FMS Foundation Newsletter
Vol 2 No. 4, April 6, 1993
3401 Market Street suite 130, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215-387-1865)
This address and the phone numbers have changed as of July 15, 2000
"Could you have an elephant in the house and not talk about it?" a
mother wrote in response to the reports we have been relaying about
children who have resumed contact with their families but who have
said nothing of the horrible accusations that caused the
break. "Sure," a father replied when he heard this comment, "as long
as someone is around to carry out the scat."
Many of you have written this past month to say that it is helpful
to read about the families in which contact has been resumed. The
letters are about evenly divided between those who say that contact
under any conditions would be acceptable, and those who say it would
be impossible without a retraction. How will families deal with this
We were thinking about this problem yesterday when we received a
call from another young woman who has decided that she had false
memories. This woman heard about FMSF from a radio talk show, and she
said that she and two other women who live in the same small town and
who had gone to the same therapist had all come to the same
conclusion: the horrible memories they had supposedly repressed and
the multiple personalities they had supposedly developed simply didn't
exist. Fifty-three personalities! It all went too far for belief.
We thought of the letters from the parents as this woman spoke of
her feelings of guilt and anger over what she had done to her family
and what had been done to her "in the name of therapy." She said that
trying to restore bonds was the most difficult thing that she has ever
had to do in her life. She was very eager to get in touch with the
growing group of people who have given up "false memories."
There will be at least ten people from this group at the "Memory and
Reality: Emerging Crisis" conference at Valley Forge, April 16-18. We
know that their first-hand accounts will be an important complement to
the research panels. The conference will give us a focus and a solid
foundation from which we can begin to build a body of information to
understand the processes and to help families reconcile.
Much has changed in a year. One year ago in April we were just
starting to look for an office. We were aware of 264 families, we
began to report on the family survey, and we started to get a few
calls from the media. We are now aware of more than 3,100 families and
are busy completing final details for a conference at which media
representatives will be present. This first year has been a time in
which it was necessary to document the fact that a problem exists.
Having done that, our resources must be focused on solving the problem
and understanding how it could have happened. The article by Daniel
Goleman on "Childhood Memory" from the NY Times reprinted with this
newsletter, "Making Monsters" by Richard Ofshe in Society, the
series by Stephanie Salter in the San Francisco Examiner, and others
are evidence of a changed climate and recognition of the issues.
To help us in our goal, we are honored to announce several additions
to our prestigious Scientific and Professional Advisory Board. They
are listed in the masthead which we have been persuaded should be a
regular part of this newsletter. Each additional formal step that we
take with the FMSF newsletter brings with it some sadness because it
acknowledges that this problem will not be solved as quickly as we
want. Working with the professional community, however, we can solve
the problem and bring something constructive from the devastating
personal tragedy. Thank you for your support.
| "But it seems unfair that while the parents of children who cut |
| off all ties with their natural families under the influence of |
| cults such as the Moonies are listened to with sympathy and |
| understanding, the world tends to back away from the man accused |
| of abuse by an adult child who has "remembered" under the |
| influence of therapy, however wild, hysterical and unsubstantiated |
| the allegations may be." |
| Claudia Fitzherbert |
| "A child's 'memories' -- and a father's nightmare" |
| The Sunday Telegraph, March 7, 1993 |
| Great Britain. |
CASE OF THE MISSING THERAPIST
A Father asks if anybody has seen the missing therapist? You know,
the one who told his daughter that her PMS was a sign that he and her
mother had done horrible things to her when she was a baby; the one
who hides under a cloak of professional confidentiality; the one who
is responsible for their not seeing their grandchildren for three
years; the one who told their child that seeking revenge was the way
to relieve the stress in her marriage; the one whose advice has
separated them from the most precious relationship they have -- parent
Have you had any experience that might aid others in penetrating the
screen of "professional confidentiality?" Do you know ways of
determining who this person might be when we parents have no clue?
Please write to FMSF. We need to compile a plan that will enable us to
be effectively proactive in our efforts to unite our families.
One father told us that he was appalled when he finally tracked down
the person his daughter was seeing and learned that her
"qualifications" consisted of a two-year degree in bookkeeping. "No
wonder my daughter didn't want me to meet this person! No wonder the
therapist was hiding," he said.
He became so incensed that he started picketing the clinic that
employs this therapist. He said that he learned that clinics often
employ a psychologist or psychiatrist who supervises unlicensed
therapists. Only licensed therapists can receive payment from
insurance companies, however, the patient may never see the person who
signs the insurance forms.
WHAT IS RESPONSIBLE THERAPY?
We paid $140 to speak with a psychiatrist for 50 minutes last
month. She told us that most of her clients were survivors of
abuse. She said that she made no judgments about the facts but kept
referring to the victim and perpetrator. When we asked her if she ever
checked the medical records of her clients to ascertain the historical
accuracy of the stories, she answered that she didn't have time to
read records. Then she complained that we were making her feel
| "Can you imagine a responsible oncologist removing a patient's |
| limb or organ without first performing a biopsy and x-ray scan? |
| What would you think if she said, 'If patients suffer with |
| physical discomfort or pain and/or feel they may have cancer due |
| to a vaguely suspected early-childhood injury (trauma), then they |
| should believe that they do have cancer and it was probably caused |
| by the injury.'" |
| "Toxic Psychotherapy" A Dad |
We read another therapy book this month: Repressed Memories: A
Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse, by Renee Fredrickson (Simon &
Schuster, 1992, $10.00). We urge concerned people to read this book to
gain an understanding of the nature of "repressed memory therapy." The
author holds a Ph.D. in psychology and this book is currently being
marketed actively. It is recommended by many therapists.
The Code of Ethics of Psychologists states that psychologists will
use scientific information in their practice. It also says that they
will not harm others in the course of their practice. We thought about
these things as we read.
We wondered, for example, where the scientific studies are that
support the following statements:
If you remember almost nothing or very little of your childhood, or if
you cannot remember a period of time, such as between the ages of ten
and fourteen, you have repressed memories. (p46)
Most people who have repressed memories are not odd or weird. As a
matter of fact, most are models of normalcy. This form of amnesia
lurks in the background of millions of ordinary, high-functioning
Like so many family issues, the repression of memories runs in
families. If you have repressed memories of abuse, it is very likely
that one or both of your parents do too. (p57).
Dissociation always occurs during abuse... (p59)
Abusers are usually dissociated during the abuse, too. (p60)
Sexual abuse is always intergenerational,... (p84).
