Disinformation about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation by ‘Adults Surviving Child Abuse’

(initial version published prematurely, final version complete on 02-10-13 @ 17:32 PM, EST, published on 02-11-13.)

Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA). Who would be against an organization like this? Not me and certainly not the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF).

This is a difficult blog post to write, but here goes.

An organization like ASCA with high values, aspirations, and goals gets tarnished when offering survivors and their families information that is blatantly not true. No matter how high the goals are nothing is gained by such actions. To pick and choose what information to publish is distortion – at best it inflames the sensibilities of all.

I am not, nor do I want to be, a spokesperson for the FMSF. What I am, is a person who abhors disinformation – intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately. I abhor the spread of misinformation in the guise of accurate information too. Of the two, disinformation is more harmful because it is borne of a nefarious nature with the aim of influencing opinions via lies and deceit for political and/or personal gain. Misinformation, on the other hand, is often a lack of properly educating oneself or slanting information..

I repeatedly ask myself why would anyone who has survived horrific childhood violation and trauma want to spread disinformation about an organization? Such behavior and intent does nothing, and I mean nothing, to foster support, good health, or vitality of those who identity as “survivors”.

The organization: Adults Surviving Child Abuse decided to add disinformation about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation on their website. I support organizations like this, but cannot condone or ignore disinformation – or brilliantly crafted conspiracy theories and conjecture.

Debunking opinions and statements like the ones below are easy to rectify with a quick read of the FMS Foundation website – better yet, call the Foundation and speak to Dr. Pamela Freyd, Director.

This post is long and detailed – as it should be, given the severity of disinformation and the violent emotions it can create. Facts are useful in situations like this.

Below are excerpts from the ASCA website regarding the FMS Foundation. Statements from the ASCA are in black text. Facts are in blue.


what is the False Memory Syndrome Foundation?

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was established in 1992 as an advocacy organisation for people claiming to be falsely accused of sexual abuse.

Where is the FMS Foundation?

The FMS Foundation is located at 1955 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-5766. Telephone: 215-940-1040, Fax: 215-940-1042. Office hours are Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 4:00 PM. (Update: The FMSF is moving toward 100% online services).

Who runs the FMS Foundation?
The Executive Director, Pamela Freyd, oversees the Foundation’s programs and the fiscal and day-to-day operations of the Foundation. The Foundation’s seven Directors set policy during quarterly meetings. The Scientific and Professional Advisory Board is composed of prominent researchers and clinicians from the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work, law, and education. This Board advises on issues of memory, therapy and research. It also helps set future direction for the organization.

How is the Foundation financed?
The Foundation is funded by membership dues and contributions from families and friends. Dues constitute less than half the income. Because the FMS Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) institution, contributions are tax deductible. Several small foundation grants have been used to support professional advisory board seminars and three major conferences. The Foundation’s staff is small, and the organization could not exist without volunteers who devote significant time and effort. A financial report is available in the FMSF office.

What are the goals of the FMS Foundation?

    • to seek the reasons for the spread of FMS that is so devastating families,
    • to work for ways to prevent it,
    • to aid those who were affected by it and to bring their families into reconciliation.

The Foundation was formed primarily through the efforts of Peter and Pamela Freyd (step-siblings and husband and wife) after they became aware that their adult daughter had disclosed to her husband that her father had sexually abused her as a child. Their daughter, Prof. Jennifer Freyd, is a respected professor of psychology who has since written extensively on the impact of child abuse on memory.*

History of the FMS Foundation

A group of families and professionals affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore created the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in 1992 because they saw a need for an organization that could document and study the problem of families that were being shattered when adult children suddenly claimed to have recovered repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. Across the country, parents had been reporting that they had received phone calls and letters accusing them of committing horrifying acts that allegedly had happened decades earlier.

Assisting the Freyds was Dr Ralph Underwager, a minister-turned-therapist who had testified for the defence in over 200 child abuse cases, including the Mr Bubbles ritual abuse case in Sydney. He had previously established Victims of Child Abuse Laws to advocate for people whose children were removed from them by child protection services for child abuse.* Underwager would step down from the board of the Foundation in 1993 after giving an interview in which he stated that paedophilia was blessed by God.*

With the assistance of Underwager and others, the FMSF established an advisory board with a number of prominent academics, and began to promulgate the notion of “False Memory Syndrome” through the academic and popular press. The Foundation defined FMSF as a social phenomenon of epidemic proportions, in which misguided therapists cause patients to invent memories of sexual abuse.

This blogger is currently in the process of obtaining accurate information regarding this superfluous occurrence that culminated with Dr. Underwager resigning from the FMS Foundation Board of Directors.

How did the name get chosen? Selecting a name for the organization was difficult. Because many of the accusers claimed that they were suffering from “repressed memory syndrome,” and since the parents were convinced that what their children thought were memories were really incorrect beliefs, the term “false memory” seemed appropriate. The parents described their children as being totally consumed by their new beliefs.

