Memory in Dispute

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'This is a much-needed book - experienced clinicians writing intelligently about one of the most fraught and complex clinical problems facing psychotherapy today. We have patients who are suffering - suffering because of memories of experiences with which they cannot cope, with which nobody should have to cope. This book is aimed at the clinicians working with such individuals. For the most part, it does not attempt to resolve the dispute or to provide an illusion of certainty in a context where none can exist. It is a challenge to all of us to preserve precious doubt in a situation where we are under pressure from our clients, from their relatives, and from the general public to adopt a clear position; however, when clarity can only be achieved through extremism, the price is too high - the sacrifice of individual lives is intolerable. This book contains some excellent chapters, and the editor is to be congratulated on her selection of themes. It is clearly not the final word in the field of recovered memory. It is, nevertheless, an enormously valuable contribution to psychotherapists working within a psychoanalytic framework with an additional impossible dilemma in an already impossible profession.'- Professor Peter Fonagy, from his Foreward to this book.

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CHAPTER ONE. Flying by twilight: when adults recover memories of abuse in childhood

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Given Adshead

In this opening chapter, Gwen Adshead provides a careful overview of the research literature concerning the main issues in this debate. She includes legal issues and child and adult memory in her remit.

“Suspicions amongst Thoughts, are like Bats among Birds, they ever fly by Twilight… In Fearful Natures, they gain ground too fast.”

Francis Bacon

The delayed recovery of war or POW experiences by army veterans many years later appears to have gained some public and professional acceptability. However, when this same phenomenon of recovery is described in relation to memories of child abuse, this has caused controversy, both in the lay public and within professional groups (Berliner & Loftus, 1992). Polarized positions have been taken up by professionals asked to adjudicate between adults alleging abuse and other adults denying it. Claims of abuse based on recovered memories may lead to family disruption and distress and, infrequently, to legal charges of criminal assault or suits for compensation (Loftus, 1993). It is suggested that such claims are most frequently made in the course of psychotherapy and have been associated with the use by therapists of hypnotic techniques.

 

CHAPTER TWO. “Children are liars aren’t they?”— an exploration of denial processes in child abuse

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Arnon Bentovim

In this chapter, Arnon Bentovim looks at social denial, denial and the court system, denial concerning abuse of very young children, and denial in perpetrators. He provides a clinical and research overview.

At a recent meeting, a distinguished barrister repeated in conversation the often heard remark—”Children are liars aren’t they?” This was said forcefully, with a sense of anger and blame. Our response was a retort, with equal vehemence, that adults were far more competent and skilful liars than children ever could be. The barrister’s response was to state that the effect of children’s lies could be absolutely devastating to those against whom untruths were levelled. Male teachers had lost their jobs and lives had been ruined as a result. Although we felt inclined to say that adults’ lies had led to the destruction of civilizations, we hesitated to enter the dialectic.

Instead, we said that perhaps it was a question of who was assessing the child’s statement in terms of judging whether statemerits were true or false. This led into an interesting discussion about the problems of current approaches to police investigation. Because it is now accepted that children do speak the truth, in an allegation of abuse this leads to a serious investigation. To investigate a complaint without interference requires that, for example, a teacher or a residential worker has to be suspended, a parent has to be asked to leave the home, or a child has to be removed from a home. The process in itself, it could be argued, could set in train extremely destructive consequences, and what was required was a different approach to the assessment, more open and balanced.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Trauma, skin: memory, speech

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Ann Scott

In this chapter, Ann Scott looks at the role of language and speech in the false memory debate. Drawing on the psychoanalytic work of Henri Rey, she provides a careful linguistic analysis of the pain involved in this subject.

