Dr. Phil Exposes the Flaws & Fallacies of Repressed Memories

Thank you, Dr. Phil for your show:

Sex Abuse and Murder:

A Daughter’s Repressed Memories or Lies?

Air Date  February 17, 2014
Summary:
Tracy says that about three years ago, disturbing memories from her childhood began to surface about sex abuse and murder — involving her mother, Donna, and now-deceased father, Alan. Tracy claims that she and her sister, Kelly, were molested by their father and grandfather, and alleges that Donna killed Kelly’s best friend and buried the girl in their backyard. Donna and Kelly vehemently deny the claims, calling Tracy “delusional.” Emotions run high when Tracy faces her family on Dr. Phil’s stage, including Donna, whom she hasn’t seen or spoken to in more than a year. Is Tracy remembering actual events, or are these fictionalized memories? Plus, don’t miss part two tomorrow, when Donna agrees to take a polygraph test to clear her name. Will Tracy get the answers she’s looking for? This program contains strong sexual content. Viewer discretion advised.
~~~~~~~~
The argument regarding the truth of repressed memories boils down to one question:
Are decade old memories, newly discovered, accurate?

I do not think that repressed memories are lies because a lie is a deliberate attempt to deceive. Repressed memories that erupt decades after an event cannot be 100% accurate as the science of human memory repeatedly shows, and proves in a laboratory, that memories in general are a confabulated rendition of truth, falsehood, and fill-in-the blanks.

I was once caught in a web of repressed memories much like that displayed by the guest on the Dr. Phil show. And like her, my memories grew during therapy and were reinforced by those around me. My decade old memories morphed into a story that, when investigated, were found to be utter nonsense.

I am grateful that the Dr. Phil show educated the public about the controversy that continues to swirl around the veracity of repressed memories. When science and investigations are employed, we have a chance of getting to the truth of these memories. When people are being accused of heinous crimes that never occurred, we have a responsibility to seek the truth and scant memories of events that may or may not have occurred decades earlier are simply not reliable.

The family who told their horror story regarding accusations of murder and sexual assault based on the repressed memories of a family member now have a chance to recover and heal from the toxic psychotherapy that tore at their souls. Science prevails in this case and I wonder how many other families could benefit from evidence rather than dubious memories of wrong doing.

It’s time to pressure the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, the two most influential organizations responsible for overseeing mental health care practitioners in the United States, to hold their members accountable for their actions.

When patient’s welfare is sacrificed for theories and beliefs held by the therapist – it’s simply a crime against humanity.

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15 Comments

  1. A branch of my extended family was torn apart because of false accusations of SRA. Ten years later, the woman who made them recanted and begged for forgiveness from the people that she had hurt, but the damage she had caused was permanent. After watching that debacle unfold amongst my relatives, I’m definitely of the opinion that accuracy matters.

    Even if someone doesn’t accuse their family members of committing the abuse, they’re still accusing them of not noticing or not caring that it was happening. “No man is an island,” and everything that a person says and believes affects those around them, positively or negatively. Accuracy matters, if not for you, then for the people around you.

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    • Hi flower, Thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you found my blog useful.

      There is a private Facebook page with members who went through what you did. It’s for members only. If you want to join, let me know. You’ll need a Facebook page.
      Best, J

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  2. Hi Jeanette,

    I hope this year is going well for you. I really don’t think the problem is with “repressed” memories but with ALL memories. One girl in my wife’s network, does remember things about their abuser that no one else does, but they are the kind of sketchy memories you’d expect from 45 years ago when they happened to her as a 2 year old. Her abuser killed an orange striped cat with white feet and the abuser was “big” and about the age of our son and other than that largely her memories are things he said and impressions and feelings associated with the abuse.

    I’m pretty sure you’d agree that ALL human memories are faulty and filtered thru our personal paradigms and by the time they get stored in our brains they are a mere shadow of the event. I do think the majority of therapists now recognize the excesses of the 80’s and 90’s when they treated those memories as if they were a cam corder on the past, but ignorance and popular opinion is still lagging behind like it does in so many scientific fields.

    Take care,

    Sam

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    • Hello Sam! It is good to hear from you. I visited your website recently and was pleased to learn your wife is progressing and feeling better, as I interpreted your post. I hope that is true.

      You are correct – I agree that all memories are faulty and the camcorder theories are debunked by science. I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and I was taught the camcorder theory of memory so it was easy for me to get caught in theories my psychiatrist held i.e. all memories are true and accurate.

