May 2005Vol. 11, no. 1
The loose screw awards
Psychology Today, in the Jan/Feb 2005 issue, gave “Loose screw” awards to psychology’s top 10 misguided ideas.“The mental health fields have, now and then, spawned and nurtured some completely crazy ideas.Physicians in the 18th and 19th centuries…inflicted strange and extremely cruel treatments on their mentally ill patients based on equally bizarre theories of human nature… Our own era has also produced theories and techniques of dubious worth.” The article used “facilitating communication” with nonverbal children as one example of a harmful idea that research demonstrated was nonsense.“All the ideas came from the facilitators not the children.”
One ofPsychology Today’s 10 loose screwawards went to recovered memory therapy.It termed this concept “The idea that launched a thousand suits.”It featured Pat Burgus and her horrible ordeal.“Burgus was one of many swept up in the ‘recovered memory’ craze of the 1980’s.Zealous therapists encouraged clients to recall repressed memories of childhood abuse, leading to more than 800 lawsuits against alleged abusers between 1985 and 2000.Many of these resulted in incarcerations.A few led to suicides.In most cases there was no corroborating evidence, and many accusers later recanted.”
After discussing Elizabeth Loftus’ work it concluded, “In other words, the source of many of the recovered memories was the therapist.”
Another award, entitled “Most twisted” went to “rebirthing therapy.”This section discussed 10 year old Candace Newmaker who was killed by the therapy after being wrapped, and smothered, in a blanket.“In 2002, the American Psychiatric Association said the technique ‘is not therapeutic and can even be fatal.’But as long as therapists use it, and so long as clients don’t object, rebirthing is unlikely to disappear.”
Once again there is the disturbing conclusion - how hard it is to get therapists to stop using these harmful methods.They also pointed out that “recovered memory therapy” is still being practiced.
Source:Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2005, p.55.
Fall meeting October 9th
Illinois-Wisconsin FMS Society will have a statewide meeting on October 9, 2005, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.The meeting will probably take place at Prairie Lakes Community Center in Des Plaines, IL.The theme will be “Coping: Where are you now?”The featured speaker is Pamela Freyd, executive director of the FMS Foundation, who of course needs no introduction to any of you.
A second speaker will be Janet Fetkewicz who has kept in close touch with
many families in her work at the Foundation.Two hours in the afternoon will be devoted to general group discussion, focusing on the variety of individual coping strategies (both successful and otherwise) of the participants.Retractors will serve as resource people.After the meeting these who wish will have a cocktail hour and dinner at a local restaurant.It should be a good meeting.Save the date!
Oregon & Washington FMS
families unite again.
New wave of regression/repressed memory devastation brings a new group of families together for support and to combat this horrific counseling.
The group met May 16 south of Portland, Oregon and will meet on the 3rd Monday of each month.For information contact Jody, e-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 1-877-459-2706.
(Information from Peter Freyd by e-mail)
“If the mind had the capacity to block out hideous events in the way proposed [by recovered memory therapists], it is remarkable that until two decades ago it had not been observed.”
Dr. Janet Boakes, “Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse”, Memorandum 9, Feb. 2002
Yapko’s hypnosis class
I attended a three-day class in Las Vegas in January of this year, given by Michael Yapko, Ph.D., psychologist, who wrote the seminal book, Suggestions of Abuse.One of his specialties is clinical hypnosis, and he travels around the world lecturing and giving classes.He has also testified in some of the FMS cases as an expert witness.
The class was attended largely by clinical psychologists.We learned how to use the trance to deliver therapy more effectively, whether it be for pain control or psychological change of some sort.I was very pleased that Dr. Yapko spent a great deal of time explaining about FMS and how you need to be very cautious not to promote false memories.
He said that even if a client asks you to hypnotize them to find about if they had ever been abused, do not do so.You will never be able to tell whether the “recovered memories” are true or not, and the client may end up believing them.
Amazingly, a psychologist who was present, related a recent case of his. A client actually pleaded with him to hypnotize her for just that purpose of recovering abuse memories.She “had a feeling”, she said, that she had been abused.So he gave in andhypnotized her reluctantly.Well, he related that they found out she had been ritually abused by a satanic cult and so forth.The next day she showed up at his office and was curled up in a fetal position on the floor of his office when he entered.
At this point in the story, Dr. Yapko stressed that the chances are less than 1000 to 1 that her memories were true.Something the psychologist had taken as a discovery about his client was now being called what it really was by Dr. Yapko, false memories.It was a real life learning experience for all the therapists present, many of whom it seemed, were not very familiar with the history and problem of FMS.Chris
Abuse hysteria kids:
where are they now?