One of the first features to strike us when we consider the question of false memory and the controversy that it has generated is the role of speech both in organizing the terms of the debate and in preserving the anguish for those involved, in both generations of the families. I use a word as strong as anguish deliberately: the briefest survey of the ephemera of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation shows how much pain is embedded in the letters and statements of those who feel themselves to be falsely accused (see, for example, FMS, 1993; for the FMSF’s Affiliated Group in Britain, see ACAP, 1993). Because it is increasingly recognized that sexual abuse is a profound impingement of boundaries, psychic and actual, we tend to react with anger to a “denial of the truth” on the part of a parent accused of abuse (who is most likely, of course, to be the father). But I want to suggest that it is in the nature of this situation as a whole—where memories are so much at odds—that words can, to cite Henri Rey (1986), “be expelled as unwanted objects” (p. 185), by both daughters and parents. Furthermore, since sexual abuse and the memories associated with it concern the body, I want to suggest that it is through considering something about the relationship, felt and linguistic, between words and the subjective sense of the skin as the body’s boundary that we might be able to account for at least some of the uncontained feel that this debate has come to have and the experience of puzzlement that many have at the irreconcilably different accounts of the family members involved. My text is the reported speech of concerned journalism, and I am examining the issue through the lens of an idea about dialogue evolved within the clinical setting.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. The psychoanalytic concept of repression: historical and empirical perspectives

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Brett Kahr

In this historical chapter, Brett Kahr takes us through the history of the term “repression” and Freud’s views on memory and “primal repression” and “repression proper”. He also examines contemporary attempts to prove the existence of repression in psychological tests.

“All repressions are of memories.”
Sigmund Freud (1910, p. 31).

A case of forgetting

On 8 January 1908, a little boy from Vienna called Herbert Graf, aged 4¾ years, visited the zoological collection at the Austrian imperial palace at Schonbrunn, accompanied by his mother, Olga Graf. This particular excursion proved somewhat traumatic, and, as the day progressed, little Herbert began to develop a marked phobia of horses. He not only became fearful of stepping outdoors, but also fretted that a horse might bite him. The boy’s father, Max Graf, a distinguished musicologist, took his son for a consultation with Professor Sigmund Freud, who encouraged Herr Graf to treat the young child according to the new insights of psychoanalysis. Freud himself supervised this pioneering venture in child analysis, and within a matter of months, Herbert’s symptoms abated considerably. Eventually, Freud (1909b) published the details of the case, changing the name of the patient from little Herbert to the immortal “Little Hans”.

 

CHAPTER FIVE. False memory syndrome

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Susie Orbach

In this chapter, Susie Orbach shows the part that feminism played in the understanding of the extent of abuse against women and children. She examines the processes of personal denial in the consulting-room, as well as societal denial and the role of the media.

In the spring of 1993, I wrote a piece in my Guardian column raising concerns about the take-up in the media of the so-called false memory syndrome. I expressed my surprise and concern that so many column inches were being devoted to a discussion of parents claiming to be unjustly accused by their children rather than to what I considered the more serious problem of the sexual violation of children.

I argued that—as Jeffrey Masson (1984), Judith Herman Lewis (Herman, 1981, 1992), and others have argued—psychoanalysis has a complex and reasonably dishonourable history in relation to the acceptance of the veracity of reports of childhood sexual abuse. Since Freud abandoned the seduction theory in the late 1890s and transferred his understanding of the accounts of his patients’ childhood memories of sexual encounters with parents to the realm of internal phantasy, psychotherapy and its allied fields have tended to overlook both the existence and the real trauma of sexual abuse.

 

CHAPTER SIX. “What if I should die?”

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Jennifer Johns

In this chapter, Jennifer Johns describes the terrible physical countertransference impact on an analyst listening to a patient talk of systemic savage abuse in childhood. This raises the complex issue of truth in the consulting-room.

A psychoanalyst, not young or inexperienced and to the best of her knowledge in perfect health, was sitting very still and listening to an extremely distressed patient speaking with great difficulty, of memories implying savage, perverse, and systematic many-layered cruelty in childhood.

