Reassessing the Failures of “Recovered Memory” Therapies

From the New York Times (but this link gets you past the paywall)

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, an article called “The Forgotten Lessons of the Recovered Memory Movement” is well worth reading.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, countless psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, and other therapists — aided by law enforcement, prosecutors, and the news media —pushed a narrative of “repressed abuse.”

That narrative in turn spawned “Satanic ritual abuse,” largely created by a Canadian psychiatrist, Lawrence Pazder, and his patient/lover, “Michelle.

Quite a few Pagans were dragged into this, since “Michelle” and others claimed to have been abused by “witches” wearing robes and holding nocturnal rituals. But their voices and those of some scholars of new religious movements never got the media push that the “survivors” enjoyed.

Lists of the symptoms that supposedly indicated repressed abuse often went on for pages in these texts. E. Sue Blume’s book Secret Survivors listed over 70 symptoms indicative of repressed abuse. The psychologist Renee Fredrickson’s book Repressed Memories describes over 60. Do you have trouble trusting your intuition? Do you neglect your teeth? Have joint pain? Do certain foods nauseate you? Do you sometimes space out or daydream? If you have some of these warning signals, “you probably do have repressed memories,” wrote Dr. Fredrickson. In their books and papers, therapists described themselves as clever detectives searching patients’ lives for unexplained emotional responses or feelings, which might be the first sign of hidden pasts.

.  .  .  .

Pop culture also seemed to drive two of the more incredible outgrowths of the movement: the precipitous rise of multiple personality disorder and the widespread belief that satanic cults were abusing children on an industrial scale. Two best-selling books, Sybil, published in 1973, and Michelle Remembers, published in 1980, were critical in stoking public interest. Both books tell supposedly true stories of therapists helping their patients recover memories during therapy. Both were later thoroughly debunked — but not until long after they had their impact.

Read it all!

Live were ruined, people went to actual jail for crimes based on what they called in Salem “spectral evidence,” and for the most part, none of the therapists suffered or even admitted that they had been wrong. After all, they were “helping” people who were “in pain.” Hospitals were not so involved, back then.

After Decades, Legitimate LSD Therapy

Long, long ago, in other words, the 1960s, some psychiatrists and others were interested in the therapeutic potential of LSD, after the Central Intelligence had pretty well decided that it was useless for making spies confess.

There were two approaches to LSD back then. One was more cautious — it should be distributed quietly to artists, intellectuals, opinion-makers, etc. for a gradual transformation of society. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and The Island was in that camp.

The other approach was epitomized by psychologist Timothy Leary: Give it to everyone, now! Turn on, tune in, drop out!

We all know which approach won out and what happened. One result of the subsequent legal crackdown was that serious research with LSD became impossible.

That has changed.

On Tuesday [March 4,2014], The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease is posting online results from the first controlled trial of LSD in more than 40 years. The study, conducted in the office of a Swiss psychiatrist near Bern, tested the effects of the drug as a complement to talk therapy for 12 people nearing the end of life . . . . The new publication marks the latest in a series of baby steps by a loose coalition of researchers and fund-raisers who are working to bring hallucinogens back into the fold of mainstream psychiatry. Before research was effectively banned in 1966 in the United States, doctors tested LSD’s effect for a variety of conditions, including end-of-life anxiety.

Read the rest in the New York Times.

Kind of related: a short article, “Beyond Castaneda: A Brief History of Psychedelics in Anthropology – Part 1  1859-1950.” (Part 2 has not yet appeared.)

Active Imagination, Scrying, Creative Visualization, Guided Meditation

Trying to get a good handle on what the Jungians mean by “active imagination,” I have been reading Robert A. Johnson’s Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth this past month.  And I am learning some things. One is that active imagination, while a good technique, is definitely a product of the modern era. For starters, it requires a room of one’s own, quiet time, and literacy, even if done without an analyst.

My professor side started thinking of this as analytical topic for a paper — which I do not intend to write, but maybe someone else can. Take active imagination, scrying, creative visualization, and guided meditation.

Could you do a four-cell diagram with two axes, such as ego — unconscious or guided — unguided?

Johnson himself says this, after stressing that active imagination deals with the surprising and unexpected:

We need to grasp this clearly because there are no so many systems around that can be confused with Active Imagination but are completely distinct from it. The main difference is that they work with a prepared script; everything is determined in advance. These systems are sometimes called “guided imagery,” “creative imagery,” or by something else. What they have in common is that everything is predetermined. You decided in advance what is going to happen in your imagination. The ego decides what it is trying to get out of the unconscious and prepares a script. The idea is to “program” the unconscious so that it will do what the ego wants it to do. In one system, the whole avowed purpose of using the imagery is to get what you want.” (Italics in the original.)

