist: You absorbed yourself with your academic studies in order to cope with the abuse you experienced at home.
Beth: But, why don’t I remember any of this?
Therapist: It is because you have repressed it. It’s the only way you could deal with the pain. Now you are mature enough to handle the information your mind is trying to reveal to you.
Therapist: You need to trust me. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to sexual abuse. I will help you recover your past and work through it. You see, Beth, the only way you will ever be a mentally healthy person is to recover these memories and deal with them. Then you can become a truly whole person.
The suggestion that your family and childhood may not be as good as you thought is powerfully implanted.
R - REMEMBERING MY CHILDHOOD
I was asked to remember and tell what it was like growing up in my home. I shared various stories, conversations, events, told about places, and gave multiple details. I described what our home looked like, how many rooms it had, where all of the bedrooms were, etc. These statements gave my therapist specific events and details to work with as she weaved an amazing abuse story and all the while using my own stories with a new interpretation and twist. For example, in describing one of the homes we lived in, I told my therapist about a little storage shed that we had. This later became a place in my "memories" where I had been tied up and objects were inserted in me.
O - OMITTING THE GOOD AND FOCUSING ON THE PERCEIVED BAD
In this phase of therapy, I began to talk less and less about the good in my family. When I attempted to point out times of happiness, I was told that this was not the focus of our session. Every wonderful time I described from my childhood was taken and twisted into an example of a dysfunctional family.
Example 1: I told the therapist about times when my Dad and I wrote out checks and paid bills together when I was 9 years old. Instead of seeing the good in this situation, that I was learning about finances and enjoying a grown-up activity, my therapist focused on a twisted reinterpretation, stating that my father treated me as a marriage partner, and that he really should have been doing this with my mom. The therapist said that this was an indication that he preferred me over my mother.
Example 2: I shared about a few times that my sisters and I got a peck on the lips as a good-bye from my parents when they would be leaving on a trip or going away for a few days. Instead of seeing this as a beautiful and simple demonstration of parental love, the therapist suggested that only a husband and a wife should ever kiss on the lips, that it was wrong for a daughter and father to do so, and that this was inappropriate sexual behavior on the part of my father.
Example 3: My parents would encourage me to do well in school since academics was a natural ability and interest of mine. Instead of seeing this as parental support for my tendencies toward and enjoyment of academics, the therapist reinterpreted the parental words of encouragement, saying, "Your parents were feeling guilty about the fact that they were abusing you. If you did well in school, they wouldn’t feel like they were causing you any damage or harm by the abuse they were committing."
Over time I came to believe that I had an incorrect memory of my childhood and that my therapist really had the correct view. I was told that people who were abused are not good judges of their own past because if abuse is all you have known or grown up with, you would not see it as wrong or abnormal.
C - COMMITMENT THAT DREAMS AND IDEAS ARE "TRUE MEMORIES" AND FLASHBACKS OF REALITY
As the focus on sexual abuse in our therapy sessions escalated, so did the sexual content and intensity of my dreams. I would come into the next therapy session and was asked what I had dreamed about recently. I was told that these were actual memories (not dreams or fantasies) and that through dreams my mind was revealing facts to me.
I was asked to concentrate deeply on my childhood. In this state of deep concentration and focus on earlier years, I went into hypnotic and trance-like states.
After "coming out" of one of these trances, I was told by my therapist that I had just revealed an event of sexual abuse and described for her something that had happened to me. She would then read back to me what she had written down about the "memory" I had recovered. I trusted my counselor. I looked up to her (she had an MS degree in counseling-psychology and BSW in social work). She was a professional. Although I didn’t consciously remember what happened in those trance-like states, I felt that I could trust her when she would explain, "Beth, you have just had a flashback into your past. . .these are real events that have actually happened to you. . ."
E - EMOTIONALIZING THE MEMORIES.
We talked about what a victim "feels" like and focused on the emotions of a victim: feelings of helplessness, loss of control, anger, hatred of your mother for not protecting you from your father, feeling dirty and afraid. As I began to internalize these emotions, they became a part of my thinking and my feelings.
I began having "body memories." When coming out of a trance, I could actually feel the pain of being penetrated. My legs would go numb from ’remembering’ times of being tied up. Again, I was told that this all was repressed and was now coming out; my mind was now allowing me to know what really happened to me as a child. These physical symptoms only reinforced for me that these times of abuse had to have happened or I would not be feeling the physical pain.
