Belief in Recovered Memory Therapy is Risky

On the 30th of September 2015 a second inquest was held into Carole Myers’ death.  Recovered memory therapy – and the indisputable damage it did over a 20 year time period – was a central part of the treatment she received.  New Scientist magazine reported on the case, and sought background information that could not be mentioned during the inquest.


Myers underwent recovered-memory therapy, which coaches people into “remembering” things from their past, often while hypnotised or under the influence of strong tranquilisers.

The approach is now shunned by most mainstream professionals because of the danger of creating false memories – leading patients to recall events that didn’t actually occur. Yet some psychotherapists still use the techniques.

Researchers are warning that the current publicity around historic abuse claims could lead to a resurgence of the idea of recovering memories. “The real victims are giving credibility to those who are more questionable,” says Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine.

It may seem incredible that anyone can be mistaken about being abused, but there have been countless cases where claims were proven to be false. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a global epidemic of false satanic abuse claims from children, typically thanks to leading questioning from misguided social workers.

A 1994 UK government report into 84 satanic abuse claims found that none was supported by physical evidence, such as scars left on alleged torture victims or forensic evidence from rooms that were supposedly the sites of multiple murders.

…. However, the therapy has not yet died out (see “Turning fantasies into memories“). A recent survey of UK clinical psychologists and hypnotherapists found that about 1 in 6 think such memories are usually or always accurate. “There are families that are torn apart on the basis of these false memories,” says Christopher French of Goldsmiths, University of London, who was involved in the survey.

Jean La Fontaine of the London School of Economics, who led the 1994 inquiry into satanic abuse, says the current interest in historic sex abuse cases risks a resurgence of the credulous hysteria we last saw in the 1990s. “That’s the danger,” she says.

Claims were made earlier this year, for instance, that Jimmy Savile, a British celebrity who undoubtedly assaulted many people over decades, was part of a satanic abuse circle. “That rings alarm bells for me,” says French.

French is concerned that senior police officers have publicly stated that, above all else, victims will be believed in historic cases. One case was described as “credible and true” even before police investigated. “For a long time, victims weren’t listened to, but now the pendulum’s gone the other way,” he says. In the US, Loftus says allegations of historic abuse by the clergy are playing a similar role.


To read more please visit the New Scientist website at

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