Sunday, April 5, 2015

Memories are readily implanted by psychotherapy and leading questions- Dr. Loftus

This book is highly recommended and brought about a major change in attitutde towards the understanding of recall and witness idenitification in criminal cases. It is also a stinging indictment against psychotherapists who help clients "discover" or "recover" memories which are then used to make criminal charges against others.

She also records the outrage of "victims" and "abuse advocates" against her. They can not accept that an authority on memory can challenge the validity of memories recovered through therapy and hypnosis which have no independent verification. The "victim" is supposed to be always right because they claim to be the victim. While she fully agrees that much abuse occurs - but she also demands solid evidence before convicting some of being the abuser.

One therapist, who has treated more than 1,500 incest victims, openly discussed her method of approaching clients ( Forward and Buck, 1988 ). "You know, in my experience, a lot of people who are struggling with many of the same problems you are, have often had some kind of really painful things happen to them as kids–maybe they were beaten or molested. And I wonder if anything like that ever happened to you?" (p. 161). Other clinicians claim to know of therapists who say "Your symptoms sound like you've been abused when you were a child. What can you tell me about that?" ( Trott, 1991a, p. 18 ); or worse, "You sound to me like the sort of person who must have been sexually abused. Tell me what that bastard did to you" ( Davis, 1991, p. 82 ).

At least one clinician advocated "It is crucial...that clinicians ask about sexual abuse during every intake" ( Frawley, 1990 ). The rationale for this prescription is that a clinician who asks conveys to the client that the client will be believed and that the clinician will join with the client in working through the memories and emotions linked with childhood sexual abuse. Asking about sexual abuse along with a list of other past life events makes sense given the high instance of actual abuse, but the concern is how the issue is raised and what therapists do when clients initially deny an abusive past.

Evidence exists that some therapists do not take no for an answer. One therapist (who otherwise seemed sensitive to problems of memory tampering) still recommended "When the client does not remember what happened to her, the therapist's encouragement to `guess' or `tell a story' will help the survivor regain access to the lost material" ( Olio, 1989, p. 6 ). She went on to provide the example of a client who suspected sexual abuse but had no memories. The client had become extremely anxious at a social gathering in the presence of a three-year-old girl. She had no idea why she was upset except that she wanted the little girl to keep her dress down. When encouraged in therapy to tell a story about what was going to happen to the little girl, the client ultimately related with tears and trembling one of the first memories of her own abuse. She used the story to "bypass her cognitive inhibitions and express the content of the memory" (p. 6). Later she "integrated the awareness that she was indeed the little girl in the story" (p. 6). One cannot help but wonder about these mental fantasy exercises in light of known research showing that the simple act of imagination makes an event subjectively more likely (e.g., Sherman, Cialdini, Schwartzman,

Even if the therapist does not encourage the client to guess or tell a story, stories sometimes get told in the form of client dreams. If discussions of incest go on during the day, and day residue gets into the dreams at night, it would not be surprising to see that dreams of incest might result. Poston and Lison (1990) described a woman with "repressed memories" of incest who reported a dream about watching a little girl ice skate on a frozen river. In her dream, the woman tried desperately to warn the child that monsters and snakes were making their way through the ice to devour her. Although frightened, the woman was powerless and could not warn the innocent child. A few days later, the client began remembering incest from her childhood. Knowing she had "a trusted relationship with a therapist and a survivor's group that would understand and accept her" (p. 197), the memories began to flow.

Examples of therapists interpreting dreams as signs of memory of abuse can be found throughout the literature. One clinician described with pride how she communicated to her male patient the basis for her suspicions that he had been abused: "On many occasions, I explained that these dreams had preserved experiences and impressions of an indelible nature" ( M. Williams, 1987, p. 152 ).

Frederickson (1992), who has worked with many incest survivors, has also described in detail her methods of getting patients to remember. She recommended that the therapist guide the patient "to expand on or explore images that have broken through to the conscious mind, allowing related images of the abuse to surface. The process lets the survivor complete the picture of what happened, using a current image or flash as a jumping-off point" (p. 97). She also suggested that the therapist help the patient expand on the images and sensations evoked by dreams "to shed light on or recover our repressed memories" (p. 98). She extolled the virtues of hypnosis to "retrieve buried memories" (p. 98) and recommended that patients "jot down suspected memories of abuse you would like to explore. Include your own felt sense of how you think you were abused" (p. 102).

Even if clinicians are not the first to bring up sexual abuse, they will often reinforce what begins as a mere suspicion. One client developed the idea that she might have been sexually abused, tried hypnosis to help her recover memories, and obsessed for years. Only after her therapist stated that she believed sexual assault was "indeed possible" and cited nightmares, phobia of men, and other symptoms as evidence did the client come up with some specific memories ( Schuker, 1979, p. 569 ). [...]

Why Would Therapists Suggest Things to Their Patients?

The core of treatment, it is widely believed, is to help clients reclaim their "traumatic past" ( Rieker and Carmen, 1986, p. 369 ). Therapists routinely dig deliberately into the ugly underbelly of mental life. They dig for memories purposefully because they believe that in order to get well, to become survivors rather than victims, their clients must overcome the protective denial that was used to tolerate the abuse during childhood ( Sgroi, 1989, p. 112 ). Memory blocks can be protective in many ways, but they come at a cost; they cut off the survivors from a significant part of their past histories and leave them without good explanations for their negative self-image, low self-esteem, and other mental problems. These memories must be brought into consciousness, not as an end in itself but only insofar as it helps the survivors acknowledge reality and overcome denial processes that are now dysfunctional (p. 115).

Another reason therapists may be unwittingly suggesting ideas to their clients is that they have fallen prey to a bias that affects all of us, known as the "confirmatory bias" ( Baron, Beattie, and  Hershey, 1988 ). People in general, therapists included, have a tendency to search for evidence that confirms their hunches rather than search for evidence that disconfirms. It is not easy to discard long-held or cherished beliefs, in part because we are eager to verify those beliefs and are not inclined to seek evidence that might disprove them [...]

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