Editor's Note

Hollida Wakefield

We have become deeply concerned with the sudden increase in frequency and the sensationalizing of recovered repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.  The involvement of the mental health professions in eliciting such memories and according them credibility is problematical and questionable. Recently, skeptical viewpoints, primarily from newspaper columnists in several different parts of the country, have emerged.  A year ago, several accused parents and professionals who had experience with recovered memory allegations began contacting one another and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMS) was formed in Philadelphia.  The goal of this tax-exempt and research organization is to understand the false memory phenomenon and work towards its prevention.

We originally believed that a few fringe therapists were responsible for the recovered memory cases, but as we gathered information, it became evident that these claims are much more widespread than we had realized.  Therapists in all parts of the country are helping clients, primarily women, retrieve memories of childhood sexual abuse, often including satanic ritual abuse.  We receive calls in our office every day from people wanting advice or information about recovered memories.

These cases are extremely controversial.  Therapists specializing in recovering memories maintain that up to half of all incest survivors do not remember their abuse and that abuse survivors must be helped to retrieve their memories with intrusive and unvalidated techniques such as reading survivors' books, attending survivors' groups, age regression, dream analysis, and hypnosis.  These therapists see their role as helping the patient become convinced of the reality of the abuse, even if the patient doubts that the memory is real.

We sponsored a symposium on remembering "repressed" abuse at the American Psychological Society's meeting in June, 1992 where presentations were made by us, Robyn Dawes, Joseph Wakefield, Martha Rogers, and Elizabeth Loftus (the discussant). In the next issue of the Society's newsletter, the APS Observer, this symposium was featured, along with the observation that the question of the scientific basis of such memories is timely and important. The papers by Dawes, Wakefield, and Rogers are included in this issue.

If this is a widespread phenomenon, and if many of the claims are, in fact, false, the result is tremendous damage to many people. If, as we suggest, a principal cause of this harm is the mistaken activity of mental health professionals, this is a major issue for the science of psychology. It has the potential to do great harm to the science of psychology and to set back the cause of advancing human knowledge. Because of the importance of this topic, we elected to devote this entire issue of the journal to recovered memories of alleged childhood sexual abuse.

In addition to professional articles by Terence Campbell, Lee Coleman, Richard Gardner, Hollida Wakefield and Ralph Underwager, Robyn Dawes, Joseph Wakefield, and Martha Rogers, there are three first-person accounts. Mel Gavigan and Lynn Price Gondolf each experienced therapy that created "memories" of sexual abuse that were false. Their accounts give vivid details of the techniques and procedures used in their treatment as well as the harm caused to them by the therapy. Rebecca Doe, a mother of an adult child making allegations based on recovered memories, describes the devastation and pain such accusations cause for families. (For another first-person account, see Jane Doe, "How could this happen? Coping with a false accusation of incest and rape," in Volume 3, Number 3 of this journal.)

We hope that the information in this special issue contributes to the knowledge and understanding of this phenomenon.

[Back to Volume 4, Number 4]

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