During the story, the analyst suddenly developed pain in her own chest. The pain was central, and gradually became severe enough to make her seriously anxious about herself and to prevent her ordinary concentration on what was happening in the session. She began to try to recollect old fragments of her training in medicine as the pain spread upwards into her jaw, and she became more and more frightened that she was having a heart attack. She tried to reassure herself that the pain, though acute, was not typically cardiac, and intellectually she tried to make sense of it in the naive hope that, once made sense of, it would go away. Unable to listen to or concentrate on her patient, she told herself that it was probably indigestion, or not in fact real, and chided herself for failing her patient at such a vital moment. She told herself that she must pull herself together and return to her concentration on the patient and the session, and that until the pain went down her left arm she would not interrupt the session. However, she was very frightened.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN. False memory syndrome movements: the origins and the promoters

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Marjorie Orr

In this chapter, Marjorie Orr focuses on a few of the complex facts in the lives of some of the key figures in the international false memory societies. This throws light on the origins of the movement and explains some of the ethical difficulties involved.

To begin at the beginning. The man credited with having coined the term “false memory syndrome” is an American, Dr Ralph Underwager, who was one of the co-founders of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), along with his wife, Hollida Wakefield, and Pamela and Peter Freyd, in March 1992 in Philadelphia. In 1993, Underwager gave an interview, with his wife, to a Dutch paedophile magazine, Paedika (Geraci, 1993). In the article, Paedika reported him as saying that paedophilia could be seen as a responsible choice and that having sex with children could be seen as “part of God’s will”. He has said that he was not misquoted by the magazine, which is a self-styled journal of paedophilia and prints articles such as “Man-Boy Sexual Relationships in Cross-Cultural Perspective”, “A Crush on My Girl Scout Leader”, “ The World Is Bursting with Adults so I Am Always Pleased to See a Little Girl”, and “The Hysteria over Child Pornography and Paedophilia”. However, he does say that when the quotes are used that they are out of context and that he is against child abuse.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT. Serving two masters: a patient, a therapist, and an allegation of sexual abuse

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Leslie Ironside

In this chapter, Leslie Ironside analyses a painful situation with which therapists are having to deal; when an abused child anticipates abuse in the therapy or distorts what is happening because he or she views all events through the prism of traumatic knowledge. Without polarizing or blaming, Leslie Ironside uses his training and experience to trace compassionately how such situations can arise.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Ana’is Nin

“It’s often safer to be in chains than to be free.”

Franz Kafka

Therapists frequently have to struggle with the question of the veracity of what they are being told and to bear witness to the difficulties that patients might have as they, too, struggle with the question of the validity of their own memories. It is, though, important that therapists bear in mind the difference between patients’ attempts to relate an event truthfully—that is, the struggle with memory—from the separate issue of what patients might want therapists to believe—that is, how patients might consciously or unconsciously alter what is communicated according to the present situation.

 

CHAPTER NINE. Syndromitis, false or repressed memories?

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Steven Rose

In this chapter, Steven Rose provides us with a deceptively simple account of how memory works. He presents a thoughtfully sceptical description of “syndromitis”the increase of quasi-medical categoriesas well as a review of the works of Drs Loftus and Ofshe.

Anew and dangerous disease is sweeping America. I call it syndromitis—the arbitrary invention of quasi-medical categories to suit almost any deviation from what is perceived as the norm: the ideal state of middle-performing, middlingly happy, and 30-something-aged Americans. So we have attention-deficit disorder (ADD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), age-associated memory deficit, Munchausen’s syndrome-by-proxy, post-traumatic stress disorder—and dozens more, clamouring for status in the clinician’s bible: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, now into its fourth version. Fashionable names for these categories change with alarming speed. ADD used to be hyperkinesia, then hyperactivity; DID was not so long ago multiple personality disorder. Once such categories have been invented, the tendency for clinicians and therapists to search them out in their clients bandwagons, for there are papers to be written and careers to be made in defining, as much as there are in treating, the conditions. Fashion is helped along by middle America’s rewriting of the Constitution: it is no longer merely the pursuit but the possession of happiness which has become an inalienable right. Happiness itself is no longer to be defined in terms of the Four Freedoms specified by the founders of the United Nations (if it were, many U.S. citizens would be profoundly unhappy)—but by a relatively new right, that to sexual content.

