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Ethical Boundary Considerations and Repressed Memories of Sexual Abuse
In the last section, we discussed Predisposition to False Memories.
In this section, we will examine the influence of the New Age Self-Help talk-show culture on the beliefs of society regarding repressed memories: intuition, imagination, and hearsay.
However, one of the most dangerous ethical dilemmas of this cultural revolution is the fact that scientific methods do not apply to such principles. New Age adherents subscribe to a "new consciousness" which can be characterized by mystical beliefs. Influenced by Eastern mysticism, New Age promotes "self-actualization" and reaching a higher consciousness. During this section, we will focus mainly on the ways New Age thinking has affected the repressed memories movement.
3 New Age Self-Help Beliefs
♦ Belief #1 - Intuition
Its basic message is "If you think you might have been abused, you were." This type of thinking leaves no room for a second possibility and does not regard the many times a person's instinct could lead to erroneous conclusions. Take a minute to reflect upon where you are regarding New Age, or New Thought.
However, New Age or New Thought type of assessment technique is highlighted in the NBCC code of ethics which states, "In selecting assessment instruments or techniques for use in a given situation or with a particular client, certified counselors must carefully evaluate the specific theoretical bases and characteristics, validity, reliability and appropriateness of the instrument." Without sufficient consideration about the consequences and efficacy of intuition reading, this practice could be viewed as unethical and unsound.
♦ Belief #2 - Imagination
Josie, age 32, wrote out a fictional scenario and analyzed her reactions to it. Because her emotions toward the situation were so strong, she soon believed that she was a survivor of sexual abuse and had repressed the memory. However, because Josie was already looking for any validation that she could find regarding her sexual abuse, the visceral (or gut) response she displayed was one she had already probably prepared in her mind, or as discussed in the last section, predisposed herself to, and was just waiting to use.
These types of sense-inducing exercises, which sometimes utilize hypnosis and trance-like stages, only enhance the person's ability to fabricate realistic, fictional situations. The APA's Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct states, "Psychologists who develop tests and other assessment techniques use appropriate psychometric procedures and current scientific or professional knowledge for test design, standardization, validation, reduction or elimination of bias, and recommendations for use."
Clearly, exercises in intuition, although maybe valid in providing client support, are not scientific in nature, and, it goes without saying, do not follow the standards set up by the APA.
♦ Belief #3 - Hearsay
Consider this ethical dilemma. According to Bartlett, Marianne, age 23, used techniques she found in the book, The Courage to Heal to self-analyze herself. She soon came to the conclusion that her father and three uncles had violently raped her repeatedly throughout adolescence. Marianne was, in fact, suffering from many symptoms of sexual abuse survivors such as eating disorders, trust issues, and the phobia of having sex.
She came to her therapist, telling him that she had vivid memories about her rape that she had recovered after years of repression. The therapist took her at her word. Several years went by and, when Marianne became engaged, she wanted to be examined to make sure she could still conceive after such violent acts. She told the doctor about her past abuse.
The doctor, however, was extremely surprised to discover that, despite Marianne's insistence that she had been abused, her hymen was in fact unbroken. Marianne's memories had been fabricated, though she still maintains that some form of abuse must have taken place.
The ethical ramifications of this case are obvious. Take into account the following excerpt from the APA Code of Conduct, "When interpreting assessment results, including automated interpretations, psychologists take into account the purpose of the assessment as well as the various test factors, test-taking abilities, and other characteristics of the person being assessed, such as situational, personal, linguistic, and cultural differences, that might affect psychologists' judgments or reduce the accuracy of their interpretations."
If a person is liable to be negatively influenced by the exercises which could result in the fabrication of memories, the therapist must take this into account when affirming the validity of such New Age techniques and hearsay from clients that are influenced by this thinking.
♦ Technique: 3 Point Self-Evaluation Quiz
If new age, new thought, or self help ideas are in the forefront of your consciousness would it be beneficial to replay this section prior to your next session with your client who may have experienced sexual abuse?
In the next section, we will examine the influence of the feminist movement and assist you in evaluating how these attitudes may affect your practice related to ethics and repressed sexual abuse memories.
The False Memory Syndrome: Experimental Studies
- Mendez, M., & Fras, I. (2011). The false memory syndrome: Experimental studies and comparison to confabulations. Medical Hypotheses, 76(4), 492-496. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2010.11.033.
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