A highly significant phase of fully believing in the reality of my recovered "memories" was going to other mental health professionals for evaluations. A psychiatrist and a psychologist concluded from their psychological testing and evaluation that indeed I had been severely traumatized as a child. With these results, I fully believed that my good and happy childhood was really a cruel joke. (I only wish that I realized then what I know now, that Psychological testing is not a proof of history. It is only a reflection of what you believe and what is in your mind at the time of testing.)
E - ESTABLISHING LOYALTIES TO MY THERAPIST
I told my therapist everything: every dinner conversation held at home, my parents’ phone calls that I overheard, the comments my dad and mom made to me, etc. I called her from my closet at home if I felt scared. There were times I might call her four or more times a day in addition to my numerous therapy sessions. Sometimes I had two and three therapy sessions a week. Some were two- and three-hour marathons each.
I sneaked into my father’s office and got into his files and found papers he had to sign. I brought them to the therapist so that she could copy them for herself, and then I sneaked them back into my father’s files.
I would have given my life to be her daughter. An emotional bond was formed between us. I felt like only she could save me from my broken life. I thought that only she truly knew me and, therefore, only she could help me. I lived for my therapist and therapy sessions.
S - SEPARATING FROM MY PARENTS AND FROM ALL THOSE WHO DID NOT BELIEVE ME.
I was told that the only way that I was going to be able to be a healthy adult was to get away from my infectious parents, because they were like cancer and I had to "cut them out" in order to be a mentally healthy adult. The therapist told me that they were the cause of all the problems in my life, and I must be the one to break the cycle of abuse in my family so that I in turn would not abuse my children. I was told that my parents’ refusal to admit guilt meant that I must separate from them, for they were in denial.
By this time, I had deteriorated physically. I weighed 87 pounds, was on medication, and hated life. I was told that in order to have any happiness in my life, I had to get away from my sick parents and any relatives who would not believe me. Only by cutting them all out of my life was healing possible.
S - STEPS OF ACCUSATION AND CONFRONTATION
Not every son or daughter takes this step. I was more than encouraged; I actually felt pressured to do this by the therapist. My plan was to get away from my parents and never see them again. However, accusations were brought against my parents in an ecclesiastical meeting, an absolute nightmare for them. It was the first time they were informed of what two and a half years of therapy had created.
To accuse my parents was a statement of defiance. I told them that just because they wouldn’t admit what they had done to me didn’t mean I would back down from my belief that they did it. Making these accusations was driven by the therapist, who consistently told me that to accuse is the only way true healing can begin.
I was never further from true healing! I went to her office two and a half years earlier as a normal, well adjusted, happy young adult with job stress. And after two and a half years of "treatment" I was unrecognizable! I was a wreck mentally, physically, socially, financially and educationally. I was jobless with a destroyed past, present, and future. Thank God, He helped me find my way out of "therapy" and put me on the road of recovery.
IN SUMMARY, each situation is different. Those of us who are victims of False Memory Syndrome initially go to a therapist for different reasons. For me, it was job stress. For others it may be a painful divorce, a death in the family, marital problems, problems with a child, a tragic pregnancy, etc. But one thing is certain, we never walked into the therapist’s office with the idea that we had been sexually abused. Unfortunately however, we all left with that idea.
Each person is an individual with individual needs who warrants being treated as such. If you went to a medical doctor’s office with indigestion and wanted him to treat you for the indigestion, would it be acceptable medical practice for a doctor:
Would this be acceptable medical practice? Of course not! So why are similar methods tolerated in the professional mental health community? There is something wrong with "methodology" or "services rendered" if an unsuspecting client comes in with a little headache and goes out with no arms or legs....comes in with one problem and leaves with a life shattered to pieces. What ever happened to the sensibility of the Hippocratic Oath, "To Do No Harm." Yes, there are real people who do have real cancer who need treatment. And of course, there are real people, who have had experienced real sexual abuse who may need assistance in dealing with that horrendous load of agony and pain. Those people deserve to be believed, listened to and helped. One case of sexual abuse is one case too many.... a nightmare for any who have lived through it. But to diagnose someone as sexually abused and to lead people to believe that horrible things happened to them that in reality never did....to destroy lives....to play with peoples’ minds is morally despicable malpractice.
