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On the last track, we discussed the Family Stance and the Family Trance. As well as how the two techniques of the "Other Family" exercise and the "Mottos" exercise can be used to bring awareness of where the guilt associated with the abuse comes from.
This track deals with implanting false memory of sexual abuse that may result in the client feeling that the fabricated abuse was their fault.
As you know, in therapy, clients are generally told that they are expressing characteristics of a repressed memory, possibly one of sexual abuse. Since the suggestion is backed by probability, the client is much more susceptible to unconsciously inventing a false memory. Do you agree? Generally, these probabilistic suggestions can be exceedingly strong.
Take, for example, Bass and Davis’s statement on repressed memory: "So far, no one we’ve talked to thought she might have been abused and then later discovered that she hadn’t been. The progression always goes the other way, from suspicion to confirmation. If you think you were abused and your life shows the symptoms, then you were." Such philosophy only enforced Joey’s own memory manipulation. Joey age 9 will be discussed later on this track. As you know, Memory Recovery Techniques (also known as MRT) are popular in therapy.
As Lindsay and Read noted, these techniques, which increased the demand on Joey to recover memories of abuse, can often lead to false memory generation. Also, the desire to heal symptoms contributes greatly to a client’s belief that sexual abuse occurred. Because the client exhibits these symptoms and these symptoms resemble those related to childhood sexual abuse, the only way to be cured is to surface a repressed memory.
4 Key Factors Contributing to False Memories
As you may have experienced, humans have an inept ability to alter their own memory in favor of extraneous or unrelated suggestions. This influence can be as mundane as tiny details in an unimportant story or video. However, in cases of sexual abuse, influences are not as readily accepted, because these memories are not just an event playing out, but they are personally involving and emotionally arousing.
#1 - Social Demands
Joey was also a victim of false memory manipulation. He was referred to me by a school counselor who stated Joey had said that his father abused him. He used the abuse as a way to explain his failing grades in school. When Joey was 4, his parents divorced and a custody battle for Joey ensued. In order to ensure that she would obtain full custody of her son, Joey's mother, Carol, implanted a false memory into the impressionable young Joey.
She took him to a therapist under the guise that he had been abused by his father, Jim. Carol told the therapist that Joey could not recall any of the memories of the abuse. But she stated she knew for a fact Jim had abused Joey. While in treatment Joey was frequently encouraged to recall these memories that he supposedly was repressing using memory recovery techniques. While at home, Carol told Joey over and over again that his father was a "bad man" and that he had touched Joey inappropriately on several occasions.
Making it a Part of his Memory
Joey revealed that he could not recall actually visualizing recollections of the abuse. Further investigation revealed that while at the hearing, Joey had been occasionally encouraged by his mother who made suggestive comments such as, "Remember when Daddy touched you in your room?" Joey would respond appropriately. This seemingly staged account and lack of symptoms ultimately led to the conclusion of a false memory integration.
#2 - Consideration of the Source
#3 - Self-Knowledge
Now that we’ve examined the key points of social demands, consideration of the sources, and integration of self-knowledge, let’s look at the fourth key, the importance repetition played in the implantation of a false memory. The repetition of the false event by Joey’s mother Carol weakened Joey’s ability to monitor his reality. Most clients do not question an image that periodically appears at the forefront of their mind. They simply accept it as a memory. Normally, this same kind of monitoring helps clients determine if a false memory is truly accurate or not. However, Carol’s constant reiteration of the abuse skewed Joey’s mind to reconsider the reality of the event and ultimately led to his incorporation of the false memory.
Other more direct approaches by the therapist to recover false memories might only encourage a client to incorporate self-knowledge into the false memory, thus confirming the reality of the false memory.
#4 - Acceptiong False Events
In therapy, however, conditions are just right as you know to induce a child like Joey or sometimes even an adult into thinking that they were the survivor of sexual abuse. The authority of the therapist may also contribute to false memory creation in therapy. When a therapist suggests the possibility of abuse, clients tend to assume that there must be a reason for this suggestion. These suggestions can also be accompanied by scientific information and therefore interpreted as indisputable facts.
Also, in Joey’s case, the wish to please the initial therapist as an authority figure pushed Joey even further to recall a memory that had not occured. Likewise, group therapy can contribute in a similar way. The sharing of stories coupled with the emotional need to belong is a strong instigator for memory fabrication.
On this track, we examined the four key factors involved in false memory generation which could result in create false situation where the client may feel the abuse had occurred and was their fault. These key factors in false memory generation are social demands; consideration of the source; and integration of the false event with the adolescent’s own self-knowledge; and repetition.
- Wickham, R., & West, J. (2002) Therapeutic Work with Sexually Abused Children. London: Sage Publications.
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