“When the memory is distorted, or confabulated, the result can be what has been called the False Memory Syndrome; a condition in which a person’s identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual’s entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behaviors. The analogy to personality disorder is intentional. False memory syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated, and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on the memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life.”
John Kihlstrom

In fact, the term “false memories” was not new and had been in the literature since the turn of the century. It was mentioned by Karl Jaspers (1963, p.76), for example. Although the term “syndrome” is most commonly used in association with the medical model of psychopathology, there are many other uses of the term (Kihlstrom, 1994). A syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur together. The patterns of symptoms in the radically changed behavior of the accusers seemed to indicate that the phenomenon was a syndrome, probably of social origin such as folie à deux (Merskey, June 1995, FMSF Newsletter, “What is a Syndrome?”). Thus the name of the organization was chosen.

There have been a number of concerns about the activities of the FMSF, including:

  • The Foundation’s founders and members diagnose thousands of people with FMS without actually meeting them.*

There is no, nor has there ever been, psychotherapy conducted by or at the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

  • The FMSF confabulates figures to create an “epidemic” of FMS for which there is no epidemiological evidence.*

Statistical data complied by the FMS Foundation is from surveys of people who contacted them.

  • The Foundation accepts all denials of sexual abuse as true without asking for evidence, whilst stating that memories of sexual abuse are likely to be false unless there is evidence.*

The FMS Foundation’s Board if Advisors are largely scientists. Scientific rigor insists on evidence.

  • The Foundation founders and members have engaged in campaigns of harassment, defamation and intimidation against adults complaining of sexual abuse and the professionals who provide them with care.*****

Citations, please. Who? Where? What? When?

  • The Foundation’s founders and members have regularly threatened legal action to silence their critics, and have a history of unsuccessful court action against others for “defamation” (e.g. Freyd and Freyd vs Whitfield, Underwager and Wakefield vs Salter).

Threats were not made. Legal action was taken, there were legitimate cases filed. No cases were filed by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.

  • The Foundation’s founders and members have deliberately misrepresented cases of sexual abuse in order to further their personal and political goals.***

It is assumed by this blogger that this statement may be directed towards legal action against Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. The result of litigation – Dr. Loftus prevailed.

  • The board members of the Foundation make a considerable amount of money as “expert witnesses” as part of the defence teams for people accused of sexual abuse and other crimes.*

To add add to and clarify the above statement: Expert testimony offered in legal cases is largely about memory and how the human brain works to create, store, and retrieve memory; deviations from the standard of care in medical practice, and/or the fallibility of police interrogation leading to false confessions. The above statement by the ACSAA suggests Board members of the FMSF testified in order to impeach plaintiff testimony. None of these cases is that cut and dry.

What is “False Memory Syndrome”?

The definition of the syndrome is vague, and Pamela Freyd was unable to provide a list of symptoms or signs a year after establishing the Foundation.* It was later defined by Kilhstrom as:

“a condition in which a person’s identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes.”

There have been a number of criticisms of FMS, such as:

  • The definition of the syndrome did not evolve from clinical studies, but instead it is based on the accounts of parents claiming to be false accused of sexual abuse.*

The name has been a point of much contention. In addition to Dr. Merskey’s “Is FMS a Syndrome?,” Campbell Perry, Ph.D. has also addressed this issue:

Is FMS a syndrome? Some critics of FMS maintain that FMS is not a syndrome for such reasons as that nobody would lie about being sexually molested during childhood (although the issue is confabulation, not lying), or that it has not been cited in DSM-IV, although MPD/DID was being diagnosed for 170 years prior to being included in DSM-III in 1980. (Some would argue, of course, that this acceptance by DSM-III in 1980 was the ultimate disaster for this particular diagnosis, since it led to an enormous increase in the incidence of this diagnosis). These critics argue that a syndrome is “a pattern of symptoms that characterize a particular disorder or disease” (English & English, 1966, p. 540). English and English emphasize that any single symptom may be found in other disorders or diseases, and that it is the pattern, or combination, that differentiates.This, indeed, is how a syndrome is ordinarily defined; English and English, however, discuss an alternative definition of syndrome as “a set of behaviors believed to have a common cause or bias” (p. 540). They maintain that this is a loose meaning of the term, especially if the syndrome is viewed in terms of the process that led to the memory report, rather than the symptoms that a person develops. The report of how false memories are created in a therapy that is distinct in its assumptions (all human psychic dysfunctions are the product of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse), and procedures (staging an angry confrontation with the putative abuser; the advocacy of hatred as a healing method) led Perry and Gold (1995) to conclude that FMS is a syndrome in this latter sense, defined by English and English.