If your memories are unusually grisly or bizarre, you may be a
survivor of ritual abuse...Ritual abusers combine sadism with
intelligence. Some of the deceptions they devise are masquerading as
aliens or famous people and then committing acts of abuse, staging a
mock death of some one who later is clearly alive,... (pp164-165)
Our physical bodies always remember sexual abuse, just as our feelings
and our minds do. (p93)
Are we the only ones who see suggestion in the following?
Let yourself know what the most hopeless or shameful problem in your
life is. Try saying to yourself three or four times a day for one
week, "I believe this problem is about my repressed memories of
abuse." After a week, write down or talk over with a friend how you
see the problem now. Speculate on how it may relate to how you were
Flashbacks are often triggered by graphic descriptions of someone
else's abuse, especially if the other person is going through a very
emotional retelling of an abusive incident. (p45)
You are not trying to stimulate your recall memories. Instead, you
need to let yourself imagine or picture what might have happened to
Occasionally you may need a small verbal push to get started. Your
guide may suggest some action that seems to arise naturally from the
image you are picturing. (p112).
Leading questions are also avoided... This helps allay the inevitable
belief that your guide is just putting the ideas in your head. (p113).
You will struggle at first to believe what you are remembering, but
your healing will take place as you recover your memories. (p25)
Gradually, Carolyn came to believe that she had been sexually abused
and that her father was her abuser. Her anger and grief were
enormous. For months she suffered emotionally, physically, and
spiritually. She had crying jags, eating binges, suicidal feelings,
and bouts of depression. (p27)
" I never felt like my problems were connected to my past, and, to be
honest, they still don't seem related," Carolyn said. (p28).
| How do you apologize to a dead mother or father? |
| Once you make the decision to go ahead, the actual disclosure is |
| an empowering experience. Telling the people in your family how |
| you were hurt is the most expedient form of healing. |
| Avoid being tentative about your repressed memories. Do not just |
| tell them; express them as truth. If months or years down the |
| road, you find you are mistaken about details, you can always |
| apologize and set the record straight. |
| You cannot wait until you are doubt-free to disclose to your |
| family. This may never happen.( pp203 -204) |
| Renee Fredrickson (1992) |
| Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse |
| Simon & Schuster |
MORE ON VICTIMS COMPENSATION FUNDS
In the February Newsletter we printed some statistics from the state
of Washington about payments from their Crime Victims Compensation
Fund. The huge discrepancy between payments to a victim of a recent
sexual assault ($1,552 outside home; $1,997 in home) as opposed to a
repressed memory crime ($9,127) was disturbing. An official from
Washington State Victims Compensation Fund has written to tell us that
"the figures have changed pretty dramatically. At present, the average
repressed memory claim is around $5,300, and some of the other claim
averages have risen." Cost control measures required by the Department
of Labor and Industries are the reason for the change.
Even with the revised data, repressed memory cases awards appear to
be twice as much as others and so these figures still raise many
questions for us. We have learned that in the state of California, a
victim of a crime is eligible for up to $46,000 for compensation. We
learned in that in California as in Washington, payments for sexual
assault represent 45-50% of the total awards and that 90% of that
money goes directly to therapists. We were told that no police report
is necessary for someone to be eligible for funds for victims of
"repressed memories." Diagnosis by a therapist validates this crime.
Sexual assault of any kind is a terrible crime, whether for children
or for adults, and victims deserve help. What comes into question is
the disproportionate amount of money going to the therapists of
"repressed memory" crime victims as opposed to "real-time" victims
which children must always be. Why? What is going on?
Note the following figures from the National Association for the
Prevention of Child Abuse (1992), "The Many Faces of Child Abuse"
reprinted in Congressional Quarterly Researcher, January 15, 1993.
Sexual assault 15% of abuse cases
Physical assault 28%
What is going on? We ask our readers to help us find out more about
Crime Victims Compensation Fund payments in your state. Since payments
to crime victims are funded through tax money, they should be open to
scrutiny. Here are some questions to ask:
What percentage of the crimes in your state are classified as sexual
What percentage of the payments of the Crime Victims Compensation
Fund are awarded to victims of sexual assaults? to other categories?
What percentage of the Sexual Assaults payments are for (1) assaults
outside the home; (2) assaults in the home; (3) repressed memories.
How are such claims validated? Are police reports required or is a
therapist report sufficient?
We recommend working through the FMSF liaison in your state so that
work is not duplicated. We are curious to learn what you find out
about this matter.
| "I feel like I've lost a child and I'm grieving, but I can never |
| get through the stages. I know what it is like to lose a child |
| because I did lose a three-year old toddler. With my daughter, it |
| is a never- ending process." |
| A Mother |
The mail and phone calls that we receive are overwhelmingly
positive. In order fully to understand how a phenomenon such as FMS
can hold such sway we need to document and to study the comments and
explanations of those who are disturbed by the Foundation.
American Psychological Society Letter. The American Psychological
Society Observer did not print the response we wrote to the APS
members who are upset with the name of the False Memory Syndrome
Foundation. Perhaps they will next month.
We wrote personally to Roger Shepard and Paul Ekman and received a
most courteous reply from the latter expressing concern about our use
of "syndrome." This was our response:
Thank you for your prompt and informative response to my letter to
you about the name of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. I
appreciate the friendly and supportive nature of your comments.
We understand all too well the problems that can be tied to the name
of the Foundation, but we think that the word "syndrome" is
appropriate for several reasons. The term "syndrome" means a
collection of reproducible features that derive from some common
cause. In FMS, we recognize a constellation of emotions, behaviors,
and responses to the environment that are remarkable similar from one
patient to another and derive from an imagined event: i.e., a false
memory of sex abuse, of alien abduction, of past lives, or of satanic
cult experience. This collection of features tends to run a
particular course both in its development and in its dissolution. You
suggest that we emphasize the dispute in diagnosis but that speaks to
differentiation. We wish to emphasize the existence of a condition
that needs to be considered and then confirmed or rejected when
further information emerges. For that aim, the term "false memory
syndrome" is satisfactory.
To your other point: Many psychological syndromes are not
pathological but psychologically generated from normal even though
distressing life circumstances, such as anxiety syndrome or depressive
Finally, your term "disputed memory problem": the dispute is a
problem of the involved group, not just the patient; the syndrome on
the other hand describes the patient's condition, the constellation of
symptoms and their course.
I am enclosing a preliminary program for a conference that we will
be holding in April. Perhaps you will be interested in attending.
Again, I thank you for your concerned and supportive letter.
Readers who are interested in the legal considerations of
"psychological syndromes," as a follow up to the points made by Dr.
