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Chapter 13: Conclusions and Recommendations
All hatred driven hence
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
--William Butler Yeats, "A Prayer for My Daughter"
I would like to think that the repressed-memory
craze has already crested and will quickly disappear. There has certainly
been a great deal of publicity about the issue, much of it fomented
by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, but more by the sheer scope
of the problem, which is only beginning to become apparent. Time
and U.S. News & World Report ran simultaneous cover
stories on the debate late in November of 1993. Various retractors,
flanked by professional critics Elizabeth Loftus, Michael Yapko, or
Richard Ofshe, have appeared on the talk-show programs. Only two years
ago, few people in the media or the public questioned the horrifying
stories that self-proclaimed incest survivors told, nor did they differentiate
memories that had always been there from those that were
newly "discovered." Today, most people realize that the validity of
repressed memory is a hotly debated topic.
Several high-profile cases have contributed
to public awareness. In November of 1993, Steven Cook accused Cardinal
Joseph Bernardin of having sexually abused him when he was a teenager.
He recalled the abuse through hypnosis. Months later, Cook dropped his
lawsuit, explaining that he now realized how questionable hypnotically
induced memories could be. (His unlicensed hypnotist, Michele Moul,
had earned her master's in psychology from an unaccredited weekend institution
and had previously been employed in a print shop and delicatessen.)
Also emblematic of the changing public attitude
is the recent decision in the Holly Ramona case, in which 12 jurors
found two therapists guilty of misleading a young woman through the
use of sodium Amytal and other suggestive techniques and assumptions.
In other multiple lawsuits, angry retractors are suing their former
therapists for encouraging them to believe in repressed memories, multiple
personalities, and/or satanic cult involvement. These court proceedings,
in which some therapists face as many as six separate suits from as
many clients, are bringing into public scrutiny the outrageous paranoid
delusions that passed for therapy until recently. Among those being
sued are Houston's Judith Peterson, Chicago's Bennett Braun, and Minneapolis'
Diane Humenansky. In the first of these suits to go to trial in 1995,
in which Vynnette Hamanne sued Humenansky, the therapist was found guilty
of inducing memories of satanic ritual abuse and fined $2.6 million.
Meanwhile, several appeals courts have gotten
the message from researchers such as Stephen Ceci and Maggie Bruck that
little children can be led into stating and believing the most outrageous
falsehoods. Robert Kelly has been freed from jail in the North Carolina
Little Rascals Day Care case, Violet Amirault and Cheryl LeFave are
out of jail in the Massachusetts Fells Acres case, while in Canada most
of the Martensville defendants have been exonerated. In my own state
of Vermont, the conviction of Robert Lawton, accused of sodomizing his
three young sons, has been overturned, and a new trial ordered.
Perhaps the most important ruling came in
1995 from Judge William J. Groff in New Hampshire. Groff insisted on
a pretrial hearing before allowing cases based solely on recovered memories
to go forward. One case involved a woman who believed her father had
raped her throughout her childhood, right up until two days before her
wedding at the age of 23. The other featured a woman who believed her
eighth grade teacher had impregnated her when she was 12--even though
she did not begin menstruating until she was 14. After hearing scientific
testimony, Groff ruled: "The phenomenon of memory repression, and the
process of therapy used in these cases to recover the memories, have
not gained general acceptance in the field of psychology and are not
scientifically reliable." The judge was even more outspoken later in
The very concept of a 'repressed' memory,
that is, that a person can experience a traumatic event, and have no
memory of it whatsoever for several years, transcends human experience.
There is nothing in our development as human beings which enables us
to empirically accept the phenomenon.... It is inappropriately suggestive
for a therapist to communicate to a client his or her belief that a
dream or a flashback is a representation of a real life event, that
a physical pain is a 'body memory' of sexual abuse, or even that a particular
memory recovered by a client is in fact a real event.... [Such therapy]
thoroughly and schematically violates the guidelines and standards of
practice of psychotherapy.
Despite such unequivocal legal judgments,
however, it is unlikely that the sex abuse hysteria phenomenon will
disappear quite so quickly. In 1992, Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Paul
McHugh published an interesting article called "Psychiatric Misadventures"
in The American Scholar . "During the thirty years of my
professional experience," he wrote, "I have witnessed the power of cultural
fashion to lead psychiatric thought and practice off in false, even
disastrous, directions." He noted that these fads--the notion that schizophrenia
was culturally induced, the popularity of sex-change operations, and
the proliferation of multiple personalities--seemed to last about ten
years. If he is correct, the hunt for repressed memories will probably
extend until near the turn of the century, since it began in earnest
in 1988 with the publication of The Courage to Heal .
Even then, I doubt it will die out completely.
Once an idea enters the cultural mainstream, it has a way of resurfacing
like a bloated corpse every few years. Ever since Freud applied his
"pressure procedure" to extract repressed memories of incest, psychologists
have periodically imitated the Viennese master. Soon after the turn
of the century, Morton Prince hypnotized Christine Beauchamp to "uncover"
her multiple personalities, while Boris Sidis and J. E. Donley also
used hypnotism to promote "abreactions." In the wake of World War I,
there was another spate of traumatic reliving in trance. In the 1920s,
"hypnoidalization" was proposed to unearth memories, while Otto Rank
convinced his followers that only by reliving the birth trauma could
they be healed. Sandor Ferenczi unearthed hidden memories of abuse in
the 1930s, while American and British therapists were simultaneously
inventing "narco-analysis," using barbiturates to facilitate the recovery
of supposedly repressed memories.