Merskey (1995), however, argues for FMS being a syndrome in the first, more traditional sense. He sums up his position by stating that the phenomena of FMS “frequently include a person with a problem, a set of ideas for which there is no independent evidence, complaints based upon so-called recovered memories, and the propagation of hate and hostility” (p. 6). Regardless of which position one takes on this syndrome issue, it is certainly true, as Merskey concludes, that the “FMS Foundation has identified a peculiarly nasty syndrome” (p. 6).

The concept of false memories is not new to the therapeutic community, and the issues surrounding false memories of incest are at least as old as Freud. Unfortunately, the issue of false memories has also divided the therapy community as few topics have. Professional organizations, however, are now addressing these issues. Statements about false memories have been published by the major mental health organizations in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. Some dictionaries now include false memory syndrome as an entry; for example

    • FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME: a psychological condition in which a person remembers events that have not actually occurred. (Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, Special Second Edition, 1996, Addenda)
  • FALSE MEMORY SYNDROME: a situation in which examination, therapy or hypnosis has elicited apparent memories, especially of childhood abuse, that are disputed by family members and are often traumatic to the patient. (Encarta Dictionary, 1999, published by St. Martins, owned by Microsoft)
  • The syndrome is based on vague, unsubstantiated generalisations that do not hold up to scientific scrutiny. *

See above facts in blue font.

  • The primary purpose of the syndrome is to discredit the testimony of people alleging child sexual abuse in court.*

See above facts in blue font.

  • No empirical validation has been offered for the syndrome, nor have the symptoms been described and studied.*

See above facts in blue font.

  • Where empirical evidence has been preferred for “False Memory Syndrome”, it has involved evidence of general memory errors rather then evidence of vivid, confabulated memories of child sexual abuse.*

See above facts in blue font.

  • The syndrome has never been accepted as a valid diagnosis by any professional organisation, and use of the term in academic literature has prompted heated criticism.*

What is “Recovered Memory Therapy”?

The FMSF claims that “False Memory Syndrome” is caused by “Recovered Memory Therapy”. There is no psychological therapy called “Recovered Memory Therapy”, and the term was invented by the Foundation in 1992 to describe any form of therapy in which a client might disclose memories of sexual abuse in childhood.

The FMSF argues that a recovered memory is likely to be a false memory, and that recovered memories are usually caused by therapists practing (spelled practicing) “Recovered Memory Therapy”. A number of criticisms can be made of this argument:

  • The FMSF lumps evidence-based treatment for traumatic amnesia with fringe therapies under the term RMT, in an apparent attempt to discredit all treatment modalities for people with traumatic amnesia.

It is unknown how the ASCA defines “fringe therapies”. The statement is fundamentally false as evidenced by the publications by its Board Members. The focus is usually on the neuroscience of memory and iatrogenically induced recall.

  • A substantial proportion of those who recover memories do so without ever having participated in therapy, and where people recover memories whilst participating in therapy, most memories are recalled outside of therapy and without the use of specific memory techniques.*

This statement has been debunked by many professionals in the mental health field including the American Psychiatric Association’s position paper on the hazards of using hypnosis to recover memories because of the unreliability of the information recalled.

  • In a review of 30 former patients who sued their therapists for implanting false memories, Scheflin and Brown (1999) found that none of the cases involved therapy that could be characterised as “recovered memory therapy” e.g. a single-minded focus on recovering memories, or a client being misled in treatment.*

False statement. My lawsuit against the treating psychiatrist and hospital where I was housed was for medical malpractice and negligence for reasons stated above as causing injury.

  • After undertaking a review of research, Lindsay and Read (1994) concluded “there is little reason to fear that a few suggestive questions will lead psychotherapy clients to conjure up vivid and compelling illusory memories of childhood sexual abuse”. *
False statement. See FMS Foundation Board of Director’s independent and university affiliated research:
  • Paul Mc Hugh ,MD 
  • Richard Ofshe, PhD
  • Elizabeth Loftus, PhD
  • Margaret Singer, PhD
  • Robyn Dawes, PhD
  • Harold Merskey, MD
  • August Piper, MD.
  • Harold Lief, MD.
  • It is extremely difficult to make people believe that a painful or graphic event occurred in their lives when it did not.*

I survived therapy aimed to recover memories that were not true as did Roma Hart, Sherri Storm, Laura Mae Pasley, Pat Burgess, and others who have published their stories and/or won medical malpractice suits.


This post has demonstrated that nearly 100% of the statements made by the ACSA contain errors, distortions, and untruths. I do not believe their actions were in malice but in a grave error in thinking and beliefs which in endemic to the issues and topics brought forth here.

Since the information offered by the ACSA on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation are nearly 100% inaccurate – I have opted not to address their statements on Repressed Memory Therapy.

Creative Commons License
Disinformation about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation by Adults Surviving Child Abuse by Jeanette Bartha is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.mentalhealthmatters2.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.mentalhealthmatters2.wordpress.com.


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