Ekman, may wish to read "Expert testimony describing psychological
syndromes" (1993), by John E.B. Myers in the Pacific Law Journal Vol
24. Myers notes the confusion that has arisen in court cases over such
terms as "rape trauma syndrome," or "child sexual abuse accommodation
syndrome" which do not have diagnostic value with "battered child
syndrome" that can be used for diagnosis.
Kathy Pezdek, Ph.D., a psychologist, wrote in The Chorus V(1) (The
newsletter of Victims Of Incest Can Emerge Survivors) that "Currently,
expert testimony involving reference to 'false memory syndrome' does
not satisfy the 'general acceptance' of the Frye test" and "there is
no such thing as 'false memory syndrome' because a 'search of the
PsycLit database (January 1974-September 1992) yielded zero references
citing 'false memory syndrome'." Of course she is correct since the
term has been used only for one year. "Rape trauma syndrome" is a term
that started in a similar fashion.
The admissibility of scientific expert testimony has traditionally
been determined by the Frye test which remains the law in many
states. The Frye test holds that scientific evidence, to be allowed in
expert testimony, must have general acceptance in the relevant
scientific community. In recent years, in cases that have nothing to
do with childhood sex abuse, this test has come under criticism
because it leads to the exclusion of scientific evidence that could
assist the trier of fact. It is one of the very many interesting legal
aspects to the "repressed memory therapy" legal ramifications.
Victims Of Incest Can Emerge Survivors. The newsletter Of Victims of
Incest Can Emerge Survivors (VOICES) The Chorus, in several recent
issues, has printed their readers' responses to FMSF. The tenor of the
"It is obvious to me that the growing pressure for redressing the
wrongs of the past is colliding head on with the people who populated
our past, those who are actively engaging in the torture of children
today.."V 4 (4)
"I believe this organization, which I feel had to be created by
perpetrators, will reverse the trend of breaking the silence and send
survivors, such as myself, back into a life of repression, shame, and
fear."V 4 (4)
"The FMS Foundation sounds like a bunch of abusive parents/relatives
who brain-washed their abused children to join this organization in
the attempt to solidify the family's denial." V 5 (1)
"Clearly, a frightening momentum is being built by abusers to
protect themselves and combat the truth." V 5 (1)
"Abusers -- those who wish to keep the secret will be the first in
line. They'll love it!" V 5 (1)
Ellen Bass as quoted in "A world I never knew," San Francisco
Examiner, April 4, 1993, says that FMSF is "a sleazily run"
organization and an example of the "backlash" against a strengthening
incest survivor movement."
Dr. Judith Herman expressed concern about FMSF in a letter to the
magazine Mother Jones March/April, 1993. She wrote in response to the
article "Doors of Memory" by Ethan Watters and said the article was
"inspired by a well-funded organization called the False Memory
Syndrome Foundation. Despite its scientific sounding title, this is
not a research group. In fact, there is no such thing as 'False Memory
Syndrome.' FMSF is an advocacy group for people whose children have
accused them of sexual abuse." Indeed, when invited to speak at the
Memory and Reality Conference, Dr. Herman declined saying she would
not speak to an advocacy group.
Dr. Herman is quoted in "A world I never knew," by Stephanie Salter,
San Francisco Examiner, April 4, 1993. "Using what she said is a
proven standard for measuring false allegations of child sexual abuse,
Herman estimated that, at best, only 10 percent of the FMSF parents
could possibly be innocent." We are sorry that Dr. Herman chose not to
attend the FMSF conference to hear the research papers that relate to
FMS and to present her own research on repressed memories.
We would like to know how Dr. Herman knows that 10% of FMSF families
are innocent since we cannot tell the truth or falsity of any story
even though we have interviewed families, have collected lie detector
reports, have seen court transcripts. How will these issues be
resolved if people such as Dr. Herman or the readers of The Chorus who
claim to know how to tell the truth or falsity of the stories told to
FMSF do not share their information with us?
Dr. Richard Kluft is quoted in the March issue of Clinical
Psychiatry News. "Dr. Kluft summarized the foundation's stance as 'if
you don't know it all along, it ain't so,' which he disparaged as
'intellectual know-nothingism.' He accused the organization of making
'an excessively militant attack against therapists and patients that
hasn't done much good. If anything, it's confused and upset people'."
According to Kluft. 'In situations where it's a parent's word
against an adult daughter's, it may be easier to believe the adult who
appears to be a normal, upstanding citizen, compared with a distraught
woman in therapy. 'Perpetrators almost always look better than victims
because they are the ones dishing it out, not the ones who are taking
it,' he said."
The article also reported that "He 'would like to think' that future
research could resolve some of the unanswered questions, but his 'best
guess' is that there will always be uncertainty about whether even the
best experimental conditions are comparable to real-life experience."
Dr. Kluft said that the FMS Foundation's stance is one of
"intellectual know-nothingism." We would like to ask him what he means
by such a phrase. We would like to ask him if he is referring to the
19th century political movement that put the phrase "know-nothing"
into the language because of their members' characteristic refusal to
answer questions. Actually, we would like to ask him all sorts of
things, but we have had no luck in that task. Following our first
attempt at a conversation last year, we sent him the following list of
1) You stated that the FBI report by Kenneth Lanning on satanic
ritual abuse was a "bullshit cover up" in the tradition of J.Edgar
Hoover's denial of the American Mafia. Since there are those who
believe that Hoover had entered an alliance with the Sicilian Mafia
during WWII, are you suggesting a similar alliance between the present
FBI and satanists? Given the potential of such an alliance, would you
be reluctant to join in a call for a Congressional investigation of
such a possibility? If people's repressed memories uncovered with the
help of therapists about ritual murders are to be taken seriously and
if you are serious that the FBI is engaged in a cover up (for whatever
reason) then a grave situation exists that surely demands attention at
the highest level. One would assume that professional ethics would
necessitate some effort in that direction.
2) You stated that the efficacy of memories from the age of 6 months
is scientifically sound. Could you refer us to studies published to
that effect? You used the phrase "somatic memories" to account for
such early memories. Could you refer us to a scientific reference for
3) You stated that in many cases you had verified repressed memories
of childhood sexual abuse. The FMS Foundation has been attempting to
document all such verifications. Is there anything on record which you
would be willing to share with us?
4) You stated that the recent article that appeared in Child Abuse &
Neglect, "A Review of the Long-term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse" by
Beitchman, Zucker, Hood, daCosta, Akman and Cassavia must be "wrong."