Abuse hysteria kids have grown up.When they were young they were led to believe they were abused, or pressured into testifying that someone abused them.Years later some of them realize that the abuse never happened.What happens to people whose lives have been so distorted in this way?They too are victims of the abuse hysteria of the 1980’s and early 90’s.
The New York Times Magazine (9/19/04, p. 77) followed the lives of several of these people who had been caught up in an investigation of a supposed sex ring in Bakersfield, California.Ed Sampley was one of the boys who told a judge and jury that he was molested by John Stoll.At the time the five accusing boys were between the ages of 6 and 8.Now in their late 20’s, Sampley and three other former accusers returned in January 2004 to testify that Stoll never molested them.They said they always knew the truth.A fifth accuser said he isn’t sure what happened. The four recanters said they felt pressured by investigators to described sex acts.Only Stoll’s son still accused him, although he couldn’t remember details of the abuse.
The description of how the investigators pressured the boys would be familiar to most of us.First the boys denied any abuse, but after much suggestion and pressure they gave way and ended up agreeing with the investigators that abuse had occurred.Ed Sampley is haunted by what he did. “Why couldn’t I withstand the pressure?” he says.“When I was pressured by the investigators, I broke down.I still search for that moment I gave in.”His life has been distorted in another way also.He doesn’t want to be around strangers’ children and he wouldn’t give his own baby daughter a bath.
Linda Starr, the legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project which represented Stoll in his hearing, said she was surprised to see how much the events of 20 years ago had affected these former accusers.“Before I met them, I didn’t appreciate that these kids, who had not been sexually abused, would have experienced trauma comparable to kids who had been.”
Donnie Grafton was another of John Stoll’saccusers. His mother also got caught up in this net of accusations.She was a friend of John Stoll.Donnie had the added burden of having helped send his mother to jail. He said he told a therapist he had lied in court. The therapist reported to Donnie’s father that his son was “in denial.”Donnie too was tormented by what he had done.In a poem he wrote when he was 12 he said “My mother imprisoned innocently for 7 years.Here come the tears…..I was forced to lie.”
Eddie Sampley also told his parents the abuse never happened, but investigators told his mother that her son was too embarrassed to tell her the truth.He told his girl friends, and other close friends over the years.No one knew what to do about it.He didn’t trust the authorities.
When the Northern California Innocence Project got involved after John Stoll had spent 15 years in prison, and tracked down the accusers, they were eager to try to help undo the wrong they had committed.The former accusers’ testimony helped free Stoll, who was exonerated, and to overturn the conviction of others including Margie Grafton.
But though Sampley helped win Stoll’s release, it hasn’t erased his feelings of guilt for telling investigators what he thought they wanted to hear.He still is haunted by the question, why did he do it?It didn’t end his unease around strangers’ children.“I’ll never coach Little League,” he says.Looking at Stoll’s old house, he said it still leads to feelings of disillusionment and self-recrimination.“I don’t think it will ever completely go away.” The New York Times Magazine article only discussed the ramifications of the people involved in the John Stoll case.It would be interesting to know what has happened to some of the other children so abused by investigators and courts that they destroyed other people’s lives, and then had to live with the consequences.
(See also the article about the John Stoll case in our Newsletter of August 2004p.2 )
Rorschach test debunked,
What would you say about a psychological test which has been, and continues to be, widely used in court proceedings to decide such vital matters as to whether a child has been sexually abused, whether a parent gets custody of a child, whether a prisoner should be allowed out on parole, or a person be committed, etc., which researchers say misidentifies about 75% of normal individuals as emotionally disturbed?Are you perhaps naïve enough to assume that the test’s practitioners and users would give it up?Or that the courts would banish its use?Banish the thought.The test we are talking about is the well-known Rorschach test, “the ink blot test.”Defenders of the Rorschach test do not even acknowledge the withering scientific criticism that has been leveled at it, while they blithely continue their awful trade.Some fifty years worth of this scientific criticism has been ably gathered in What’s wrong with the Rorschach? By James Wood, M. Teresa Nezworski, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Howard N. Garb. (2003)
The answer to the question in the title of the book is:pretty much everything that can be wrong with a psychological test.The test has almost no reliability or validity to use test makers’ terminology.Reliability refers to how closely matched the results are on successive administrations of the tests to the same individual.Validity refers to whether or not the test really measures what is claims to measure.The authors say the test has no more validity than “tea leaf reading and tarot cards.”Yet clinicians continue to use it.According to the Boston Globe of September 12, 2004, “It is used diagnostically by eight out of 10 psychologists and routinely submitted as evidence in child custody cases, criminal sentencing etc.”According to the noted psychologist Robyn Dawes, “[the belief in the Rorschach’s validity] is particularly strong among clinical psychologists, many of whom still give Rorschachs despite the consistent research finds of literally thousands of published studies - that the Rorschach interpretation is unreliable and invalid.” (1991).