      Tell me, Sam, how is it that you believe in the accuracy of sketchy memories? Isn’t that a contradiction? In addition, science has also shown that humans are unable to biologically make a memory before the age of about 2 1/2 to 3 years of age? I’m not challenging you, I’d like to know if you are willing to share.

      I believed the content of my repressed memories because they were all sprinkled with facts and truths. That is, the people were real and part of the events like a birthday party, actually occurred. The newly remembered abuse was somehow inserted into the old memory during treatment. Since those new memories were packed with intense emotions, I believed them with help from my doctor. After all, he’d say, why would I have such intense emotions if the memories were wrong? Sounded logical at the time, but I didn’t know that the camcorder theories were wrong and had no idea about the science behind the biology of memory.

      I doubt I’d get caught in this therapy knowing what I know now. I had no access to information at the time and the Internet was in it’s infancy and unavailable. Information and education would have kept me and my family from horrible psychotherapy.

      Just some thoughts. Best to you, Sam. Thanks for stopping by.

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      • Hi Jeanette,

        whether or not it’s physically possible for my wife to have stored memories before she was 2 really misses the point except if you are talking a trial or something else. I know that’s important to your website because of trials based on faulty science.

        However, a part of my wife believed a lot of lies because of the abuse that happened in her early life. When this other girl entered my life 3 years ago, she carried those beliefs with her and I was able to help her work thru them and come to a much healthier perspective about herself and the abuse. The others girls couldn’t articulate the beliefs that the last girl could. So somewhere in the corners of my wife’s mind she believed these things foundationally and this last girl finally gave me access to what has trapped my wife in her life-long dysfunction.

        To me, healing doesn’t depend on the veracity of what the various girls in my wife’s network believe about the past. Healing comes when what they believe about themselves/herself because of their beliefs about the past becomes more healthy and normal. I not her “memory policeman” to make sure they are all correct. But those memories and feelings from the past dictate how she acts and reacts in the present, and so I’m helping her work thru those.

        You really don’t have to believe in d.i.d. to do what I’m doing. I listen. I validate. I allow myself to be their primary attachment figure as they come to terms with the trauma from the past. And as we do that, they are healing and pulling back together mostly on their own.

        I hope this wasn’t too rambly…

        Sam

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        • Hi Sam, not to rambly at all.

          I am reading more and more about people and therapists not being concerned about the truth behind the memories rather they look at it something like you do. I think I understand, but if someone’s sense of self is based on faulty thinking, how can that be productive? What pains me is when families are destroyed when accusations of abuse are levied against an innocent person.

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          • Jeanette,

            Fortunately there was no kind of incest going on in my wife’s childhood. None of the other girls have thought that.

            As far as the “faulty thinking” I think that’s all what the healing process is about; it’s about changing the faulty thinking whether it’s directed towards one’s self perception in light of the abuse the 2 littlest girls experienced, or a child’s perspective versus a more mature perspective that some of the older girls needed to overcome.

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          • Interesting Sam.

            What I’m wondering, in general, is about the extended family of people like your wife. Does the extended family get removed from the life of the abused person? During my treatment, I was convinced to remove my family from my life because I was told they would hinder my healing. Also, if the “patient” believes their family caused the abuse how is that handled? What about the faulty memories that tell the person someone hurt them, but they may not have? Then the patient/person spends many years without extended family for no reason.

            Thanks, Sam. I’m not asking for personal information, just wondering how that is handled. I recently came across an article by a therapist who said that the contents of memories don’t matter. I can’t see how that is possible especially if the person thinks their father, for example, abused them but he didn’t. It can have a huge impact on the life of the person if family is cut out of their life. I find this to be a very sad reality. How about the people convicted of abuse based on these types of memories? Many sit in jail as I write.

            Thanks, Sam. I’d like to understand this thinking. I can only imagine how I’d feel if my daughter had sketchy memories of me abusing her when I didn’t. She’d spend much of her adult life avoiding me and perhaps not allowing me to see her or my grandchildren. This is beyond sad. That’s why I think the content of memories are very important and worth perusing. Not every single memory, but the bulk of those that point to alleged harm.

            Hope this makes some sense. This is the first time I’ve tried to articulate it. Best.

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          • Jeanette,

            you and I are speaking from two different perspectives. We have bodily physical proof of the abuse that happened to my wife. So there’s no guessing whether abuse occurred. Her gynecologist confirmed something traumatic happened. As well, how she related to me for 25 years is pretty “classic” for abuse survivors now that I understand the subject better.

