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Section 5
Self-help in Repressed Memories

Question 5 | Ethics CEU Test | Table of Contents | Boundaries CEU Courses
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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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.

Many renowned therapists have used New Age thinking to treat clients. Are you one of them? Such practices as hypnosis and age regression can be considered New Age philosophy.

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
Intuition is one of New Age's self-help infallible senses. As you are aware, many times, well-known New Age gurus suggest using one's instinct to gain enlightenment. Something as seemingly arbitrary as a small "inkling" may be viewed as the body trying to communicate an issue of vast importance. New Age intuition reading is emphasized in books such as The Courage to Heal which, as you probably know already, deals with repressed memories and sexual abuse.

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
In addition to Intuition, Imagination is another key aspect in the New Age or New Thought belief system. The ability to communicate to the body through the mind with the aid of imagination is a deeply held dogma amongst New Age thinkers as a tool to self-actualization. Through the help of visualizations, meditations, and sensory deprivation, a New Age practitioner can enhance the imagination experience. To recover repressed memories, clients will use similar self-help methods.

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
In addition to Intuition and Imagination, the third tenet of New Age, New Thought Self Help thinking is the summation of the two previous tenets, which is hearsay, or unfounded information. By hearsay I mean once the clients have been completely induced by New Thought practices, they take their new-found wisdom to their therapist. Sometimes, therapists wish not to jump to conclusions and seek other ways of treating the client. However, do you take your clients at his or her word? By doing so, this may quickly lead to accusations of sexual misconduct by family members or other close friends.

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
Here's an ethics self-assessment three point quiz for you regarding the effect new age, new thought, and self help has on you and on possible unconscious attitudes you may be passing on to your client who feels he/she has experienced sexual abuse.

Point #1 - Regarding intuition…At what level do you rely upon your gut level or intuitive feelings to make a decision? Have you at some point encouraged your client who feels they have experienced sexual abuse to trust their feelings? Kind of a quandary isn't it? That therapy is based on feelings, or if you will - intuition; While codes of ethics, on the other hand, requires decisions to be made based upon appropriate psychometric procedures and current scientific or professional knowledge.

Point # 2 - Regarding imagination…Do you use guided visualizations and relaxation therapy as part of your session with a client allegedly experiencing sexual abuse? In your next session, do you need to reassess if you might be crossing an ethical boundary by possibly creating, implanting, or enhancing your clients' memories of sexual abuse?

Point # 3 - Regarding hearsay or unfounded information…In your next session with your alleged sexually abused client, how much of their memory is based upon someone else's recollection, perhaps a sibling, other relative or friend? Could this hearsay, or unfounded information, actually be extrapolating upon the reality of what happened and enhancing false memories?

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 this section, we discussed the influence of the New Age regarding repressed memories related to intuition, imagination, and hearsay.

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.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Brainerd, C. J., & Bookbinder, S. H. (2019). The semantics of emotion in false memory. Emotion, 19(1), 146–159.

Bernecker, S. L. (2014). Helping clients help themselves: Managing ethical concerns when offering guided self-help interventions in psychotherapy practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(2), 111–119.

Conlin, W. E., & Boness, C. L. (2019). Ethical considerations for addressing distorted beliefs in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 56(4), 449–458. 

Franeta, D. (2019). Taking ethics seriously: Toward comprehensive education in ethics and human rights for psychologists. European Psychologist, 24(2), 125–135.

McNally, R. J., Clancy, S. A., Barrett, H. M., & Parker, H. A. (2005). Reality Monitoring in Adults Reporting Repressed, Recovered, or Continuous Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114(1), 147–152. 

Palm, K. M., & Gibson, P. (1998). Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Clinicians' practices and beliefs. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 29(3), 257–261.

What are three basic tenets of New Age, New Thought, Self Help thinking that can affect your client's false memories of sexual abuse? To select and enter your answer go to Ethics CEU Test.

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