Re-Upholstered Memories

 

Recovered memories

There’s a guy I know who fell into an upholstery machine. He’s fully recovered now.

I know, I know. It’s a stupid joke. But I’ll do anything to get a laugh.

The only tie-in with my theme here is that it’s about “recovering”.

It wasn’t until a few days ago that I discovered that Christine Ford’s accusations against Brett Kavanaugh are based on “recovered memories”. Not a lot has been written about this part of the story. Most of us focus on the fact that it happened so long ago, that there isn’t much evidence that it happened, but she seems so sure that it happened.

That’s where the recovered memories come into play. Recovered memories are sometimes a tool used by psychotherapists and other counselors. The idea is that, if you are having a psychological problem, then it may well be your brain’s response to a traumatic memory it is trying to repress. Through interviews, recounting personal history, and possibly hypnosis, the psychotherapist tries to bring those traumatic memories into the light where the patient can discuss them. By successfully dealing with these recovered memories, so the story goes, the patient is eventually freed and healed.

That’s the theory.

I remember being part of a church in the late 80’s and early 90’s where a counsellor held group sessions to heal people with psychological problems. This counsellor focused on recovering memories of practically everyone in the group. Everyone had traumatic childhood sexual abuse. Everyone.

And there was a twist, though. The childhood sexual abuse caused each patient to develop multiple separate personalities. It was basically like the movie Sybil or the Three Faces of Eve, old movies that dealt with the topic of multiple personalities in a person.

Getting back to the experience, I was an elder in the church, and I was concerned about what was going on. I started reading about Multiple Personality Disorder (or MPD), and it seemed like a lot of superstition based on very scant evidence. I began to hear about bizarre therapy sessions going on. The counsellor acted like a hammer in search of a nail. Everyone had the same condition.

In the half dozen years since that period, I read stories about how this was going on in other churches and counseling practices. Patients “recovered” memories of childhood sexual abuse, sometimes at the hands of parents or pastors. The place of abuse was said to have taken place in a church basement, even if the church didn’t have a basement. These patients often confronted their supposed abusers. In almost all instances that I heard about, the abuse never occurred. Tempers flared between the accusers and the accused. Families were torn apart.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, the practice and phenomenon actually in vogue about 130 years ago, then died down. It appeared again after The Three Faces of Eve came out in 1957, then died down. It reappeared after Sybil came out as a TV miniseries in 1976, then died down again. And the latest outbreak was in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It is now in a quiet phase.

Professional psychiatrists looked into the matter and saw a gaping chasm of scientific evidence. In most instances, any instances of multiple personalities were really borne out of “suggestible and gullible therapists” guiding “suggestible and gullible patients” into discovering recovered memories and multiple personalities. The therapists were not so much helping the patients to recover their memories as they were actually training them to come up with memories.

It is still controversial, with some people saying they were helped by the approach. I think it’s bottled snake oil.

Studies have been conducted into how easy it is to implant false memories into a willing subject. The researchers told their subjects that specific things happened when they were younger, such as getting lost at a mall. As the researchers told more details about the false story, the subjects began to envision the story as if it were true. Eventually, the subjects adopted the false stories as true stories.

The therapy of recovering lost memories should have been totally debunked by now. There may be a small number of patients for whom it is true, but it seems to be primarily just a lot of bunkum. Yet, there was at least one therapist who still practices it, and that therapist used it to treat Christine Ford.

And here we are, decades after it was largely discredited in the psychiatry profession, with a woman claiming to have recovered memories of being raped by a man who many years later is a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

In my opinion, it may very well be that Christine Ford actually thinks she was assaulted by Kavanaugh many years ago. It is possible that she was coached into searching her mind for some event in her distant past – an event that was somehow assumed to include a sexual assault. I can’t imagine why she picked Kavanaugh, but it may have been that he stuck out in her mind for some reason. Nevertheless, it could be that Ford actually believes it happened, primarily due to the particular brand of psychotherapy she was subjected to.

This is why both Kavanaugh and Ford may be telling the truth. The former actually didn’t do anything, and the latter is recounting something from an implanted false memory. I can’t say the same of Ford’s Democratic handlers. Those handlers just seem to be doing anything they can with Ford for political purposes. And it’s still possible that Ford made all of this up. But there’s also the possibility that she’s just talking about false memories she was guided into.

Regardless of how this turns out in the battle for the Supreme Court, I hope the practice of recovering memories gets pushed way into the back of the therapists tools and only used for rare, extreme cases where it may be needed.

snake oil

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s