Saturday, July 17, 2010

Recovered Memories Debacle

What is so depressing about the recent
This American Life episode on the
1980s epidimec of recovered (false) memories
of sexual abuse, often with Satanic rituals
thrown in, is that it makes painfully obvious
that the therapists of America are very poorly
educated for their jobs.

Without any scientific basis, often picking up
their techniques in a single course of continuing
education, they began using the most basic
techniques of suggestion - known to any two bit
stage hypnotist - and began creating "memories,"
and not happy, useful memories which would
make people feel better, but the most horrible
memories you could devise, guaranteed not only
to screw the patient up, but her or his family too.

Then as the patients got worse and worse in
therapy, none stopped to ask, "If this isn't
working, should we try something else,
or at least examine the scientific basis of
what we're doing?"  Instead they decided
they had to dig deeper, manufacturing
even more traumatic scenarios.

The truth is American therapists don't seem
to concern themselves with empirical
evidence at all.  They have a theory and try it.
As Richard Bandler has pointed out, if it doesn't
work, they try it harder.

Where did the idea of suppressed memories come
from?  Many would blame Freud, but he's also
blamed for not believing actual sex abuse victims
who remembered their memories all too well.

My guess, and I know this will be controversial and
it's only a hypothesis, is that this theory really came
from television programs.  Sure the programs got
it from Sigmund of the Big Cigar, but it was seeing
them for years used week after week as a device to
create suspense that really led us to be willing to accept
these events as true with no shread of supporting evidence. 

The therapeutic community is subject to fashion just
as much as any other.  It's clear individual therapists
are not receiving the scientific training to learn how
to evaluate evidence, and so individual therapists
will continue to unquestionally follow fashionable
treatment trends.   Lets hope most are benign and
that it's a long time indeed before we run into
another one so horribly malignant as this fashion proved.

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