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False Memory Syndrom

Phoenix Counselling Services Article

Pastoral Sciences , 18 (1999), pp.127-150

'False Memory/Recovered Memory' Debate by Lorraine Jaksic

L'essentiel du debat concemant les "faux souvenirs et les souvenirs retrouve's" est double: jutqu'a quel point peut-on te fier aux souvenirs qui ont ete' enfouis durant des decades et quelt tout let facteurt a' evaluer pour deterruiner leur fiabilite'? Le mecanitme par lequel le recouvrement des souvenirs traumatissuts se realite est une question majeure de ce debat en psychologie. Des differences dant Ia tenninologie viennent embroujiler le debat. L'auteur toutient que des progre's teront accomplis dans Ia resolution de ce debat seulement apre's qu'on se tera oceupe' du sent et de l'utilisation de Ia langue.
The recent advent of the non-clinical term, 'False Memory Syndrome', has created a hotbed of controversy with regard to our understanding of how adult memory behaves when there has been childhood sexual abuse or other intrusive traumas in a person's life 'False Memory Syndrome' is a non-clinical, non-scientific phrase, not recognized by any formal medical associa-tion, coined by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (Brown, Scheflin & Hammond, 1998). In February 1992, this foundation was officially formed as a non-profit organization to address "accusations of childhood sexual abuse by adult survivors based upon decade-delayed memories that are created by misguided or unconscionable therapy" (Vella, l992) The Foundation argues that the phenomenon of flashbacks, a common form of memory recovery by adult survivors, is virtually impossible (Doe/Freyd, 1991; Loftus, 1993; Loftus, Polonsky and Fullilove, 1994). The aforementioned researchers suggest that the resultant recovered memory, surrounding childhood sexual abuse which never happened, represents a false truth constructed by the survivors but induced by therapists.

Many psychologists and psychiatrists subscribe to the Foundation's claims of 'False Memory Syndrome' However, there is a growing body of literature which disputes many of their claims. This recent, and not so recent, literature suggests that these claims are encompassed within language that does not specifically address memory with regard to Type 1 (single-incident) and Type 2 (repetitive-complex) trauma and their respective effects on children and memory retrieval (Courtois, 1992; Terr, 1991, 1994). The differentiating criteria describing Type 1 and Type 2 trauma will be outlined further in the discussion section on trauma. This literature offers alternative understandings to the aforementioned psychological terms (Briere, 1991, 1992, 1996; Cour-tois, 1992; Kristiansen, 1994; Kristiansen, Gareau & DeCourville, 1994; Terr, 1991, 1994). Given that the open discussion of the adult-child sexual abuse survivor and trauma psychology pertaining to sexual matters are so new, traditional terms may need to be redefined with regard to knowledge concerning memory and its application to childhood trauma.

For the pastoral counsellor this review of traditional terms used to describe memory and memory retrieval is of great importance. In order that the pastoral counsellor may be authentically present for the work needed in trauma recovery, it is vital to understand the different aspects encompassed within the traumatic experience of the client and the context of that experience specific to the individual. The sense of brokenness in relationships, as experienced by traumatized individuals, represents itself in terms of inauthentic living patterns and images with reference to self, to others and to God. As emotional and psychological traits/disorders are a consequence of maladaptive coping strategies resulting from inauthenticity and not living out of personal truth, perhaps the clarification of these terms specific to the nature of trauma within families (incest) and/or repeated social victimization (rape) will authentically address the existential concerns, difficulties and problems of these individuals.

At the core of the 'false memory syndrome' debate is the belief that fictitious memories of childhood sexual abuse are implanted in the minds of vulnerable clients by overzealous, manipulative therapists, using coercive therapy techniques (Cronin, 1994; Quilin & Hurman, 1994; Vella, 1992, 1994). There are several elements to this complex debate, namely: (a) the distinctions between two types of trauma, (b) the terminology used to describe 'memory' and 'trauma', (c) recovered memories versus 'false memory syn-drome', (d) victim blarne, (e) False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) and the political/legal implications surrounding childhood sexual abuse, and (f) the methodology used to study this relatively new field of Psychology and thereby resolve many of the issues in this debate. Each of these issues will be discussed in turn, yet many unanswered questions concerning each of these elements remain.

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