During the 1940s, psychiatrists encouraged
World War II veterans to "abreact" traumatic memories while under sodium
Pentothal or hypnosis. As a result, one soldier acted out the entire
battle of Iwo Jima, even though he had never left the United States.
In 1944, prison psychologist Robert Lindner published Rebel Without
a Cause (made into a film in 1955), his account of how he regressed
a "criminal psychopath" to six months old, when he "remembered" being
traumatized by watching his parents engage in sexual intercourse. And
we have seen in Chapter 11 how Arthur Janov and others kept the idea
alive in the United States throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Consequently,
I would be surprised if the search for repressed memories completely
Indeed, if recent developments are any indication,
accusations based on rediscovered memories continue to sell books and
fill the courts. Even though stories of satanic ritual abuse have been
thoroughly discredited, a mass market paperback called The New
Satanists came out in 1994. Author Linda Blood solemnly writes:
"There are thousands of women who report
having been childhood victims of mind-numbingly vicious and brutal forms
of physical and mental torture at the hands of members of their families.
They tell of having been subjected to every conceivable abuse as well
as some that would be inconceivable to any normal human being."
In August of 1994, an unusual item hit the
sports pages. Oakland Athletics' outfielder Rickey Henderson, 35, is
being sued for $3 million by his half-sister Paula, who is four years
younger. She alleges that he raped her for three years, beginning when
she was 12, but she only recalled this abuse a year ago, after giving
birth to her first child. She describes her lawsuit as "part of the
healing process." As late as the fall of 1995, a publication issued
by the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital included this familiar, dangerous
There are all sorts of therapeutic techniques
to aid in reconstructing the trauma story. These include hypnosis, group
therapy and psychodrama, as well as biological methods, such as sodium
Amytal.... However, traumatic memories may not be accessible by language
since they are sometimes recorded in the form of vivid sensations and
Also in 1995, Sage Publications came out
with A Survivor's Guide , by Washington State counselor
Sharice Lee, on both sides of the Atlantic. Intended for teenage girls,
it is a kind of Courage to Heal for adolescents. "Just
because you can't remember some of the things that happened to you doesn't
mean that these things are gone from your brain forever," Lee writes.
Appealing to computer-hip teens, she explains that retrieving the memories
is similar to playing a PC keyboard: "It's kind of like a computer program
that you have to have an access code to get into." At first, the returning
sex abuse memories will come as "bits and pieces or small flashes."
They may be "fuzzy at the beginning." In time, however, they will begin
to "fit together like a jigsaw puzzle." In the afterword for therapists,
Lee explains that the book should be used as an "educational tool" in
group work, with teenagers reading chapters aloud to see if any memories
The same year, a Texas conference for therapists
was held by the Society for the Investigation, Treatment and Prevention
of Ritual and Cult Abuse (SITPRCA). It offered an extremely disturbing
mix of ritual abuse stories, CIA conspiracy theories, and militia-group
warnings about the New World Order to be imposed by Jews and liberals.
One of the speakers, Cathy O'Brian, claimed that the CIA had programmed
her to be a multiple personality. She had recovered memories of having
sex with assorted American political figures, including George Bush,
Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Hillary Clinton. Another
speaker, former FBI agent Ted Gunderson, informed everyone that there
were 500 satanic cults in New York City alone, sacrificing 4,000 humans
each year. Gunderson, famous for his involvement in the McMartin Day
Care case, also has close ties with right-wing militia groups. In fact,
he believes that the U.S. government itself bombed the Oklahoma City
federal building in order to promote passage of anti-terrorism bills.
What is so frightening about this conference
is that most of the audience members appeared to believe
what they were told, according to Evan Harrington, a skeptical psychologist
in attendance. Indeed, when he raised the slightest doubts, he was treated
as a pariah. "I frequently observed a categorical rejection of the possibility
that there could be false memories of traumatic events," he writes.
"Strong beliefs are highly resistant to discrepant input and they do
have a certain persuasive power." Harrington quotes an attending physicist:
"I came away with the opinion that cults are far more prevalent, well
connected, sophisticated and dangerous than I had ever dreamed." A second
annual conference of the SITPRCA was planned for the following year.
As 1996 commenced, a caller on the psychological
public radio program, "Voices in the Family," informed listeners that
in 1990, she had suddenly recalled being molested by her grandfather
when she was three. The host and guests were not the least bit skeptical
of her "memories."
Psychiatrist Gary Almy and his physician
wife Carol wrote a scathing indictment of current psychological trends--including
recovered-memory therapy--in their 1994 book, Addicted to Recovery
. As Christians, they are particularly concerned about the extensive
involvement of so-called Christian therapists. The Almy's conclude their
book with this shrewd appraisal:
Do not expect this psycho-fad to go quietly
into the night. This searching of the "subconscious" and probing the
past is...at the heart of the false memory phenomenon and the multiple
personality fad.... This is the heart and soul of the psychotherapy
industry, its major theoretical underpinning and resultant practice
pattern. This has come to be economically vital. Entire livelihoods,
reputations, and businesses depend on the survival of the recovery industry,
and sadly, all too many of these are within the Christian community.
The Almys continued by quoting 2 Timothy
4:3-4: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great
number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They
will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." Similarly,
the prophet Jeremiah long ago warned against false prophets who "speak
visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord." (Jeremiah
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