The Most Dangerous Idea in Mental Health

A detailed and meticulous essay about false memory published in the Pacific Standard.


The belief that hidden memories can be “recovered” in therapy should have been exorcised years ago, when a rash of false memories dominated the airwaves, tore families apart, and put people on the stand for crimes they didn’t commit. But the mental health establishment does not always learn from its mistakes—and families are still paying the price.

…. But the tide really began to turn when former patients started to doubt their own recovered memories. In dozens of lawsuits, patients described coercive therapeutic techniques including hypnosis, guided visualization, and dream analysis, and the pressure of group therapy, often used on them when they were at their most vulnerable. Some former patients related terrifying experiences of being confined in mental health wards stocked with people who believed they had dozens of personalities. Therapists, some of the lawsuits claimed, both encouraged these beliefs and accused patients who expressed doubt of succumbing to programming they received from a cult. Some settlements from the lawsuits reached into the millions.


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