It Began with a Dream
Editor’s Comment: Recent research has challenged the notion that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious. Yet, an analysis of a dream has led many a person down the false memory path. For reading on this topic:
Brenneis, C.B. (1994) Can early childhood trauma be reconstructed from dreams? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 11 (4), 429-447.
I am a retractor. I like that term much better than "recanter," which sounds as though I lied with malicious intent. Of the many people I met with ’repressed memories,’ very few, if any, seemed malicious in their intent. In fact, most seemed rather pitiful, broken down and terrified. Regardless of intent, we believed our memories. They were not lies, but facts as clear as this paper.
I admitted myself into Del Amo Hospital in Torrance, CA in August of 1990. There were four children out of seven who recovered memories. The memories did not stand just on their own. For all of us, they were accompanied by horrific nightmares. Dreams, as we are taught, are the gateway to the subconscious; not just any dreams, but the kind of dreams that cause a grown man to cry out at the top of his lungs while trying to climb up the wall at the head of his bed. I cannot begin to describe the terror incorporated in these dreams. It was not so much the pictures in them, gruesome as they tended to be, but more the presence of true evil that chills a man to the bone. These dreams along with the sodium amytal and hypnosis sessions only reinforced the memories.
As a side note, it is rather a strange thing to hear a tape of an amytal session. It is most discomforting to hear your own voice graphically describing how you dismembered a child. Fantasy or reality, it is unnerving.
I was in the hospital for eighteen months; eighteen months in a make-believe world of "feelings" and therapy. What a wreck I was. Subsequently, I returned to my family, although it would take years to return fully. That was February 1992. The other three have since cut off communication with me as I am now among the ’enemy.’ It has been five years since my last therapy session and as recently as last night I had a dream that caused me to cry out in terror.
Know this, accused parents: whatever you are suffering, your children are suffering ten times as much. You will only get them back through love, persistence and open arms. If you are fortunate enough to get your children back, treat them as you would any other terrified child, not as the perpetrator of your pain. Apologies come later!
Courage to Heal: an Open Letter
Editor’s Note: The Courage to Heal has been called the bible of the recovered memory movement. The authors, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, had no mental health credentials. Scorned by responsible clinicians, this book has contributed to turning vulnerable young women into victims. Following is an open letter to the authors:
Ellen and Laura,
My life and my daughter’s life have been gravely altered because of your belief that everyone who exhibits certain behaviors has been a victim of incest and may suffer from MPD. My therapist believed in the information in your book.
After ten years of therapy based upon these beliefs, I have learned that the only problem my daughter and I really had involved attention deficits and this has been relieved by a combination of medication and cognitive therapy. This form of therapy neither intrudes nor debilitates, but has allowed us to move on with our lives.
The inept therapist who treated me for 10 years directed me to attend incest survivor groups and buy your book. I became confused, angry and self-destructive. I was given many different medications but my condition only became worse. It reached a point when my daughter found me on the verge of death and I spent days in intensive care.
While I was in the hospital, the family I had disowned called child protective services from 3,000 miles away. Without my knowing it, protective services removed all of my daughter’s clothes at school and checked for abuse. They pulled her out of class on numerous occasions after that. I didn’t even know about this until a case manager came to my house and questioned me regarding my "questionable mothering skills."
At one point, I was housed in a halfway house and my daughter in a facility for abused children because the therapist had informed my mother that I would kill her if she came to visit. Now my mother is fearful of me -- probably a healthy reaction -- and I am no longer trusted.
These are just the highlights of the 10 years. It does not include jobs and relationships lost because of my altered and sick perception of what I thought was the truth.
The obsession with memories based on incorrect information that is fostered by your book is profoundly harmful. What would have happened if my daughter had not found me? I would be dead. Death is the final insult. Death was not allowed in my case because I had the luxury of a wonderful daughter, who continued to love me no matter what. If she had not found me she would have no mother to love her in return. Others have not been so fortunate.
A Person Harmed by
The Courage to Heal
Last Updated: March 14, 2014
Except where noted, all material on this site is copyrighted © 2006-17 False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
PO Box 30044 • Philadelphia, PA 19103 • Telephone (215) 940-1040
Email: Send an e-mail to FMSF