RECOVERED MEMORIES

RECOVERED MEMORIES

RECOVERED MEMORIES

Are They Reliable?

Professional organizations have responded to the challenge of that question. This document contains excerpts from some professional statements that help to clarify the issue.

Read What the Experts Have to Say. . .


DISTINGUISHING TRUE FROM FALSE MEMORIES: NEED FOR CORROBORATION

"It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources."

American Psychiatric Association, Statement on Memories of Sexual Abuse, 1993.

"The AMA considers recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse to be of uncertain authenticity, which should be subject to external verification."

American Medical Association, Council on Scientific Affairs, Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse, 1994.

"The available scientific and clinical evidence does not allow accurate, inaccurate, and fabricated memories to be distinguished in the absence of independent corroboration."

Australian Psychological Society, Guidelines Relating to the Reporting of Recovered Memories, 1994.

"At present there are no scientifically valid criteria that would generally permit the reliable differentiation of true recovered memories of sexual abuse from pseudomemories."

Michigan Psychological Association, Recovered Memories of Sexual Abuse: MPA Position Paper, 1995.

"At this point it is impossible, without other corroborative evidence, to distinguish a true memory from a false one."

American Psychological Association, Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse, 1995.

"Psychologists acknowledge that a definite conclusion that a memory is based on objective reality is not possible unless there is incontrovertible corroborating evidence."

Canadian Psychological Association, Position Statement on Adult Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse, 1996.


HYPNOSIS AND MEMORY RECOVERY TECHNIQUES

"The Council finds that recollections obtained during hypnosis can involve confabulations and pseudomemories and not only fail to be more accurate, but actually appear to be less reliable than nonhypnotic recall."

American Medical Association, Council on Scientific Affairs, Scientific Status of Refreshing Recollections by the Use of Hypnosis, 1985.

"Psychiatrists are advised to avoid engaging in any 'memory recovery techniques' which are based upon the expectation of past sexual abuse of which the patient has no memory. Such 'memory recovery techniques' may include drug-mediated interviews, hypnosis, regression therapies, guided imagery, 'body memories,' literal dream interpretation and journaling. There is no evidence that the use of consciousness-altering techniques, such as drug-mediated interviews or hypnosis, can reveal or accurately elaborate factual information about any past experiences including childhood sexual abuse. Techniques on regression therapy including 'age regression' and hypnotic regression are of unproved effectiveness."

Royal College of Psychiatrists, Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse, 1997. (UK)


GENERAL CAUTION

"The use of recovered memories is fraught with problems of potential misapplication."

American Medical Association, Council on Scientific Affairs, Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse, 1994.


SYMPTOMS AS INDICATORS OF PAST ABUSE

"There is no single set of symptoms which automatically indicates that a person was a victim of childhood abuse. There have been media reports of therapists who state that people (particularly women) with a particular set of problems or symptoms must have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. There is no scientific evidence that supports this conclusion."

American Psychological Association, Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse, 1995.

"Psychologists recognize that there is no constellation of symptoms which is diagnostic of child sexual abuse."

Canadian Psychological Association, Position Statement on Adult Recovered Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse, 1996.

"Previous sexual abuse in the absence of memories of these events cannot be diagnosed through a checklist of symptoms."

Royal College of Psychiatrists, Reported Recovered Memories of Child Sexual Abuse, 1997. (UK)


TRAUMATIC MEMORIES

"Most people who were sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to them although they may not fully understand or disclose it."

American Psychological Association, Working Group on Investigation of Memories of Child Abuse, 1996.

"While traumatic memories may be different than (sic) ordinary memories, we currently do not have conclusive scientific consensus on this issue."

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Childhood Trauma Remembered: A Report on the Current Scientific Knowledge Base and its Applications, 1996.

"[B]ecause exactly what is meant by the terms of 'repression' and 'dissociation' is far from clear, their use has become idiosyncratic, metaphoric, and arbitrary."

Scientific Advisory Board of the FMS Foundation, Statement on Recovered Memories, 1998.


STATEMENTS THAT MAY REFLECT SUBSTANDARD PRACTICES:

1. "You have the symptoms of someone who was abused."

2. "Studies show that (or, my experience is that) most people with [fill in the particular diagnosis or symptoms here] were sexually abused."

3. "If you think you were abused, then you probably were."

4. "Remembering is essential if you want to be healed."

5. "This technique (hypnosis, guided imagery, sodium amytal, etc.) is designed to help you remember."

6. "Suing (forgiving, detaching from, etc.) your family is a necessary part of healing."

7. "You have to get worse before you get better."

8. "Your body holds accurate memories of past events."


WHEN DEALING WITH RECOVERED MEMORIES KEEP IN MIND THAT:

"Research has shown that over time memory for events can be changed or reinterpreted in such a way as to make the memory more consistent with the person's present knowledge and/or expectations."

American Psychological Association, 1995.

"Memories also can be significantly influenced by a trusted person."

American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

"The AMA considers recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse to be of uncertain authenticity, which should be subject to external verification."

American Medical Association, 1994.

For more information:
False Memory Syndrome Foundation
1955 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5766
Telephone: 215-940-1040, Fax: 215-940-1042.

www.FMSFonline.org
APA's "Questions and Answers about Memories of Childhood Abuse"