Now that you have had time to read the paper could you tell us how it
5) You said that the FMS Foundation would loose all credibility if
we viewed as significant that certain therapists specialize in
bringing forth repressed memories of incest. In this respect you found
it entirely proper that some therapists specialize in bringing forth
repressed memories of being abused by extra-terrestrials. Our concern,
of course, is that the methods used for recovering these memories seem
remarkably similar. It is your position that the scientific basis of
psychiatry has vastly improved since the era of frontal lobotomies.
Could you show us where to find the studies that verify these methods
for bringing forth repressed memories? In particular, is there a
measurable difference between the methods used for incest and the
other popular varieties of repressed memories such as extra-
terrestrials, past lives and ritualized murders?
Aside from receiving confirmation from his office that the list of
questions was received, we have heard no reply. What was that phrase?
Steven Landman, Ph.D. of the University of Michigan invited us to
speak at a conference to be held in August, but several weeks later he
withdrew the invitation. He said that the invitation had been given
because he was initially impressed with the Advisory Board, but
neither Dr. Loftus nor Dr. Orne could attend. After reading the FMSF
literature more carefully, however, he concluded that we suggest that
childhood sexual abuse is relatively rare and the evidence presented
for this position is anecdotal. He chides FMSF for not reporting what
percent of reports we consider to be actual abuse and what to be
false. He said that the use of scientists on the advisory board
presents a facade of scientific respectability to disguise a bias. He
also complained that some of the articles in the newsletters made
leaps of logic and came to conclusions that were not warranted by the
content of the articles.
We have asked Dr. Landman to give us examples from the newsletters
where we have said that childhood sexual abuse is relatively rare. We
have also asked for the specifics of the "leaps of logic." We are
waiting for a reply.
| "From 1920-71, 12 cases of multiple personality disorder were |
| reported in psychotherapy literature. In the 1980's alone, more |
| than 20,000 people were diagnosed with MPD." |
| Stephanie Salter |
| "A world I never knew," San Francisco Examiner, April 4, 1993 |
THOUGHTS ON SEX ABUSE STATISTICS
Dr. Landman's comments set us thinking once again about the
frequency of childhood sexual abuse. Let there be no question: even
one case of abuse is one case too many. We don't know the rate for
either true or false accusations. We are aware of the reported figures
and the huge discrepancies in the data depending on who is conducting
the survey. We reported a study last month that pointed out the
importance of the context in which accusations arise noting that in
custody battles the rate of false accusations could be as high as 50%.
When we see a range in studies from 6% to 62% as reported by the
National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, we wonder who does
know the rate. Unfortunately in the minds of some people, the very
fact that we even question any statistic about child sexual abuse
seems to label us as being biased and against sex abuse victims. It is
clearly not politically correct to question anything that pertains to
child sexual abuse or women who say they are survivors of it but who
never remembered it until they were in therapy. It is politically
incorrect to question the notion that a person may have "repressed"
memories of repeated events taking place over decades. It is
politically incorrect to question the accuracy of memories of someone
who claims memories from infancy. We would counter that when people
who question -- instead of being given the scientific evidence
requested -- are labeled "being against" then we are dealing with
cult-like thinking. Since when does "questioning" imply being against
rather than caring?
We ask -- we do not know, we do not accuse -- if the statistics
about the frequency of childhood sexual abuse could have possibly
undergone the same process that characterized the statistics on
missing children in the 1980's. Several horrendous incidents
(disappearance of Etan Patz, murder of Adam Walsh) received intense
media coverage and made stranger abductions a cause. Parents were
advised to put together a file for identification of their child
(e.g., dental records, photographs) in case he or she were abducted by
a stranger. Fifty-thousand children a year were claimed to be abducted
by strangers. According to Joel Best in "Missing children, misleading
statistics," The Public Interest, (Summer 1988) in 1987 one safety
guide even suggested that 400,000 children were annually abducted.
When the data were examined, the number never even approached
50,000. The best evidence is that somewhere between 550 and 1,110
stranger abductions actually took place each year. Why the
astronomical difference in statistics?
Best notes that the original high estimates "reflect the typical
manner in which neglected social problems gain recognition: activists
call our attention to them. One feature of past neglect is the absence
of official statistics -- no one has been charged with keeping track
of the phenomenon. Activists inevitably present themselves as
knowledgeable enough about some social condition to bring it to our
attention. With no official statistics available, this putative
knowledge seems to give the crusaders' estimates the weight of
authority. The activitists seek to emphasize the problem's magnitude
and importance; they have nothing to lose by providing big numbers.
"There is a rule of thumb that the more serious the crime, the less
common it is. But activists are aware of the advantages of typifying a
problem by drawing their examples from the most serious cases.
"Activists use statistics to persuade; but these numbers must be
understood for what they are -- part of the rhetoric of social
problems promotion. Statistics are products of social processes and
they can have social consequences. When trying to understand social
problems, we need figures we can count on, but we especially need to
know what it is we're counting."
We know child abuse exists. This writer has worked with children who
were sexually abused; we have worked with homeless children and
children who had been beaten; we have had hungry children in our
classroom; we have dealt with society's current child-abuse horror:
children who were partially paralyzed because they had been shot in
crossfire in inner-city environments. Our concern is that inflated
statistics will trivialize the issue and that we as a culture lose our
perspective and our will to make the social changes that can most
readily and most effectively reduce all forms of child abuse.
We do not know the figures and ask again who does. Given that we
have had a national mandate for over a decade to reduce child sexual
abuse, given that every person who works with children has been given
special training to be alert for signs of abuse, given that people who
work with children have been told that they will be legally punished
if they do not report a "suspicion" and that there will be no
punishment if they make a false accusation, we would say that the
"cards have been stacked" in favor of reporting. We suggest that the
statistics currently being collected should be considered and that
child advocates should insist that data collection methods be made
We dare to question the distribution of resources. Money that is
going to therapists who are helping adults find memories of events
they do not remember and which may not have happened such as space
alien abduction or satanic conspiracies or past lives -- because that
is the supposed cause of their unhappiness rather than the day-to-day
events of their present lives -- is money that is not going to
children now to ensure that they have enough to eat or good medical
care. That is why we question the statistics.
| Where do 3,119 families live? - April 4, 93 |
| AK(8) AL(8) AR(8) AZ(100) CA(530) CO(49) CT(39) DE(7) |
| FL(131) GA(36) HI(5) IA(20) ID(17) IL(114) IN(25) KS(34) |
| KY(12) LA(12) MA(87) MD(46) ME(13) MI(95) MN(63) MO(67) |
| MS(2) MT(17) NC(33) ND(3) NE(15) NH(9) NJ(89) NM(21) |
| NV(16) NY(134) OH(113) OK(25) OR(58) PA(185) RI(7) SC(12) |
| SD(9) TN(16) TX(107) UT(139) VA(43) VT(12) WA(164) WI(118) |
| WY(5) DC(6) VI(1) Canada - AB(16) BC(36) MB(37) NS(6) |
| ON(135) PQ(4) SK(7) PE(1) England(6) France(2) Ireland(1) |
| Israel(2) Germany(1) Australia (1) |
| Each family represents 4 to 10 people affected. |
The Souza sentencing has been postponed until May 10. The Souza's
are grandparents in their 60s, convicted by a judge in a criminal
trial in MA of sexually abusing their grandchildren. The accusations
arose after a daughter in therapy read the book Courage to Heal , and
had a dream that her parents abused her. The daughter warned her
former sister-in-law to keep her children away from the grandparents.
