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Appendix: A Summary of Myths and Realities on Memory and Therapy
1. You must identify the root cause of your unhappiness (from your past)
in order to heal and be happy in the present.
1. It is unfortunately the normal human lot to be frustrated and unhappy
at various points in your life. There is no magic pill to make you happy,
and your attitude in the present is much more the issue than anything that
happened to you in the past.
2. Checklists of "symptoms" are reliable tools to identify disorders.
2. Beware of symptom checklists, particularly if they apply to nearly everyone
in the general population. At one time or another, most people experience
depression, troubled relationships, ambivalence towards family members, and
low self-esteem. These are not necessarily "symptoms" of anything other than
the human condition.
3. You can trust any therapist who seems compassionate, warm, wise, and caring.
You do not need to ask about credentials, experience, training, philosophy,
treatment approach, or techniques.
3. Just because a therapist is warm and caring does not mean that he or she
is competent or can help you. Training, philosophy, and treatment modalities
are extremely important. Therapists who dwell unceasingly on your past are
unlikely to help you cope with your present-day problems. Therapy should
challenge you to change your way of thinking about and dealing with the
present-day conflicts that sent you to therapy in the first place.
4. Your therapist should become an extremely important person in your life,
a surrogate parent.
4. Good therapists never encourage a client to become overly dependent. The
goal of therapy should be to make you a fully functioning person capable
of independent judgment. Any therapist who relishes the role of authority
figure or guru should be avoided. Any therapist who tells you that he or
she alone cares about you and understands you is a bad therapist. Good therapists
constantly guard against "countertransference" in which they bring their
own egos, needs, and biases into the therapy session.
5. Therapy is an art, not a science. Therefore, it is inappropriate to ask
for a treatment plan.
5. Therapists who hide behind statements about how therapy is an art-form
should take up painting and stop practicing their "art" on unsuspecting minds.
Patients should not be used as guinea pigs for experimental techniques. Like
brain surgeons, those who treat mental problems should base their treatment
on scientifically proven, safe and effective methods. Patients should seek
alternate opinions from therapists with different clinical orientations.
6. Your therapist is an intuitive genius who does not need to consult with
other therapists or refer you to a physician for any physical problems.
Therapists have an uncanny ability to discern the truth or falsity of your
6. Therapists are no better than anyone else at determining truth or falsity.
Enormous confidence in one's intuition turns out to be a drawback in terms
of predictive outcome. "Clinical intuition" is notoriously inaccurate. In
one study, clinical psychologists were correct less than 50% of the time
in assessing sexual abuse. That being the case, therapists should remain
suitably humble and seek outside consultation frequently, especially if clients
present with physical problems. Such clients should be referred to competent
psychiatrists and physicians for a full mental and physical evaluation.
7. All "Christian therapists" and pastoral counselors can be trusted because
they are sincere and in touch with the Lord.
7. Unfortunately, more atrocities have been committed in the name of God
than any other cause. True Christians believe in love, family unity, and
forgiveness. Too many so-called Christian counselors and ministers are promoting
hatred, family destruction, and no forgiveness. In the name of the Lord,
they inadvertently conduct the Devil's work. Jesus warned that false prophets
would arise in His name; He was correct.
8. Group therapy is always a good way to treat survivors of sexual abuse.
8. Group therapy can indeed be helpful in some cases, but it can be extremely
damaging in others, particularly when there is peer pressure to conform to
group expectations. In an "incest survivor" group, for instance, retelling
and embellishing horror stories can create an emotional hothouse atmosphere
in which those who do not have "memories" feel inadequate or left out, and
they feel pressured to "remember" similar horrors. Similarly, they are often
told that if they react strongly to a story, it is proof that they were
9. Self-help books are always helpful and authoritative.
9. Self-help books can indeed be very useful, but readers should never forget
that many publishers are interested primarily in profits, not accuracy. In
other words, just because something is written in an authoritative style
and is published in a best-selling book doesn't mean that it is true. Books
such as The Courage to Heal are full of misinformation and have
caused untold damage. Intelligent readers of such books should employ their
own critical thinking skills and should also read books expressing contrary
10. If you recalled traumatic events on your own, outside therapy, they are
reliable because you could not have been led into them.
10. Beginning in the mid-1980s, and extending into the 1990s, the idea that
personal problems may stem from long-forgotten sexual abuse became so prevalent
that almost all women have considered whether they might have been incest
victims without knowing it. Many seeking answers to their problems have
desperately sought "memories" both in and out of therapy. Many have recovered
such "memories" after reading self-help books, being "triggered" by a talk
show, or talking to a friend. They are led into this false belief system
just as surely as in formal therapy.
11. All good therapy takes a long time and involves delving into the past.
11. The forms of therapy that have proven to be the most effective are
cognitive and behavioral therapy that do not dwell on the past,
but help clients cope with current life stressors, often by reframing the
way they perceive their problems. Such therapy can often be short-term.
12. Memories are always accurate.
12. All memories are reconstructions of likely scenarios in which you fill
in the gaps. Thus, all memories are somewhat inaccurate, though they serve
us well enough under normal conditions. Under severe social influence, however,
memories can be distorted or even entirely rewritten. Memory is largely a
matter of rehearsal. The more often a scene is rehearsed, the more real it
becomes to you. Experiments have shown that people can be induced to remember
events that did not occur.
13. If you have a tiny intuition or a feeling that you may have been sexually
abused, you probably were.
13. If you have a "tiny intuition or a feeling" that you may have been sexually
abused and that you have repressed the memories, you have probably been
influenced by The Courage to Heal , similar books, or the popular
culture that has made such notions so popular. If you were truly sexually
abused, the odds are very good that you would remember it all too well.
14. Repeated trauma is so distressing that it must be repressed or dissociated.
You could have been raped for years and not remember anything about it.
14. There is no scientific evidence that human beings are capable of "massive
repression." On the contrary, there is much evidence that repeated traumatic
events are more likely to be remembered than others. There is no way to prove
that massive repression does not exist, however, just as one cannot prove
that ghosts or witches do not exist; one cannot prove a negative.
15. If you cannot remember chunks of your childhood, you were probably so
traumatized that you forgot them.
15. No one remembers every event from his or her childhood. Most people recall
the high and low points, but not much in between. This is normal and does
not necessarily indicate any trauma in childhood.
16. You must remember and relive all traumatic events from your past in order
16. Although talking through recent painful events is often helpful,
dwelling on long-past traumas tends to make people worse rather than
better. The idea that you must "relive" or abreact the trauma to get
better is simply not true. On the contrary, therapists who tell clients,
"You must get worse before you get better," are misleading them. The
endless downward spiral into retrieving more and more "memories" is
harmful rather than helpful.
[Continued... There are 29 points in all. To order the book directly from the publisher, Upper Access Books, click