            And I’m not saying that “what happened in the past” is completely irrelevant and unimportant. But “shit happens” to all of us. However, those of us who are emotionally healthy and have healthy support networks, typically work thru that crap in a healthy way that doesn’t leave us dysfunctional. My wife didn’t have that when she was being abused and so she got caught up in a lifetime of dysfunctional thinking and interrelating with others.

            But for her that abuse mostly occurred 45 years ago. You and I agree the memories get pretty foggy at that point. And so for her, there’s only so much relevance to “ferreting out the truth” about the original abuse. So I’ve focused on helping her to “reinterpret” those past events and feelings into a more healthy self-perception and outward focus.

            I understand your heart, and the reason for this blog, but you must be careful about reading the abuses you suffered at the hands of your therapist, even though he is considered a leader in the d.i.d. world, into the situations of those like my wife who truly have suffered c.s.a. I have pushed her to stay in contact with her family in spite of their unwillingness to help her heal from the things that occurred during “their watch.”

            Take care,

            Sam

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          • Hi Sam,

            I mean no disrespect to the experiences and csa of your wife. I cannot imagine what it’s like to have survived such atrocities.

            What I question are events I read about that are similar to mine that, in the end, turned out to be created memories. For example I, too, had GYN exams in an effort to figure out if my new memories were correct. One woman doctor who believed in MPD/DID said yes there might be evidence of childbirth, the other exam said no by a male doctor who had no idea I was in treatment for MPD/DID. How am I to interpret this? How can I not question others who use GYN exams to confirm abuse that otherwise cannot be remembered? I’m simply employing logic and reason.

            On the other-hand, I don’t discount others reported abuse – I wasn’t there. If your wife and her doctor find evidence, I suspect that is helpful to recovery and to validating suspicions or other knowledge of one’s past.

            In my case, all I found in my search for truth and evidence other than new memories was mounting conflicts of information and medical opinions so when I read about other people who have similar experiences, like the GYN exam that for me proved wrong, it simply makes me wonder, that’s all.

            During treatment I made a firm decision not to accuse anyone in my childhood of sexual violation based solely on my new memories. I thought it prudent to know without doubt or reservation that indeed, there was some kind of physical evidence or corroborative testimony that my new memories were right. I was never able to find anything outside of new memories to confirm wrongdoing. Fortunately for me, I remained firm to uncovering evidence otherwise, I would have ruined lives in my quest.

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  3. Georgia

     /  02/20/2014

    Hi Jeannette … Georgia here (I didn’t mean to post anonymously)
    I saw the show and spoke from memory.
    Yes, I agree with him that repressed memories are intentionally pushed out of one’s mind, but then he disputes the validity of repression by saying he’s never seen a valid case. It’s quite difficult to find a valid case (proven in court) after decades of repression because evidence no longer exists. In my case, there’s plenty of corroboration among the perpetrators who commited the sexual abuse. Getting them to “talk” is another thing.

    Haven’t visited this site in a while. Glad to see you are still blogging … hope you are doing well 🙂

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    • Hi Georgia. Yes, I’d agree that much of the physical evidence might not be available after decades. What Dr. Phil showed, IMO, is that there are other means of getting at the truth. In the case of the family he interviewed, lie detector tests and other means were used to test the veracity of Tracey’s memories that did not match what others in her life experienced or observed at that time.

      I don’t necessarily think that a court is needed in order to test the accuracy of a memory. I start to question repressed memories when one person recalls an event and many others who were there a the time disagree. It gives me pause and I immediately question why there is such a discrepancy.

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    • p.s. thanks for your well wishes, Georgia!

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  4. Anonymous

     /  02/20/2014

    The following sentence is flawed:
    “Repressed memories that erupt decades after an event cannot be 100% accurate as the science of human memory repeatedly shows, and proves in a laboratory, that memories in general are a confabulated rendition of truth, falsehood, and fill-in-the blanks.”

    Loftus again? Her lab experiments do not prove that repressed memories are invalid. I am thankful I never sought therapy, risking the possibility of implantation.

    Dr. Phil stated that, during his practice, he’d never seen a case of repressed memories. I’m disappointed with his implication that represeed memories don’t exist. I’d like to ask why he did not explore repression further.

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    • Hi Anonymous,

      I mentioned the science of memory because it is applicable to the veracity of so called repressed memories. Loftus is only one researcher reporting on the ease of which memories can be manipulated.

      As I recall, Dr. Phil said he has seen repressed memories, however, none that were particularly valid – or something to that effect. I don’t recall him saying repressed memories don’t exist. He did the opposite by explaining repressed memories saying that they are intentionally pushed out of one’s mind. He didn’t seem to agree with the decade delayed recall of memories being accurate. You might go back and read the transcript.

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