One thing led to another and the Souza's were convicted of, among
other things, keeping the grandchildren in a cage in the basement. As
an example of the way the case appears to have been handled, no one
ever went to the house to look for this cage.
When we read "Sibling Story" later in this issue we felt that we had
a better understanding of the panic and hysteria that can occur in a
"not perfect" but "normal" family after a sex abuse accusation is
KELLY MICHAELS RELEASED
After five years in prison in NJ, 31-year old nursery school teacher
Michaels was released. The appeals panel found the original trial had
compromised impartiality when the judge held the children on his lap
and defense could not examine them. They also took issue with
testimony that Sex Abuse Accomodation Syndrome was a fact rather than
We are not counselors and we do not offer advice. We can, however,
report what other people have told us they have found helpful in
dealing with the bizarre situations in which so many people find
Q: Is it ever recommended to return the 'kids' letters as they do
ours? If not, why not?
A: No one has recommended returning the children's letters as they
have returned letters. Why? Because the children appear to have had
cult-like type of mind control experience, and the best way out of
that is a wedge into reality. Returning letters could just make it
easier for children to remain in their closed system.
Q: Has anyone confessed, even though innocent, either out of
desperation or to see whether in fact the forgiveness is really there?
A: Yes, we have a few stories of people who confessed either from
pressure or emotional blackmail. One mother who confessed and sided
with her daughter later changed her mind when the accusations grew to
gigantic proportions of ritual abuse. We have been told that some
parents are paying money in response to blackmail letters threatening
public exposure and this could be interpreted as confession.
Q: In what ways does the professional, proper treatment of true abuse
victims differ from the Courage to Heal route?
A: There is a task force of the American Psychological Association
looking into this. Examination of standard works on the subject and
personal opinions of some professionals indicate that the course of
treatment recommended by the Courage to Heal and other books such as
the one by Fredrickson from which we printed excerpts in this
newsletter, are not considered standard. Since other professionals
such as Dr. Ekman, Dr. Kluft, Dr. Landman, Dr. Herman and the people
who signed the letter that appeared in the American Psychological
Society's Observer complain about FMSF and not about techniques
espoused by Fredrickson or Bass and Davis, however, we must assume
that they do are not against this course of therapy.
Q: What happens if a parent simply shows up at the door -- especially
if from a long distance?
A: We have had a number of instances of restraining orders being
placed on parents when they just showed up at the door. On the other
hand, a father came from a western state to visit his daughter in an
eastern state whom he had not seen for several years. He came on her
birthday unannounced. She hugged him and invited him to dinner. Her
husband said that this warm reception would not have happened a few
months earlier. That's all we know at this time.
Q: Is it advised to try to reach the kid-in-law via his parents,
A: Parents have told us that they sometimes feel that they have made
contact through reaching in-laws. They usually say, "What have you got
to lose?" Weigh the pros and cons. Can it do harm? Other parents told
us that in-laws were afraid to get involved and to loose rights to
A SISTER'S STORY
How can families in which all the members describe relationships as
having been close simply disintegrate? The following story gives
remarkable insight into the panic, the fears and the thinking
processes of a sister following an accusation.
I am a sibling. My sister who is five years older than I am has a
history of emotional problems. She tried to kill herself about fifteen
years ago. She has been going to therapists or psychiatrists for as
long as I can remember.
My first experience with a therapist was when I went with her about
a year ago. This came about after she told me she was having
flashbacks of being sexually molested and raped when she was a little
girl. She was suicidal. I left my family for a week and traveled
across the country to see her. I didn't want to later regret not
having gone to try and help her. I knew that when I arrived she would
drop the bombshell. She said it was our father.
At this time, she had a list in front of her of what would be
helpful things I could say or do and what I shouldn't in order not to
upset her any further. At this point I was going along with her and
acting as if I believed what she was telling me. I wanted to reassure
her that I was taking what she said very seriously and believed
her. That was one of the biggest mistakes I've made in my life.
My sister gave me The Courage to Heal to read. During the week I was
there I spent four hours with her and her therapist. In an off way, it
was exciting. I had never experienced anything like this before. For
every skeptical question I had, there was always an answer. I felt I
was becoming a part of something. When I walked down the street, I
wondered how many of the women I passed had been sexually abused as
children and had or hadn't remembered yet, since the statistics were
so high. When I mentioned this to the therapist she said "Welcome to
the club." I started to believe it.
When I came home, my thoughts were on my five-year old daughter. If
my father had done it to my sister, maybe he's been doing it to
her. After all, from what I had read and heard, a person like this
never changes. Even at 70 years old.
Without intentionally doing so, I questioned my daughter about her
grandpop after she told me she was anxious to see him. This was two
days after I got home. My radar went up and I felt I had to be careful
not to close my eyes to something that may have happened. I questioned
her. Why did she want to see grandpop! More questions and
answers. Eventually she told me something that was shocking. I
panicked and within 2 days had her at a children's therapist. My
sister and her therapist had told me that this type of specialist
existed. Someone that was an expert in determining whether a child had
been sexually abused or not. My husband and I reluctantly took our
daughter to this woman. Within 45 minutes she told us that something
definitely did happen with my daughter and her grandpop. She was sure.
The sequence of events that followed was a nightmare I'd like to
forget. I went to another children's therapist for a second opinion. I
told her what my daughter had said and about my sister. She had no
doubt that it was true. She said you have to believe the child. Why
would she make it up. I was shocked. I now had two experts telling me
the same thing. My doubts about what my father had done to my daughter
came from my being in denial. A lot of mothers do that. I refused to
be like them. I would be strong and protect my little girl. When I
talked to my sister's therapist on the phone she said she was really
proud of me. Not every mother would have moved so quickly and handled
the situation as well as I had.
