Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Truth About False Memories

I was outraged that this week another support worker basically accused me of trying to plant false memories into one of the clients that I support - can you believe that??

My colleague's accusation floundered me. I mean, how would you even go about doing such a thing?! Creating a false memory? Let's try creating a relatively nice memory - how might that go?

* * *

"Remember that rose garden where we sat together, sipping lemonade and eating jam tarts?"

"Uh, no."

"Sure you do, the sun was setting and you told me how much you loved my company."

"No, really. That didn't happen."

"The wind was just tickling the leaves of the pear tree and we laughed at how there was only one strawberry jam tart left and that was your favourite."

"That's a fantasy you just made up. Anyway, I prefer raspberry."

"Remember how I dropped the strawberry tart as I was passing it to you and you cried and I said not to worry, it had landed jam side up."

"Stop it. You're annoying me. Leave me alone."

"I dried your tears and you ate the tart and you smiled. Such a lovely smile."

"If you speak to me again, I'll punch you, I swear."


Sure, see how easy it is??

I can't respond to this without pointing out with all seriousness that so-called 'False Memory Syndrome' was invented by people accused of sexual abuse and in particular, abusing children. Check out this interview made by one of the founders, Ralph Underwager. And then try to work out why this man, who sees paedophilia as a 'responsible choice' for individuals who have that inclination, might also be a proponent of False Memory Syndrome? It is so dodgy! And there is something very disturbing about the idea that he is also a priest.

Two of the other founders are a couple. Their daughter claimed that her father abused her when she was a child. The daughter's therapist was accused of somehow implanting these false memories into their daughter's mind.

This woman at work has got me rather worked up, because the whole idea of 'False Memory Syndrome' is a weapon to be used to cloud and manipulate people who have had real memories of abuse, which they may have not been able to fully remember in an unconscious attempt to protect themselves from pain. This is known as disassociative amnesia, which is a real phenomenon.

I'd like to add a quote from an article, about why False Memory Syndrome is appealing to some people even those who are not abusers seeking a plausible-sounding defence:

"The notion that therapists can implant scenarios of horror in the minds of their patients is easily accepted because it appeals to common prejudices. It resonates with popular fears of manipulation by therapists and popular stereotypes of women as irrational, suggestible, or vengeful. It appeals to the common wish to deny or minimize the reality of sexual violence. In actuality, false claims of childhood sexual abuse are demonstrably rare, and false memories of childhood trauma are no doubt equally so. The evidence comes from epidemiological research, investigations of sexual abuse reports, and studies on the nature of traumatic memory."

From The False Memory Debate: Social Science or Social Backlash? by Judith L. Herman and Mary R. Harvey, The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 9, No. 10, April, 1993.


Charlie Bluefish said...

I guess I should add that I confronted my colleague and told her how much she'd upset me. To her credit, she apologised. She added that she just wanted to protect me from seeming to be influencing someone vulnerable.

grace said...

I just hate it when you confront someone about something ugly they've done and then they try to tell you it's for your own good.

I mean, that's the equivalent of walking up to someone and slapping them in the face "for their own good" because they were going to have a bite of chocolate and you think it's inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

Working in the field of support myself, I wonder why another support worker would accuse you of planting false memories in an individual. Perhaps the idea of this is more appealling than dealing with disclosure in an appropriate way or maybe it's about discomfort. It's alarming that cases of abuse of an historic manner where police become involved seem to rarely proceed due to courts deeming historic evidence as unreliable and untrustworthy; therefor no justice for the victim!. You were right to challenge the support worker about this strange attitude. Well done!

Charlie Bluefish said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I get pretty fierce about the idea that real abuses might get disregarded (or indeed not obtain the justice they deserve) simply because the person couldn't remember it initially, due to it being blocked out in order to survive the trauma! We weren't clear at the time if this person had been abused in some way in the past because she was new to us, but she was crying a lot, suffering with depression/ anxiety and OCD. When she was having a tough day, I would just remind them that she was safe and that whatever might have happened in the past was over now. (And this is what my colleague objected to.) Being present at meetings with her learning disability psychiatrist helped us know a bit more about her past. But even without the suggestions of historic abuse, this lady carries the same story I hear too often, of being pushed from one failed placement to another, starting from a very young age and extending through for decades until now. This, in itself, is traumatic.

Of course, the other good reason I feel fierce is when I feel my reputation is under attack - I strive to work in a professional manner and do not want my name tarnished.