Published in 1921 and brainchild of ardent Swiss psychoanalyst Herman Rorschach, the test that bears his name became the target of increasingly harsh criticism by scientifically minded researchpsychologists from the 1940’s onwards.The response of the Rorschach practitioners was to belittle the need for research to bolster test reliabilityand validity.They claimed that their skills in “clinical judgment” obviated such a need.The guru’s piercing insights trumped the statistician’s bean counting in their eyes.We have often encountered this disdain for science and the glorification of clinical insight when confronting quack therapies such as recovered memory therapy, EMDR, etc.
The authors address the question why practitioners continue to believe strongly in a test when there is overwhelming scientific evidence that it is essentially useless at best and harmful at worst.Reasons cited by the authors are practitioners’ reliance on anecdotal evidence, selective memory for seeming successes and reinforcement from colleagues.One other reason should be added.Psychodynamic therapists tend to only read each other’s papers.They seldom if ever read scientific research literature.Nor have they been trained in the scientific method.Their training has been in what may be called the “guru method.”
Two final points.There is a financial incentive to persist in administering this financially rewarding test and then acting as an expert witness in court.It is perhaps for this reason that, I have been told, the authors have received death threats.
And I have a question for those institutions of higher learning that are still training new practitioners of this test.Is it not time that you stopped teaching this quack science?
Vivid memory no evidence for its authenticity
The vividness of a traumatic memory cannot be taken as evidence of its authenticity.This fact, which memory researchers have told us before, is driven home with startling clarity by research done with people who claim to be alien abductees.The author, Michael Shermer, in an article for Scientific American, himself had an alien abduction experience and can appreciate how real the experience is for people who claim to have had it.He recounts:
In the wee hours of the morning on August 8, 1983, while I was traveling along a lonely rural highway approaching Haigler, Neb., a large craft with bright lights overtook me and forced me to the side of the road.Alien beings exited the craft and abducted me for 90 minutes, after which time I found myself back on he ro ad with no memory of what transpired inside the ship.I can prove that this happened because I recounted it to a film crew shortly afterwards.
The author cites research by Richard J. McNally and Susan Clancy that show that some fantasies, such as alien abduction fantasies, are indistinguishable from reality and can be just as traumatic.McNally and Clancy measured physiological responses (such as heart rate, skin conductance, etc.) of claimed alien abductees who listened to scripts dealing with alien abduction.He compared these responses with those of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients who were read scripts of their actual traumatic experiences.The claimed abductees responded in the same way as thePTSD patients did in this experiment.This underscores the finding that the fantasy experienced by the claimed abductees felt as vivid to them as the recall of their real trauma by the PTSD patients felt to them.In other words, imaginary traumas can be as terrifying as the real thing.Recanters have often told us this.It is the very vividness of the false memory experience that led many of those that became afflicted with it to believe that it had to be true.
The most likely explanation for alien abduction experiences is sleep paralysis and hypnopompic (on awakening) hallucinations.Temporary paralysis is often accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations and sexual fantasies all of which are interpreted within the context of pop culture’s fascination with UFOs and space aliens.
The author’s own experience was triggered by sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion.He says:
My abduction experience was triggered by sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion,.I had just ridden a bicycle 83 straight hours and 1,259 miles in the opening days of the 3,000-mile nonstop transcontinental Race Across American.I was sleepily weaving down the road when my support motor home flashed its high beams and pulled alongside and my crew entreated me to take a sleep break.At that moment a distant memory of the 1960s television series The invaders was inculcated into my waking dream.In the series, alien beings were taking over the earth by replicating actual people but, inexplicably, retained a stiff little finger. Suddenly the members of my support team were transmogrified into aliens.I stared intensely at their fingers and grilled them on both technical and personal matters.After my 90-minute sleep break, the experience represented nothing more than a bizarre hallucination….But at the time the experience was real, and that’s the point.
Source: “Abducted!”, Scientific American, Feb. 2005, p.34
Eyewitness testimony study shows testimony’s weakness
Memory can become inaccurate or distorted when trying to identify someone after strain according toa Yale University study.In this study, Dr. Charles Morgan III, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, has shown that stressful conditions actually impair the accuracy of making an identification.
