Can Recovered Memories of Childhood Abuse be Trusted?

In the legal system, there appears to be a lack of fundamental understanding regarding human memory.

This scarcity of education leads to people being accused of a crime of child abuse that they did not commit, families being torn apart, and lives being ruined.

One study conducted by the British False Memory Society shows prosecutions built solely on “recovered memories” of abuse, which were “recovered” through psychotherapy.

These scenarios start most commonly with vulnerable individuals with mental health issues receiving treatment from a psychotherapist. Much of the time, clients don’t have conscious memories of being a victim of abuse in their childhood and will adamantly deny it, initially.

Yet, as if on a crusade, misguided psychiatric professionals push forward with memory recovery techniques.

These methods include hypnotic regression and guided imagery. They can trigger a client allegedly developing vivid memories of abuse they’ve received from parents or other loved ones. If such practices were proven to be accurate, it’d be one thing. Unfortunately, the accuracy of memories isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Mounting research suggests that these memory recovery techniques are conducive to recalling false memories of events that never occurred.

For further understanding of how the methodology behind memory recovery can generate false memories, let’s first examine the nature of these treatments:

The Underlying Professional Consensus of Recovered Childhood Memories

In a study called ‘Recovered Memories of Childhood Abuse: Is There an Underlying Professional Consensus,’ the purpose of such treatments is thoroughly researched. (See (Knapp, Samuel; VandeCreek, Leon. Recovered Memories of Childhood Abuse: Is There an Underlying Professional Consensus?, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2000, Vol. 31, No. 4, 365-371.)

Here are some specific findings we wish to highlight:

  • The National Association of Social Workers claims that the focus of a therapist’s administering of treatments should be symptom reduction or elimination. Primarily, their aim should be to improve their client’s functionality to enhance their quality of life.
  • The APA Working Group of Investigation of Memories of Childhood Abuse cites that memory recovery is not archeology. Recalling trauma is only purposeful when it helps the patient.
  • There is a multitude of clinical questions that have yet to be answered. One concern is about the phenomenon of dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). Other professionals do believe in mistreatments stemming from an iatrogenic diagnosis. In layman’s terms, such a determination is incorrect and leads to poor health.

These three issues call into question the validity of memory recovery as viable evidence in a legal setting for the following reasons:

  • Psychotherapists shouldn’t be interested in the accuracy of these memories. The purpose of the discipline revolves around the functionality of a client or patient.
  • If we’re to take the professional consensus at face value, provided memory recall leads to improved outcomes, the accuracy of the memory does not matter.
  • Because of issues such as dissociative identity disorder and iatrogenic diagnoses, false memories can be recovered.
    • For instance, the result of incorrectly treating for abuse symptoms via memory recovery techniques could trigger the patients into recalling scenarios that didn’t happen.
    • Or, through the incorrect treatment, the patient could be coerced into remembering something differently to how it happened.
Therapeutic Psychologist Versus Forensic Psychologist

As was briefly discussed in the above section, the goal of most memory recovery treatments is psychological therapy.

This means that therapeutic psychologists use memory recovery methods that are less concerned with facts and truth than with a patient’s well-being. These professionals center their approach around empathy, trust, and encouraging client openness.

Since they are therapists, these psychologists would struggle to be objective, with their desired results being tied to, or even dependant upon, building a rapport with their patient/client.

Conversely, forensic psychologists conduct their work at the request of an attorney or by court order. Their role is based primarily on determining the facts involved in a legal matter, such as a criminal abuse case or Child Abuse Central Index grievance.

These psychologists, by their very purpose, display no empathy in their forensic assessments. They aren’t aiming to help an accuser or defendant. They are only worried about determining the cold hard truths of the situation.

At the root of forensic psychology are objectivity and an ability to take emotions out of the equation. As such, this is the kind of psychologist that could serve as an expert witness in your Child Abuse Central Index grievance if you’ve been falsely accused of abuse due to a false “recovered memory.”

Have You Been Falsely Accused of Abuse Because of Memory Recall?

We have found that among child welfare services social workers there is far too much reliance on the conclusions and opinions of therapeutic psychologists helping to recall purported memories of abuse. It has resulted in incorrect conclusions made by the social workers and injustices that have ruined the lives of too many people.

If you’ve been placed on the Child Abuse Central Index due to false memories being recovered, contact us today.