Orphans of the Memory Debate

                           Jaye D. Bartha

Imagine if Stephen King had sought counseling with a psychotherapist
who practiced repressed memory therapy (RMT). How would the
experience have affected his life? After working with a therapist
who surmisedthat his mind harbored buried "memories" of abuse,
his life would havebeen severely impacted. His daily search for
"memories" would have left him little time or energy to write
prolifically. King'smoutstanding novels such as "The Shawshank
Redemption" or "Misery" might never have been realized.
    As the "therapeutic" years passed, King would have dug deeper and
deeper into his psyche looking for "memories" of abuse that weren't
there -- because they didn't happen. Sadly, he would not have known
that his efforts were for naught. His literary genius would have
created dozens of "memories" accepted as factual. Over the years,
King's therapist would have an enormous influence on the direction
of his treatment and, subsequently, his well-being. Luckily, this
didn't happen, but what if it had? How would he be doing today?
    Fatefully, King would have gone the way of thousands of people
who became entrenched in RMT. His talent for creating spectacular
stories would have secured his seat on his therapist's couch for
quite some time. Broke, exhausted, and alone, he would now be just
another orphan of psychotherapy, caught in the crossfire of the
memory debates.
    Early on, opponents of RMT focused on research and education.
Tenacious researchers across the country spent untold hours writing
papers that eventually altered the course of destruction running
rampant in the field of psychotherapy. Concerned families gathered
and boldly shared their stories. Meanwhile, back on the hospital
psychiatric wards, patients continued to grapple with rewritten
histories of horrific abuse they could barely comprehend, unaware
that the debates were in progress. They didn't know there were
choices, onemof which was to leave therapy.
    It was years before the term "false memory syndrome" was recognized.
Until then, patients of psychotherapy, whether entrenched in RMT or
not, were caught in the crossfire of the memory debates. Eventually,
the debates positively impacted the field of psychiatry and
psychology by holding therapists accountable for their actions.
    The impact, however, didn't necessarily change what patients
were doing in therapy sessions. They were still spending hours
searching for unattainable "memories" of abuse. Many patients stayed
in therapy believing the debates were just another backlash to be
ignored, if they were aware of them at all. What has happened to the
orphans ofthe memory debates?
    I don't have all the answers, but I have some. I do know there
are former patients who are still working to untangle their lives
from them catastrophic effects of RMT. Many of them institutionalized,
addicted to prescription drugs, jobless, sometimes homeless, and
surely in poor health. They are now faced with some of the biggest
challenges of their lives. Searching for "memories" was easy compared
to the work they need to do to rebuild all that was stripped from
them in therapy -- and they often do it alone.
    As compassionate human beings, we must never forget that the
volatile debates involve real people. It's painful, at times, to
listen to stories from those who valiantly survived the horrors of
RMT. It's mind-boggling to imagine a once vital life in
ruins. Returning to the hypothetical scenario of Stephen King, do
you think he would have simply left therapy, dusted himself off, and
returned to his keyboard to write another novel?
    Leaving repressed memory therapy is a baby step, albeit a big
important one, along the continuum towards good health. It requires
extreme fortitude of former patients to turn their lives around. It
forces them to realize that they have been deluded and, worse yet,
that their behavior and choices had an adverse impact on their
families and friends.
    Former patients are breaking new ground. There are no established
guidelines to assist them through the stages of rebuilding their
shattered lives after leaving RMT. The orphans of the memory debates
will continue to swell in number as long as therapists continue to
practice repressed memory therapy and patients continue to seek their
help. Where will they go?

  Jaye Bartha majored in psychology. She recently settled a lawsuit
  she brought against her former therapist who practiced recovered
  memory therapy.

Reprint with permission. FMS Foundation Newsletter, 99 Vol 8 No 2
Leave a comment


  1. Steve

     /  06/11/2011

    I actually wish Stephen King had got caugh up in RMT, at least for a couple of years, Maybe then he wouldn’t have written Dolores Claiborne, which helped perpetuate the craze through both literature and film. It was the best selling novel of 1992.

    I further wish these writers, like Piccirilli from the previous post, could find their plot twists in something other than a phenomenon that has caused so many people so much totally unnecessary and pointless suffering. But I guess they have a lot in common with their bretheren in psychotherapy. There’s money to be made. Damn the ethics of it, the free market has spoken!


    • Hey Steve, I understand your sentiments. I, however, take nearly the opposite opinion. I hope everyone writes about it so the absurdity of it becomes apparent like it did in The United States of Tara. Obliviously, TV viewers thought it moronic and lost interest – thus cancellation. When the same happens to DID therapy, we can hope for cancellation again. Unfortunately, those of us harmed by it can’t get our lives back, but we can at least witness its death.

      I haven’t read Caliborne – I will.



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