I was still very confused. In all this time, my daughter never
really said anything concrete. Even though she changed her story and
denied anything happened, her therapist reassured me this was very
common. I then read in a current publication about children revealing
their abuse, that many if not most say things like "I was only
kidding" that confirmed it. It doesn't mean nothing happened to
them. They are also in denial and want to forget the episodes.
I refused to talk to my father. I was terrified of him both verbally
and physically for the first time in my life. I was completely
paranoid. My mother pleaded with me to go and talk to another
doctor. I consented but not very much he said meant anything to me at
the time. Not until many months later would I think back on our
meeting and recall something he said that made a lot of sense. He said
that sometimes children can get caught up in a lie and it can have a
snowball effect. It keeps on building and they can't find a way to get
out of it.
About five months after my trip out west, something unexpected
happened. All that time, I had very little or no communication with my
parents. Before all of this, it was not uncommon for me to speak to my
mother three or four times a day. We were very much a part of each
others lives. She and my father both were extremely generous and
loving grandparents to my children. My daughter had been to four
sessions with her therapist. Sometimes I was in the room with her. At
the fourth and last session I felt very uncomfortable. She was
badgering my daughter and putting words in her mouth. I didn't like
it. I have this on videotape and after watching it later was sure I
didn't like what I saw. The therapist told me my daughter was tough. I
assumed that meant she was difficult to break her, to get her to tell
exactly what happened. Later I realized this was because nothing did
Then I planned a session with my mother to meet my daughter's
therapist. Watching this woman try to explain to my mother about my
daughter made me lose a lot of confidence in her. She was not prepared
and some of the things she said sounded ridiculous to me. My mother's
questions were rational; her answers were irrational. This is when my
mind began to open. Shortly after that I came across one of the first
newsletters FMSF had written. My mother had sent it to me four months
earlier. It didn't make any sense to me at that time. When I read it
again this time, I couldn't believe they were the same words. It
suddenly made all the sense in the world. You are innocent until
The real turning point came when I said I wanted to check out an
FMSF meeting. I felt strongly about getting my parents back in my life
and working through this even if my father was guilty. The emotional
pain I felt on a daily basis was beginning to be intolerable. My
parents were out of town for this meeting. I went alone. I remember
walking outside on a beautiful spring day. After being with these
people and listening to them talk about their stories and concerns, I
suddenly felt I had an answer. This didn't necessarily have had to
have happened to my sister or my daughter. It was possible my father
was just one of these unlucky men that had their lives blown apart
because of a phenomenon. A tremendous feeling of relief came over
me. I took the first really deep breath in five months and was filled
with a sense of hope.
Looking back, I can see I was in such a state of emotional turmoil
and confusion it had to be affecting my daughter. I kept reading signs
into everything she said and did. It is still difficult for me to
believe that what I considered to be careful non-leading questions
were the source of this mess. But that is the reality. It takes an
unbelievable amount of skill and experience to discuss something like
this with a five year old child and get accurate results.
At this point, I believe my mother and I have our relationship back.
If we were able to survive this past year and mend our emotional
wounds, we can survive anything. There is hope for everyone reading
this. Your relationships are not necessarily lost forever. You just
both have to want it. At the end of the movie, "The Prince of Tides"
there is a line that has a lot of meaning for me. "There is no crime
in a family that can't be forgiven."
My father is back to seeing his grandchildren and enjoying them. The
time we lost with each other will never be replaced but I can't dwell
on that. Right now I'm thinking about the present and the future and
how I'm going to make the best of the time we have left together.
Unfortunately my sister is more convinced than ever that her
memories are accurate. It's very difficult for us to have a
relationship. I will never give up hope for her but at this point I
realize it is beyond my capability to lead her to recovery. Another
unfortunate outcome of this tragedy has been on the relationship
between my father and my brother. When my brother heard of my sister's
accusations, he completely disbelieved it. But when I told him about
his niece, my brother was convinced although some doubts were always
in his mind. When my father was confronted by my sister and myself, my
brother was present and said something very hurtful to my father. It
hurt him so deeply that he has not talked to my brother since. My
brother seems to still be unsure as to his guilt or innocence despite
what I have told him. Their relationship seems to be over permanently
and the whole family loses.
P.S. Since I finished writing this a few weeks ago, we've had a
breakthrough regarding my father and brother. They met and spoke to
each other and my father now agrees to be together with him at family
functions and he is welcome in my father's house. It's a beginning and
I'm very hopeful for their relationship to mend.
| "How careful we are to take our cars to the best mechanic and how |
| we get two or three opinions if we need even minor surgery. But |
| when it comes to our minds, we seem to trust anyone!" |
| A Parent |
So many people have requested information about filing complaints in
California that contacts there have asked us to make the information
available through the newsletter.
They say, "It is very important that you report your complaints
about the mental health 'professional' that you believe has harmed
your family. The licensing boards are consumer boards that are
designed to protect the consumer, although, of course, many of you
have already been told that you are not the patient, thus, not the
consumer. You should still lodge your complaints, because they need to
know the EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM, and then, it is up to them to decide
whether action should be taken. You can't lose anything by reporting
legitimate complaints; you can lose by not reporting.
"In addition, you have the right to complain to the professional
associations whose members may well be violating their ethics codes.
There is another viable avenue you have for reporting your complaints.
That is the VICTIMS OF CRIME PROGRAM (VICTIM'S WITNESS). This program
funds the victims and witnesses of violent crimes. The person who
comes to believe that she has recovered memories of childhood abuse
becomes eligible for these funds, should she have no insurance or
funds to pay for treatment. In California, the amount allowed for
medical and psychological treatment is $46,000. That is quite a sum
for treatment and possibly a motive for a therapist to help a client
recover memories of abuse.
The more complaints agencies receive, the more likely that they will
make an investigation.
Following is a list of places to report in California.
VICTIMS OF CRIME PROGRAM - LOUIS RICO -
800-777-9229 or write to him at
Victim's of Crime Program
State Board of Controls
P.O. Box 3036
Sacramento, CA 95812-3036
BOARD OF BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE EXAMINERS (BBSE) (MFCC's & Social Workers)
400 R. St. Suite 3150
Sacramento, CA 95814-6240
Attn. Kathleen Callanan, Executive Officer
MEDICAL BOARD OF CALIFORNIA (Psychiatrists)
1426 Howe Avenue. Suite 54
Sacramento, CA 95825-3236
Attn. Lynn Thornton - Complaint Unit
Complaint Hot Line 800-633-2322
CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPISTS
3465 Camino Del Rio South, Suite 350
San Diego,, CA 92108-3939
(Local branches should be available in phone directories)
AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
750 First Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL WORKERS
750 First Street NE
Washington DC 20002
AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION
1400 K St NW
Washington, DC 20005
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPISTS
1100 17th Street NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
I am writing to say thanks for throwing a cold glass of water on
me. Let me explain. You may remember me. I was the one at the meeting
who asked what you were doing to inform insurance companies and
corporate benefits directors of the millions they are paying out for
fraud. Your response was something to the effect, "What do you mean
me? It's we. It's us."