In the study 509 military personnel participated in a survival training camp.They were subjected to mock POW interrogations during their training.Half were exposed to a high-stress 30-minute interrogation.Twenty-four hours later, they were asked to identifythe interrogator in a lineup, a photo spread or a series of photos.They had a 30% accuracy in the live lineup and 49% in the series of photos.The other half of trainees had less threatening interrogations and were able to pick our their interrogators with greater accuracy, from 62 % in the live lineup to 76 % in the series of photos.
The scientists also wanted to know how accurate people were in being able to say “no” when the interrogator was not included in the lineup or photos.Again the less stress group fared much better on the experiments.“Prosecutors argue that the poor victim was so shocked that she’d never forget that face,” Elizabeth Loftus,a psychologist at the University of California at Irvine and an expert on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, said.“This study suggests that they do forget.”Elizabeth Loftus’ work over the past two decades has shown that memory may seem vivid but is often inaccurate and distorted.She said a major cause of wrongful convictions is faulty eyewitness testimony.“This study proves that you can be up close and personal and a short time later not be able to recognize your perpetrator.”
Saul Kassin of Williams College in Massachusetts argues that this finding makes it necessary to videotape criminal interrogations because memory is so faulty.He suspects that stressful conditions force people to narrow their focus to a few details.
Source: Newsday 6/4/2004, p A34. (Thanks to Herman Ohme.)
Loftus wins $200,000
Elizabeth Loftus, professor of psychology and law at the University of California, Irvine, has been awarded the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.She was given this award for her memory research, particularly her research on the creative and reconstructive character of memory, and her research on the validity of repressed memories in psychotherapy.The award comes with a cash grant of $200,000. This adds one more star to an already glittering record of this distinguished scientist.
Loftus’s work has emphasized that memory is not like a tape recorder but creative and reconstructive, and thus susceptible to suggestion and manipulation.Her research has totally undermined the validity of the concept of massive repression, especially as the concept is used in recovered memory therapy, or repressed memory therapy as it is sometimes called.In an article in the Los Angeles Times Loftus called the award “a validation of work that I have been passionate about but also had to do in a climate of hostility and difficulty.So there’s a special sense of vindication and appreciation that the enemies who have been trying to do me in for at least ten years did not succeed.”
She said some of the money would be used in her research.Loftus is ranked 58th by the Review of General Psychology on its list of 100 top psychologists of the twentieth century.
From Skeptical Inquirer May/June 2005, p. 7
Report on Richard
We have two pieces of good news about the man whom we know as Richard, who has been imprisoned in Wisconsin some six years or so.His family found an error in his record which has now been corrected.This will allow him out on parole four months earlier than was officially scheduled originally.This release will happen sometime next year.More importantly, a hearing has determined that there will be no civil commitment for Richard once he is released.When there is a civil commitment after the jail term has been served, you can in effect be imprisoned the rest of your life.Richard is now in his 70’s.We hope to welcome him home soon.
Vatican to study obsession with
Do things ever change?“Satanism is very much in fashion now,” said Rev. Paolo Scarafoni, rector of the Regina Apostolorum.”
To meet the needs of the increasing demand for exorcism, the Vaticansanctioned an eight-week study of the subject.The number of exorcists has risen in the past 20 years to between 300 and 400, but that is supposedly not enough to handle all the requests for assistance.One purpose of the study is to learn to tell the difference between demonic infiltration and other psychological or physical traumas.
“ ‘The biggest obstacle has been the lack of training of priests and bishops, who haven’t felt sufficiently equipped to confront’ what the church believes is a rising obsession with satanic cults, witchcraft and the occult, said Giuseppe Ferrari, an academic specializing in social-religious phenomena.”
Information and quotes from The Chicago Tribune 2/20/05, sec. 1, p.9)
A new recanter:
In our December 2004 issue we included an account a mother wrote of her daughter’s journey back from accuser to returner. She sent us an update with some very good news.In the December article she said “Returner to recanter - this will be a long process.”But it has happened:
“One step at a time.So much patience and love required.With prayer this seems to be evolving into a positive.Our daughter has now told both her husband and daughter at home …of the possibility of false memory.They had not heard of this before. Our daughter asked for literature and books and our granddaughter is reading them with her.Wow—remember when years ago she threw the FMS brochure to the ground and turned from me in such anger.
Yesterday after the movie we came home for coffee and dessert.Our daughter commented that she surely would look so very foolish that she had believed all this nonsense—what would people think. We explained that she went to Ph.D. authorities for help in a very vulnerable situation.She asked us if she could come to the next FMS meeting with us.Amazing.”