 

CHAPTER TEN. Terror in the consulting-room— memory, trauma, and dissociation

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Phil Mollon

In this chapter, Phil Mollon explores both psychoanalytic and psychological theories of repression and memory as well as taking us into painful clinical illustrations.

“The idea that our minds can play tricks on us, leading us to believe in a distorted reality, even in fantasy and confabulation, is deeply disturbing. If we can’t trust our own minds to tell us the truth, what is left to trust?”

Loftus & Ketcham, 1994, p. 68

When I completed training in analytic psychotherapy over a decade ago, I thought that the task of my work was to analyse the structures and conflicts within the patient’s mind as they unfolded within the transference. In the last few years, as I have tried to help people more damaged than those usually attending a psychotherapy service, the cosy security of that tried and tested way of working has been shattered; my sense of reality and sanity has been repeatedly assaulted by communications of bizarre and horrifying memories, or apparent memories, for which my training had not prepared me. With these more injured and traumatized individuals, it is as if flashback memory, or memory-like material, violently intrudes, smashing the usual framework, assumptions, and epistemological basis of analytic practice. Let me briefly state my present position, having digested these experiences and reflected at length upon the clinical and research memory literature (see also Mollon, 1995, 1996a, 1996b, 1998). I believe the following to be the case. False or pseudo-memories of childhood are possible; true memories of childhood trauma are also possible. A person may be able to avoid thinking about these memories for certain periods (a phenomenon that cognitive therapists call “cognitive avoidance”), and this may be combined with mechanisms of pretence and denial to make the memories unavailable. Later, in response to certain cues, or when in a safe environment, the memories may intrude into awareness; sometimes people seek therapy because memories have begun to intrude. Memory is prone to error; we are continually interpreting and remixing our perceptions of past events. Between the extremes of “true” and “false” memory lies a vast area of uncertainty and ambiguity. One task of the analytic therapist is to tolerate this uncertainty and help the patient tolerate this too. Because it is impossible, as listening and responding participants in the analytic process, not to influence the emerging narrative, it is important to be open to a variety of possible understandings of the patient’s history and development. Procedures intended to elicit memories of trauma may be inadvisable because (1) pseudo-memories may be encouraged and (2) the patient may be retraumatized in the process. Understanding the problems of memory in clinical practice requires the cooperation of psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN. Recovered memories: shooting the messenger

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Ashley Conway

In this chapter, Ashley Conway provides six of the commonest implicit or explicit assumptions that are made concerning false memory and provides research-based answers to them. He focuses on the issues relating to adults apparently recovering memory of episodes of childhood sexual abuse after a period of complete or partial amnesia.

This brief chapter is a personal perspective, an attempt to identify and examine the allegations of the proponents of the concept of a false memory syndrome. It is not intended as a general review of the field. Issues of reliability of children’s reports and suggestibility of children, which form an important and distinct field, are not addressed here. Instead, the focus is on the issues relating to adults apparently recovering memory of episodes of childhood sexual abuse, after a period of complete or partial amnesia. Individuals have reported recovering such memories both within and without a therapeutic setting.

Examined here are a number of assumptions, explicit or implicit, that have been derived from material provided by the American and British false memory syndrome movements, the press, and other media and through various personal communications to the author. The assumptions may be summarized as follows:

 

CHAPTER TWELVE. False memory syndrome—false therapy syndrome

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R. D. Hinshelwood

In this chapter, R. D. Hinshelwood traces psychoanalytic theories on memory from Freud to the present day. He also provides a complex account of the interweaving in an analytic session between true and false memory of abuse. When, for example, is the memory of abuse a way of describing a present abusive therapy falsified as a past memory? More than anything else, this chapter highlights the multi-layered nature of a psychoanalytic session.

In this chapter, I discuss the question of whether we can know if a memory is true or false. In the first part, I trace the development of Freud’s early ideas about memory through to contemporary psychoanalytic views on memory. I then move on to the complexities of abuse and whether a real distinction can be made between true and false memory of it. I shall have to conclude that it is too simple a question, the answer a complex one that is beyond the clear-cut verdict of a court of law.