You sure shocked me off my position, somewhere between "this isn't
happening to my family," "I can't deal with this anymore" and "What
are the experts doing about this nightmare?" I will take
responsibility now to communicate with anyone willing to listen
because if I don't, I will never realize my dream of reuniting with my
Generally people believe that evidence deteriorates over time. In the
FMS phenomenon, we are told that the evidence improves with time.
MEETINGS / NOTICES
Professionals and Parents in Support of the FMS Foundation
To place a notice in this column in May, please be sure that we
receive the information in writing by the 25th of April.
Contact your state liaison to find out about meetings in your
area. Not all meetings are listed.
May 8, 1993
For information contact Jim 602- 860-8981.
MICHIGAN The Michigan PFA Information Newsletter P.O. Box 15044 Ann
Arbor, MI 48106 313-461-6213 Notices about meetings and other
state-related topics appear in this newsletter.
Second Saturday of each month Memory and Reality Conference will
replace regular meeting
There are now 7 groups meeting in this state
San Diego area
Sunday May 2, 1993
1:00 - 4:00
Catamarran Resort Hotel
399 Mission Blvd, Mission Beach,
Call 619-745-8514 for details
Greater Los Angeles
Meets regularly every other Monday, 7:30 P.M.
Call Marilyn 909-985-7980 for details
Special request to all Kansans and Missourians "We need your help to
Meetings every second Sunday of the month.
For details call Pat at 913-238-2447 or Jan 816-276-8964
May 15, 1993 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Guest, Pamela Freyd
Call Terry or Colette 507-642-3630 for details
FMS FOUNDATION CONFERENCE
April 16-18, 1993
Video and audio tapes of the Conference will be available through
Aaron Video. Estimated cost $22 per 2-hour panel. Details will be
available after the conference. The FMSF Newsletter is published 10
times each year. The Newsletter is sent to members of the FMS
Foundation. Others wishing to continue to receive the newsletter may
send $20.00 for a 1993 subscription.
Pamela Freyd, Ph.D.
3401 Market Street, Suite 130
This address and the phone numbers have changed as of July 15, 2000
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3315
FMSF Scientific and Professional Advirosy Board, April ,93
Robyn M. Dawes, Ph.D., Professor of Social and Decision Sciences,
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA; David F. Dinges, Ph.D.,
Unit for Experimental Psychiatry, The Institute of Pennsylvania
Hospital, Philadelphia, PA; Fred Frankel, M.B.Ch.B., D.P.M.,
Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Beth Israel Hospital, Professor of Psychiatry,
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; George K. Ganaway, M.D.,Director,
Ridgeview Center for Dissociative Disorders, Clinical Asst. Prof of
Psychiatry, Emory University of Medicine, Atlanta, GA,Martin
Gardner,AuthorRochel Gelman, Ph.D.,Professor of Psychology,University
of CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA,Henry Gleitman, Ph.D.,Professor of
Psychology,University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA,Lila Gleitman,
Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania,
Philadelphia, PA, Richard Green, M.D., J.D., Department of Psychiatry
and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA,
Ernest Hilgard, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Stanford
University, Palo Alto, CA, Philip S. Holzman, Ph.D., Rabb Professor of
Psychology, and Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard University,
Cambridge, MA , Ray Hyman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University
of Oregon, Eugene, OR, John Kihlstrom, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology,
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, Harold Lief, M.D., Emeritus
Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA,
Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Adjunct Professor of
Law, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Paul McHugh, M.D., Phipps
Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD,
Harold Merskey, D.M., Professor of Psychiatry, University of Wesetern
Ontario, London, CANADA, Ulric Neisser, Ph.D., Woodruff Professor of
Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, Richard Ofshe, Ph.D.,
Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, CA, Martin
Orne, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania
and, The Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, Loren
Pankratz, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Psychology,
Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, OR, Campbell Perry,
Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal,
CANADA, Harrison Pope, Jr., M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry,
Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, Margaret Singer, Ph.D.,
Emeritus Adjunct Professor of Psychology, University of California,
Berkeley, CA, Ralph Slovenko, J.D., Ph.D., Professor of Law and
Psychiatry, Wayne State University Law School, Detroit, MI, Ralph
Underwager, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Psychological Therapies,
Northfield, MN, Jeffrey Victor, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology,
Jamestown Community College, Jamestown, NY, Hollida Wakefield, M.A.,
Psychologist, Institute of Psychological Therapies, Northfield, MN
STUDYING THE SECRETS OF CHILDHOOD MEMORY
Reprinted with permission of the New York Times
April 6, 1993
By DANIEL GOLEMAN
WHEN Rachel Hudson was 2, she recalled details about things she had
done weeks and months before, prompted by her mother, a psychologist
studying children's memories. But by the time she was 8, the only
episode Rachel could recall from her first couple of years was a trip
The old mystery of just why most people are unable to dredge up
memories from the first years of life has a new solution, thanks to
research like that of Rachel's mother, Dr. Judith Hudson of Rutgers
The ability to fix a childhood memory strongly enough to last into
adulthood, psychologists now say, depends on the mastery of skills of
attention, thought and language at the level of an average 3- or
4-year-old. People simply do not retain into adulthood memories of
specific episodes that took place at 1 or 2, before these crucial
abilities emerge, although research like that with Rachel shows that
as young children they do, indeed, have such memories.
"Most adults have trouble remembering much, other than fragmentary
impressions, before they were 3 1/2," said Dr. Robyn Fivush, a
psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "Yet we know that
children as young as 2 can remember what happened to them even months
The new research, based largely on studies of the developing
memories of young children, contradicts Freud's notion that "infantile
amnesia," the inability of adults to remember the events of early
infancy -- is due to the later repression of perverse lusts and
hatreds that seethe during the first years of life.
Instead, the findings suggest a more innocent end to life's early
amnesia: that toddlers acquire the skills for remembering significant
episodes in their lives only as they acquire the language skills
necessary for later retrieval. As they have conversations with adults
about past events, psychologists say, infants learn the art of shaping
events into a story, the form that allows memories to be retrieved
many years later.
