Finally, a psychological association has ended the profession's
deafening silence on the topic of "recovered memories."
In its recent policy statement, the Canadian Psychological
Association recognized "that justice may not have been
served in cases where people have been convicted of offences
based solely upon 'repressed' or 'recovered' memories of abuse."
The association now wants the justice minister to "conduct
a special inquiry into this category of convictions"
because "the state of our knowledge about repressed or
recovered memories suggests that such memories, if they exist,
may not be sufficiently reliable to serve as the sole basis
for a criminal conviction."
On first reading, this statement seemed commendable. But
wait a minute. If what they said is true, then why have psychologists
and psychotherapists alike been conducting recovered memory
therapy? Why have they been standing up in courts as experts
testifying to the believability of these memories? And why
has the psychology association done nothing to warn the public
and the courts? And why is the association putting the onus
on the justice minister to act when the problem comes from
It is not the justice system that has manufactured and endorsed
these "memories". The courts, the judges and the
juries have only accepted what they have been told by psychology.
And the profession has yet to omit that recovered memory theory
and therapy is untested, unproven and unsafe. The psychology
industry is avoiding any mention of its own role in the possible
wrongful convictions. It expresses no remorse for those people
wrongly serving jail terms or for their accusers, who see
themselves as victims and are tormented by horrible "memories"
of events which may never have happened.
When fanciful theories and opinions clothed in professional
jargon can do such harm, you might expect psychologists finally
to be willing to shed their arrogance and voice some self-doubt.
But many psychologists have carved out careers selling so-called
recovered memory and other unsubstantiated notions both to
their patients and to the courts. And they are worried now
not just about their careers but about legal repercussions.
In the United States, psychologists are embroiled in civil
suits initiated by both former patients and those they have
In a recent case against Renee Fredrickson, a psychologist
and the author of a popular book on repressed memories, a
former patient claimed Fredrickson used hypnosis, guided imagery,
dream interpretation, automatic writing and misinformation
and suggestion to implant false memories of incest and ritual
cult abuse. She said these led to false accusations that shattered
her family: "Had I been informed of the dangers I would
never have dreamed of submitting to the procedure." In
the end, the case was settled before the trial date for $175,000
- a small sum compared to a $5.8- million settlement in a
Texas case and a $10.6-million Illinois settlement.
What should concern us as potential consumers is that in
all of these cases, and numerous others, too, the psychologists
are still licensed and practising, their own professional
organizations having imposed no sanctions.
In light of its members' concerns, the Canadian Psychological
Association's statement would appear to have tact, if not
integrity. How could it acknowledge short-comings that would
hurt careers, tarnish the profession's public image and open
the doors to a flood of civil suits? The dilemma it finds
itself in, however, is that in failing to be up front it is
defaming the science that is the very foundation of the profession.
"The aim of science," as Bertolt Brecht wrote in
The Life of Galileo, "is not to open the door to everlasting
wisdom, but to set a limit on everlasting error."
In response to the current concern with recovered memory,
psychologists should be admitting the limits of their knowledge,
admitting openly that they don't hold the key to everlasting
They should admit they were in error when they led the courts
to accept their unscientific opinions. And they should be
setting the record straight by telling the public and the
courts about the legitimate psychological research in human
memory - data that has always questioned the notion of recovered
The tobacco industry has been severely reprimanded for promoting
cigarettes when its own research showed they harm people.
Psychology is in a similar situation; it knows but says nothing.
Perhaps we should hold our applause for the psychology association
until it comes clean. Will we wait in vain?