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Freud and False Memory Syndrome (Postmodern Encounters) Paperback – June 1, 2000

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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About the Author

Phil Mollon is a psychoanalyst, psychotherapist and clinical psychologist. He served on the Working Party on Recovered Memory of the British Psychological Society, and has written widely on the subject.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

In the early 1990s reports emerged of a new mental illness - false memory syndrome - in which people who had undergone psychotherapy or counselling came to 'remember' childhood abuse that had never actually happened. This was alleged to be an 'iatrogenic' condition - that is, one produced by harmful medical or therapeutic practice.

The culprits were said to be psychotherapists who practice 'recovered memory therapy', based on a belief that many forms of adult distress and psychological difficulties may be caused by experiences of sexual abuse in childhood that had been forgotten or 'repressed'.

It was claimed that such therapists would encourage patients to search for repressed memories, perhaps with the aid of special techniques involving hypnosis. Under the persuasive influence of the therapist, patients might come to believe in the reality of what were, in fact, imagined events, might cut themselves off from their family of origin and, even (in the USA), attempt to sue the alleged abuser, often the father. Protestations of innocence and bewilderment might be seen by the patient merely as evidence of the perpetrator's state of denial and inability to acknowledge his (or her) guilt. In these circumstances both the patient and the family could suffer unnecessarily as a result of misleading ideas promulgated in therapy.

When it became recognised that accusations of sexual abuse were becoming increasingly widespread, lobby groups were extablished to provide support for those accused, and also to promote awareness of the uncertainties of memory and disseminate information about 'false memory syndrome'.

Despite the existence of such organisations whose aim is to represent the interests of the relatives of those sufferinf from 'false memory syndrome', and the widespread coverage of this issue in both professionals and the general media, it is surprisingly difficult to find a definiton of this syndrome. Nor does it appear in any textbook of psychiatry, or any official listing of psychiatric or other medical conditions. However, John Kihlstrom, a cognitive psychologist and advisor to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in the United States, has offered the following definition:

"A condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterised by false memories as such... Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply engrained that it orientates the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behaviours...the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory."

This purported syndrome has not been validated, is not listed in official diagnostic texts and no clinical case studies outlining its features have been published in any medical or scientific journal. Nor are there any psychotherapists who would term themselves 'recovered memory therapists'. The depth and intensity of the controversy over this issue would be difficult to exaggerate. A recent review text described the situation as follows:

"From the very beginning, the debate has been characterised by a viciousness unparalleled in th annals of contemporary scientific disagreements. Because of the zealotry, science has taken a back seat. In its place have been wild and inaccurate articulations or 'hyperbole' ad 'rhetorical devices'...that have served, not as science, but as emotional sound bites for a gullible media."

Nevertheless there are legitimate concerns about the reliability of memories of childhood and about misleading assumptions that may underlie the work of some psychotherapists.

False beliefs and false accusations regarding experiences of sexual abuse can cause immense emotional damage and anguish. Our current knowledge of memory shows that it can be subject to a number of distortions. Remembering is reconstructive - like telling a story - rather than a process of accessing an accurate record of an event. It is, indeed, a plausible possibility that certain kinds of 'therapy' or styles of interview that involve suggestion, exhortations to remember, group pressure or abandonment of a critical and thoughtful perspective by both patient and therapist could play on the deceptive plasticity of memory and lead to fallacious narratives of a person's childhood.

However, these processes are complex, and there is considerable ongoing debate about what is involved in the forgetting and remembering of childhood trauma, and also about the nature and extent of harmful therapeutic practices.


Product Details

  • Series: Postmodern Encounters
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Totem Books (June 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1840461330
  • ISBN-13: 978-1840461336
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 4.4 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,327,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although it purports to be an objective study, this little book is an exercise in Freudian apologetics. Mollon contends that critics' claims that Freud gave inconsistent accounts of the seduction theory episode are without substance. In fact several scholars have carefully documented numerous inconsistencies in Freud's accounts, the latest example being an article of mine in "History of Psychiatry", vol. xii (3), 2001. For instance, in one of his 1896 seduction theory papers Freud stated that the patients had no feeling of remembering the infantile "sexual scenes" he claimed to have analytically uncovered in their unconscious, and that they emphasised their "unbelief", yet in a later report he wrote that his patients "told" him that they had been sexually abused in early childhood. Mollon's lack of objectivity is illustrated by the way he takes anything Freud claimed in his 1896 seduction theory papers at face value despite abundant evidence of the unreliability of Freud's accounts of his clinical experiences. He reports that Freud claimed objective corroboration in two out of his eighteen cases in which he said he had uncovered infantile sexual abuse memories, yet the second of the examples supposedly involves the mutual infantile experiences of two women patients with the same man. That makes a total of *three* of the eighteen patients, a strange inconsistency indeed, but one which Mollon passes over in silence. Surprisingly for a clinician, Mollon simply accepts Freud claims of corroboration without the least analysis of these claims, which other scholars have shown to be unacceptable.
Mollon attempts to explain away the discrepancy between the original reports of a large range of categories of supposed abusers with Freud's later emphasis on fathers by saying (p.
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Format: Paperback
For some time it has been known that that there has been anindustry of child abuse memories implated by psychotherapists. Amazingcases have turned out to be fantasies affecting numberless people. In this small book, only too small, the author takes us through the alledged first cause: Freud and psychoanalysis. Is he the one to blame for all these patients that are suddenly taking legal action against their parents and others for sexual abuse? It is a well argued book that tries to defend Freud. Though he does that, the subject deserves much more than a few pages to unravel the mysteries of memory, P.A. methods, factors of possible suggestion of symptoms in therapy and the unconcious. Nevertheless it is a well written introduction to a malady that affects the credibily of P.A., Freud and the establisment in general. The book provides a futher reading list that makes it valuable in itself.
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I love most of the books in the Postmodern Encounters series, and how they are literally pocketbooks. This one explores the phenomena of people inventing memories about past trauma -- sexual, emotional, etc -- that actually never happened, but were ushered along and reinforced by therapists and others so that a person believes strongly in fictional abuse. The writer argues that this phenomena/syndrome definitely exists. It's a very dangerous type of false memory, because innocent people can be accused and suffer damage in their life from accusations that are not only inconclusive, but untrue. It also brings up the flaws and dangers of therapy and systems that deal with people's allegations of abuse. Of course, people are sometimes truly, tragically abused and this book doesn't downplay that; it just brings up the fallibility of the human mind and how sick, confused, or manipulative minds can invent abuse that never happened. Highly recommended.
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