"We have a whole new way of thinking about earliest memories, based
on studies of what young kids actually remember," said Dr. Ulric
Neisser, a psychologist at Emory. "At 2 1/2 or 3, kids are not very
interested in the past. You don't see a bunch of 3-year-olds sitting
around talking about old times."
Dr. Neisser added, "But ask a 2-year-old about what happened on a
visit to grandma's months before, and she'll have some memories: 'saw
a horsie.' The question is why, as adults, don't we remember those
very episodes from life's first few years?"
Part of the answer, psychologists say, lies in distinguishing
between three fundamentally different kinds of memory. One is a
"generic" memory, in which the most general attributes of a familiar
situation are stored, like what grandma always served for lunch, or
what color the rooms were in a childhood house.
Such general characteristics do not pertain to any single episode
but are distilled from a series of repeated episodes, which Dr.
Neisser has called repisodes, episodes that blend into a generic
memory. When an event has occurred in a child's life about five or
more times, it tends to be stored in memory in this general form.
A second kind of memory, "episodic," is for specific events, like a
visit to grandma's when a favorite, rarely seen, cousin was also
there. Such memories are for a distinct event at a given time and
place. But few of these specific episodes -- such as what was eaten
for breakfast that morning -- are significant enough to warrant
remembering years later.
But out of such specific episodes people select and weave together
the particularly meaningful events that compose "autobiographical
memory," the story of one's life. These are the specific memories that
last throughout a lifetime, beginning with what people call their
earliest memory. As autobiographical memory begins, infantile amnesia
THE POWER OF STORY
From the time children begin to talk, around age 2, they have both
generic and episodic memories, researchers say. But they do not begin
to weave together autobiographical memory until around age 3 1/2,
according to research reported by Dr. Katherine Nelson, a psychologist
at the City University of New York, in the January issue of
On the basis of research with young children, Dr. Nelson, as have
others, concluded that although children as young as 1 or 2 do have
episodic memories, these memories almost never last into later
childhood, let alone adulthood. Autobiographical memory seems to take
root only as children begin to have conversations with their parents
or others about what has happened to them.
"Parents implicitly model for their young children how to piece
together a story with a beginning, a middle and an end about what has
happened," said Dr. Fivush. "Between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2, children reach a
critical level of language ability, where words become the medium
through which you represent the events of your life to yourself rather
than, say, images. And years later, when you tell a story from your
earliest years, language is the medium of retrieval."
The process of autobiographical memory seems to be given a great
impetus by adults who review events with a young child. In Dr.
Fivush's research, young children of parents who mulled over incidents
with much embellishment of detail had at 4 years better memories for
things that had happened to them than did children of parents who
typically simply asked, "Do you remember the time we went to the
"At around 3 or 4, you find mothers talking a lot about past events
to a kid," said Dr. Neisser. "Then a kid starts to value her memories
and starts to tell stories about herself. The events you can easily
remember as an adult are those you had, back then, put into a
narrative, at least in your own mind."
At about the same period, children learn from talking to parents and
others that a given event can be seen from multiple perspectives.
"Around age 4 children seem to start to understand that people see
things differently," said Dr. Fivush. "I might have gone to the circus
and been scared by the big animals, while someone else loved it."
PHOTOS AS HINDRANCE
This cognitive ability to see an event from several points of view,
some psychologists contend, may add to the thoroughness with which it
is remembered, as a stronger net of associations is built. The onset
of that ability also marks the point at which most people have their
earliest lasting memory.
Still another capacity that ripens around age 4 is the ability to
perceive the structure ofevents more as an adult would, highlighting
the most salient points. Toddlers notice mostly what to adults seem to
be trivial details, psychologists say.
Oddly, seeing an event in a photo frequently or discussing it often
with others does not determine how well it is remembered, either in
the short term or in later autobiographical memory. Dr. Fivush had
parents keep track of distinctive events in the lives of children
between the ages of 2 and 6 and also had them note how often the
children talked over those events or looked at photos of them. There
was no apparent effect on the children's memory.
Indeed, talking over an event with a very young child may somehow
interfere with its being stored in memory, according to findings by
Dr. Neisser, with JoNell Adair, a graduate student, that will be
published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology later this year.
In a study of college students, in which their memories were
verified by checking with their parents, Dr. Neisser and Ms. Adair
found that events from the first four years of life that became
enshrined in family stories or for which there were photos were
remembered less well than events that had no such memory aids.
But they also found that those students who had been hospitalized or
who had had a sibling born between their second and third birthday
could usually still remember the event. "For such highly memorable
events, people seem to have memories, though a bit fragmentary, as
early as age 2, though that may mean closer to 3," said Dr. Neisser.
Other studies of adult's earliest memories have found that most date
from around 3 1/2. A few people report no memories of their childhood
at all before age 8 or so.
REVISING THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The problem with studies that rely only on adult's recollections of
earliest memories, of course, is that it is almost always impossible
to date such memories exactly or to be sure that they are truly
memories rather than imagined episodes.
For example, when Dr. Hudson began her research on children's early
memories by intermittently quizzing 2-year-old Rachel on what she
remembered about recent events, she found that in response to specific
queries like, "Do you remember when we went to the aquarium?" Rachel
could recall many details of what had happened up to 10 months before.
But over the next several years, those memories faded.
When quizzed again at 4 years, Rachel remembered almost nothing of
the events she had remembered at 2 but was able to recall fresh
details about a Disneyland trip as a 25-month-old -- like seeing
Tinkerbell appear before the evening fireworks display -- that they
had never discussed in the intervening years and which did not appear
in any photos of the visit.
By age 8, when Dr. Hudson asked, "What is your earliest memory?"
Rachel replied with conviction that it was of a time just before her
younger brother was born, when she crawled into his bassinet and
pretended to be a baby herself. At that time, said Dr. Hudson, Rachel
was 33 months old. The Disneyland trip was actually her earliest
memory, though Rachel, now 9, believed otherwise.
While the new findings contradict Freud's theory of infantile
amnesia, it may support the idea of Alfred Adler, one of Freud's early
disciples, that a person's earliest memory is rife with symbolic
meanings. "Adler claimed that in our earliest memory can be read the
key themes and conflicts of our lives," said Dr. Neisser.
Experts on autobiographical memory now believe that a person's life
story is revised as the years pass, with some memories highlighted and
others fading to support current views of oneself or emotional
"For example," Dr. Neisser said, "if your earliest memory is of
getting separated from your parents on a shopping trip and crying
because you are lost, there is a school of thought that would say
dependency and autonomy are crucial issues for you. And it may well be
that one of the things that determines which of those early inchoate
memories you preserve as the first in your mind is such symbolic