Memory and its falsity

Psychoanalysis was founded on theories of memory, and these arose out of the prevailing school of associative psychology, in the nineteenth century. Freud developed a novel psychological theory, one that concerned the interference with memory. His views were based on an analogy with physical processes.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN. How can we remember but be unable to recall? The complex functions of multi-modular memory

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Mary Sue Moore

In this chapter, Mary Sue Moore reviews new research findings on multi-modular human memory systems which have important implications for understanding the impact of trauma on memory. She then focuses on procedural and declarative memory as shown in human-figure drawings.

Recent neurocognitive research has produced empirical findings regarding the non-linear organization and interactive complexity of all human brain functions. Previous methods used for measuring brain function—as state rather than dynamic process—have limited our conceptualization of the variability and overall capacity of the human mind. Theoretical formulations of these functions generally involved either cause-and-effect statements or attempted measurements of an “absolute” capacity. The most widely accepted methods of data analysis were linear. This chapter presents an invitation to the reader to consider the profound implications, for mental health treatment and human development, of non-linear, interactive formulations of human brain function which recognize physiological process and context as dynamically linked aspects of an irreducible whole. This understanding of brain function as a dynamic, interactive process, along with the concepts of neural plasticity and multi-modular organization, forms the basis of a revolutionary new theory of human memory. The conceptual frame described above is one that relies on a complex systems point of view, not just as an option, but as a necessity if we are to gather an accurate understanding of any brain function. It has become clear that to adopt a linear, isolated frame of reference when analysing human brain function—in this case, memory—is to distort that which we are studying to the point of gathering “false or erroneous” data (Grigsby & Schneiders, 1991; Grigsby, Schneiders, & Kaye, 1991). Grigsby and Schneiders (1991) describe the irreducible interactive whole—which is comprised of the organism and its environment—lucidly arguing for the abandonment of the well-practiced experimental approach in which a particular function is selected and experiments are carefully (and artificially) designed to study this “uncontaminated” by other human processes:

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN. Objective fact and psychological truth: some thoughts on “recovered memory”

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Patrick Casement

In this chapter, Patrick Casement differentiates between provable objective fact and psychological truth, and between memory that has not been subjected to the processes of repression and memories that have. He focuses on these issues in connection with adult patients. Casement also deals with patients traumatized by complex family systems in which there is a sense of inappropriate sexuality and lack of containment but no clear evidence of actual concrete abuse.

In this brief chapter, I emphasize the difference between objective fact, which is provable and which can be the concern of a courtroom, and psychological truth, which is the concern of a consulting-room. In particular, I wish to stress the distinction between “direct memory”, which has not been subjected to the processes of repression, and “indirect memories” that have. To confuse these two kinds of memory, and these two kinds of truth, can be seriously misleading and may sometimes result in a patient imagining that there are grounds for litigation when there are not.

 

APPENDIX: USEFUL ADDRESSES

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•   DAUGHTERS AND THEIR ALLIES (DATA) PO Box 1EA, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE99 1EA, UK

Daughters and Their Allies was launched in the northeast of England after false memory syndrome was fielded successfully for the first time in a British trial in the summer of 1994. A group of professionals, together with survivors of sexual abuse whose parents were members of the British False Memory Society, came together to campaign for justice for Fiona Reay, the first daughter in Britain whose father’s defence team had mobilized false memory syndrome against her allegation that he raped her throughout her childhood. Ironically and tragically, Fiona Reay had never forgotten her abuse. She produced medical records that testified to a decade of trying to tell her story. Although the Crown Prosecution Service had initially assembled other witnesses and medical evidence, she was ultimately left as the only witness, despite their willingness to give evidence.

DATA is deeply concerned that members of the health and welfare system refused to allow their professional employees to speak in her defence once the accusation of false memory implanted by professionals was raised in the media. DATA exists to ensure that no lone survivor or professional will have to take sole responsibility for breaking the silence.

 

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