From: (Helge Moulding)
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban,
Subject: Bookreview: The Myth of Repressed Memory by Loftus/Ketcham
Followup-To: alt.folklore.urban
Date: 03 Aug 1995 03:56:58 MET
Organization: University of Colorado at Boulder

Bookreview by Helge Moulding

The Myth of Repressed Memory
by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham
St Martin's Press, 1994
290 pp hardcover
ISBN 0-312-11454-0
The stories of victims of sexual abuse are vivid and horrifying. No caring person can help feel empathy for their suffering, and hope that the specter of sexual abuse will one day cease to haunt our world. But Dr Loftus has embarked on a daring undertaking, one that has critics labelling her as the Evil Pedophile Psychologist from Hell.

Repressed memory is described as distinct from forgotten memory, or from avoided memory. It is also distinct from any known form of amnesia. Repressed memory, as used by both "believers" and "skeptics," is memory of a historic fact which has left no trace of its framework available to the concious mind, to the extent that there isn't even any consciousness that there is *something* missing.

Dr Loftus tries very hard to remain objective in her discussion. She admits that she is no clinician, but her bias is nevertheless clear. Her accounts of case histories invariably show how therapists and investigators are apparently creating the vivid memories of abuse using questionable treatments. Her quotes from books advocating the recovery of repressed memory show how authors are describing techniques that lead to these questionable treatments. Many of the chapters are headed by quotes from "The Crucible," leading to an inevitable comparison of the Salem Witch Trials and present day trials using evidence based on "recovered memories."

Dr Loftus approaches the issue of "repressed memory" as a psychologist, demanding evidence for a phenomenon accepted by many people as a proven fact. She describes research which shows apparently that human memory is a malleable network of behaviors, vulnerable to even the smallest disturbance. Her evidence lends no credibility to the claim that such a thing as repressed memory can or does exist. In fact, she argues, the definition of repressed memory creates a concept that is impossible to support using any scientific (and ethical) method of research.

The book is organized into 13 chapters, followed by a fairly thorough set of references and a decent index. There are some footnotes used in the text, but they do not in most cases reference specific source, and are usually used to clarify the text without interrupting the flow of the narrative. The book is extremely easy to read, and presents even complex scientific issues in terms accessible to most lay persons.

I found the book very persuasive, and also quite disturbing. Without convincing evidence favoring the existence of "repressed memory," therapists are not welcome to attempt to dig for them in me or members of my family.

Book Summary:

Dr Loftus starts by describing the case of Raymond and Shirley Souza, convicted of rape using "recovered memories" of their granddaughter. She describes her stake in the discussion as an issue not only of the scientific questions, but of the trauma that can be inflicted on families by accusations based on "recovered memory." Her description of the case of Lynn Price Gondolf shows how "recovered memories" caused misery, and how sanity was only restored when Lynn chose to forget the "recovered memories" again. Five other women are presented as being made to suffer from "recovered memories," only to find relief once they renounced the false memories and returned to live in reality.

Dr Loftus position in the controversy is apparently not comfortable. She says that she is being accused by the "believers" of "abandoning women," and of "re-victimizing the victims of sexual abuse." "Skeptics" would like her to be more outspoken, to use her considerable reputation in her field of expertise to gag the "believers," and stop these "dangerous zealots."

Dr Loftus describes how she became involved in the debate over "repressed memory" when she was asked to testify as an expert witness on memory in the trial of George Franklin, who was accused of raping and murdering his daughter's best friend. His daughter had "recovered" her memory of witnessing the deed. The case history makes it clear that Dr Loftus feels that this may well be a case of false memory, an artifact of the human mind that has no basis in historical fact.

Dr Loftus bases her opinions on what research has revealed about how human memory works. She describes some of the history of pschoanalytic thought, and the psychological research on this subject.

Memory is not like video tape. Dr Loftus discusses the brain surgeries where apparently vivid memories were recalled by stimulating parts of the brain, and shows how the memories were more like dream impressions, and how most in no way contained usable detail to link them to any historic fact.

Memory of traumatic events may be inadvertantly implanted by a therapist. Dr Loftus discusses case histories provided by Dr George Ganaway, which show that memories of extremely traumatic events can be implanted by slight hints from the therapist, and are then readily embellished by the patient's own mind.

Memory of traumatic events is not immutably fixed in the mind. Dr Loftus describes work done by Dr Ulric Neisser, who interviewed students about their memories of the Challenger explosion. He showed that over a two and a half year period memories of a traumatic event, which was initially written down, could change dramatically to the point where there was no resemblance between the two versions of a real event.

Memory of traumatic events can be implanted, and is indistinguishable from memory based on historic fact. Dr Loftus describes a series of experiments which show that once a trusted person has hinted that an event occurred, the memory of that event will grow spontaneously. Further, even when told that one of four memories was false, subjects were unable to accurately determine which memory was implanted.

In the case of Jennifer Nagle, Dr Loftus shows how a patient who was first reluctant to accept "recovered memories" as real was finally badgered into believing them. This case, which involved Dr Loftus's expert testimony, resulted in the accused, Jennifer's father Doug, being acquitted of the charges against him.

An entire chapter is devoted to the belief in "repressed memory" and its "recovery." Dr Loftus discusses the tenets of the "believers." The tenets are not described in a very positive light. Often a tone of sarcasm creeps into the narrative. The techniques for memory "recovery" are described, acompanied by warnings as to their ability to implant false memories. A reader wishing an impartial view of believers in the phenomenon may want to read the books referenced in the chapter, without Dr Loftus's editorial commentary.

Dr Loftus describes how another case led to her obtaining audio tapes of therapy sessions where the therapist made fairly obvious efforts to "help" her patient "recover" memory of incest abuse she might have suffered. She suggests that states enacting a three-year statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse may want to re- examine their law to ensure that the evidence would be reviewed by impartial experts.

The backlash against "repressed memory" started gaining steam as more and more popular news programs presented the possibility that therapists were creating these memories. Therapists fought back by denouncing the skeptics as "antiwoman, antichild, antivictim, right- wing reactionaries." Dr Loftus describes how her refusal to be drawn into the ideological side of the debate made her a target for both sides' attention. In particular, she describes a meeting she had with the co-author of _The Courage to Heal_, a book advocating the "recovery" of "repressed memories," which makes the gulf between the scientists and the ideologs particularly vivid.

Because she refused to come over to the ideological side of the "believers," Dr Loftus came under increasingly personal attacks. She describes a number of these, and concludes with one encounter which can serve to illustrate "believers" as somewhat neurotic ideologs.

The specter of "satanic ritual abuse" is discussed in the case of Paul Ingram, a father who was accused of, and had admitted to horrifying acts against his own children. Dr Loftus discusses the rising "satanic panic," and the curious lack of physical evidence. The case history itself includes a description of how even admission of guilt can be the result of implanted memories.

Finally, Dr Loftus suggests that the preoccupation with sexual abuse may be a "question of Hell." She referres to James Hillman and Stan Passy's book, _We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse_, where the authors argue that therapists are taking the place of priests, rescuing their patients from Hell. Several myths contribute to create the current situation, Dr Lofuts agrees. The Myth of the Dysfunctional Family, the Myth of Psychic Determinism, the Myth of Growth, and the Myth of Total Recall. She argues that there is no scientific basis for any of these beliefs, and yet therapists build their entire reality on them. In the end, she suggests that therapists must change the purpose of their work, so that instead of looking for truth in the past, they begin to help their patients deal with the present.

	Helge Moulding

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