Illinois-Wisconsin FMS Society
FEMINISTS SPEAK OUT
DIANA RUSSELL, Ph. D.
This well known incest researcher and feminist revised her viewpoint
about recovered memories in the new introduction to the second edition
of her Secret Trauma (1999). This chapter can be found at her web
site at: http://dianarussell.com/incestintro.html
Russell makes a powerful argument that a high
percentage of recovered memories
are false. The newsletter of the feminist Illinois Coalition Against
Sexual Assault also carried a reprint of this introduction.
CHRISTINE A. COURTOIS, Ph. D.
This leading spokesman for recovered memory therapy and the author
of the earlier Healing the Incest Wound (1988) has more recently
outlined new guidelines for therapists dealing with memory issues that
are arresting. Click for some highlights of these in the first
SHIRLEY FELDMAN-SUMMERS, Ph.D., a feminist psychologist, has
written on the pitfalls involved in recovered memory therapy in Women
& Therapy, vol. 19(1), 1996, p.109-122. You will find some
excerpts from this article in the second selection
RAEL JEAN ISAACS
This feminist writer gives her view of the recovery movement
in her trenchant article "Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes" in the Summer 2001
issue of The
Women's Quarterly. Read the whole article at that site or the third
SIGRID MAC DONALD is a veteran feminist. Click for her
views as given in the Women's Freedom
Courtois , Recollections of Sexual Abuse (1999)
"The Therapist Utilizes General and Specialized
Informed Consent...[including providing the patient] with detailed
and accurate information about memory. This information should correct
myths, for example, that recovered memories are necessarily accurate.
The patient needs to know that memory is imperfect, that most memories
contain a mixture of accurate and inaccurate information, and that some
memories, however emotionally compelling, may be quite inaccurate with
respect to historical truth...vividness of detail about, and confidence
in any given memory, have little relationship to its accuracy or or inaccuracy."
"[The therapist must avoid] an uncritical acceptanceof
an individual's recollections of abuse as always representing historical
truth...[and educates the patient] regarding the malleability and reconstructive
nature of human memory processes and the possibility that memories may
represent reality, fantasies, confabulations, or some combination thereof."
"The Therapist Is Alert to Suggestion and
Suggestibility Issues and Assesses Risk for False Memory Production"
"The Therapist Should Not Use Hypnosis
(Or Related Techniques) Specifically For Memory Retrieval...risk for
the development of pseudomemories increases with the use of hypnosis...
or any similar technique..." (p. 285)
"Self-help Books and Groups...Where
abuse is suspected in the absence of clear memory, a generic book on the
effects of a painful childhood is preferable to a book on signs and symptoms
of sexual abuse...[and for such a patient] a heterogeneous group for general
mental health concerns...rather than a homogeneous abuse-focused one. "
"The Therapist Does Not Recommend Family
Separations, Cut-offs, or Lawsuits... the therapist can assist the
patient to explore options, including the option of family arbitration
and mediation..."(p. 292-293)
Courtois also cautions therapists to use only
non-suggestive, neutral open-ended questions and "practice in ways that
minimize suggestion effects" (p.271-274)
(If she had recommended such guidelines in
her first book, in 1988, and therapists had followed them conscientiously,
then no major false memory problem would ever have arisen.)
excerpt on recovered memory therapy pitfalls
(also appeared in A Feminist Clinician's
Guide to the Memory Debate,
Hypnosis or Guided Imagery...If an abusive
experience is recalled solely through hypnosis or guided imagery questions
will almost certainly be raised about the validity of the recollections...
Survivors' Groups... A potential problem
arises, however, in cases where the client's recollections of abuse are
vague or non-existent. If the client merely suspects sexual abuse
or has at best only a vague sense that abuse occurred, encouragement of
group participation is fraught with problems, because the client may be
subjected to group pressure to reject all doubts and to believe abuse occurred.
The client may be exposed to repeated directives by the group to accept
the group's view of what happened, a process which can be not only suggestive,
but coercive. Group members...can suggest various scenarios to help
the client "remember" more and more.
Books and Articles About Sexual Abuse....A
potential problem arises, however, if clients who have no recollection
of childhood abuse are encouraged by the therapist to read books and articles
about sexual abuse. Such a practice may lead them to identify themselves
as abuse survivors....In addition if the books and articles recommended
contain descriptions of symptoms experienced by abuse survivors, the client's
own report of those symptoms can be questioned as having been suggested
Inferences from Symptoms. It is
questionable for a therapist to tell or suggest to clients who have no
memories of being sexually abused that their symptoms are indicative of
Working to Overcome "Denial."...If a
client is encouraged to believe he or she is "in denial," or is engaging
in "resistance," recollections which occur (or are more firmly believed)
thereafter can be attacked as having been the product of suggestion...
Flashbacks...[Horevitz's warning is
cited that] "intrusive images, flashbacks, and dreams are NOT, subjectively
speaking, memories" (p.117)
from Isaacs' "Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes"
Believe the women. Believe the children. These refrains became the
mantra of the incest movement. While the women's movement would be enormously
successful in turning sexual abuse-including incest-into a major public
issue, women, ironically, would become the chief victims of the hysteria
The obsession with this supposedly rampant sexual abuse played out
in two ways: "Believe the women" became the repressed memory hysteria.
"Believe the children" turned into the daycare hysteria.
At the time of the conference, psychiatric textbooks estimated the
rate of father-daughter incest at one to two for every million women in
the United States. If that figure was accurate, it was not surprising that
incest attracted little public attention. On the other hand, if, in fact,
fathers were sexually abusing millions of daughters, why did no one know
The theory of "repressed memory" provided the answer. A woman was
so traumatized by being molested by her father, the theory said, that she
banished the memory from her conscious mind. Paul McHugh, head of the Department
of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, is skeptical of repressed
memory. McHugh sees the development of the concept as one of the "misadventures"
of the last thirty years that show "the power of cultural fashion to lead
psychiatric thought and practice off in false, even disastrous, directions."
However poorly grounded in science, the theory helped explain why
so few women remembered their incestuous experiences until they entered
therapy. According to the theory, the intact, repressed memory festered
in a special part of the brain producing, as psychiatrist Lenore Terr put
it, "signs and symptoms" that disrupted the woman's life. While Terr and
Herman were important in lending a cloak of medical legitimacy to the idea
of repressed memory, the most influential work was The Courage to Heal:
A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and
Laura Davis, neither of whom had training in psychiatry. Published in 1988,
The Courage to Heal has sold more than 700,000 copies.
The book asked such questions as: Do you have difficulty expressing
your feelings? Problems trusting your intuition? Have an eating disorder?
Feel different from other people? Feel powerless, like a victim? If you
answered "yes" to these or exhibited any of a host of other "symptoms,"
The Courage to Heal said that it was time to consider the possibility
that you had been sexually abused as a child.
Convinced sexual abuse was endemic and seeing such symptoms as "evidence,"
therapists of all types, from psychiatrists on down, set out to "help"
patients unlock their buried memories. They used a variety of methods,
including hypnosis, injections of sodium amytal ("truth serum"), guided
imagery, dream work, participation in "survivor groups," even massage therapy
to recover "body memories" of abuse. Yet as social psychology professor
Richard Ofshe points out in Making Monsters, the scientific grounding
for all this was absent.
Indeed, studies on memory show that intense emotional experiences
are the least likely to be forgotten ...