Coincidentally (“there are no coincidences,” my old teacher said) Christina Hoff Kraemer posted recently on similar topic.

Often people use the terms visualisation, meditation and pathworking interchangeably, but they are different techniques, with different purposes and histories of development.

That would be part of my hypothetical paper too: what are the intellectual roots of these practices? Some go back (in the written record) to the Middle Ages, at least — think of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, who prescribed a guided imagery (or meditation) exercise where you place yourself as an observer of Jesus’ crucifixion and other significant events of his life, attempting to experience them through all your senses (there is more, of course).

Timothy Leary Floated Here

To raise money for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies  (MAPS), the organization is auctioning off a floatation tank used by Timothy Leary near the end of his life.

MAPS raises money and lobbies for research in using psychedelic (entheogenic) drugs in mental-health treatments. I donate to them and have the MAPS hoodie to show for it, but a $5,000 opening bid is a little rich for my blood.

But I did try the floatation tank experience, back in the early 1980s. From Wikipedia:

Flotation therapy developed from the research work of John Lilly although he was not primarily interested in therapy, rather in the effect of sensory deprivation on the human brain and mind.

People using early float tanks discovered that they enjoyed the experience and that the relaxed state was also a healing state for many conditions including stress, anxiety, pain, swelling, insomnia and jet lag.

As a result float tanks were produced for commercial uses and commercial float centres offering flotation therapy opened in several countries during the period from 1980 to the present day when there are hundreds of flotation centres in dozens of countries. In almost all cases these float centres offer wellness treatments and in particular the release of stress.

And it was John Lilly himself who donated this tank originally.

I found the experience restful and relaxing, but I did it without the DMT or LSD that made it really “cosmic” for some folks.

In the early 1990s I attended a nature-writing workshop at New Buffalo in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico. In the late 1960s, funded by one guy’s inheritance, it was a famous commune, until it suffered the typical fate of being overrun by losers and freeloaders, and the residents shut the gates, so to speak. When I was there, the owners were trying to make it a mini-conference center and extremely crunchy B&B.

There was a sign in the main room, which read something like, “Timothy Leary slept here. Or maybe he stayed up all night.”

Fight Depression with Frankincense?

New research on the psychoactive properties of incense. Surprise, surprise.

An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

“Sybil,” the Fraudulent Book that Built a Movement

Debbie Nathan, a journalist whose work did a lot to bring down the “Satanic panic” movement of the 1980s, has now turned her literary guns on a classic of my young adulthood: Sybil, supposedly a true story of a girl with multiple personalities.

Debbie Nathan’s Sybil Exposed is about psychiatric fads, outrageous therapeutic malpractice, thwarted ambition run amok, and several other subjects, but above all, it is a book about a book. Specifically, that book is Sybil, purportedly the true story of a woman with 16 personalities. First published in 1973, Sybil remains in print after selling over 6 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Somewhat similarly to  Michelle Remembers (1980), it took the conjunction of a gullible (and fantasizing?) therapist and a definitely fantasy-prone patient who could spin out “unreliable confessions and bizarre fantasies” while under the influence of sodium pentothal “truth serum” to get the ball rolling.

Add a writer and later a screenwriter and you have literary and cinematic hits.

The therapist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, did her part to promote the myth of intergenerational satanic conspiracies:

She played a key role in promoting the belief that conspiracies of fiendish, sadistic adults were secretly perpetrating murder, child rape and mutilation, human sacrifice, and cannibalism across the country and that repressed memories of such atrocities lay at the root of most MPDs. Innocent people were convicted of these crimes on the basis of testimony elicited from highly suggestible small children and hypnotized adults. Families were sundered by therapists who convinced their patients that they’d suffered similar ordeals despite having no conscious memory of it. This opened the door to years of expensive and ineffective therapy.

Read the rest.

‘Therapy Tourism’ & Why Talking Doesn’t Help

Ten years after the September 2011 terrorist attacks, follow-up research shows that much post-trauma therapy is useless and possibly makes things worse.

Mental health professionals flooded [New York City] in a wave of ‘trauma tourism’ after two planes struck the World Trade Center in 2001 according to the report.

But the main psychological benefits were felt by the psychologists rather than the patients, said the study, which said experts greatly over-estimated the number of people who wanted treatment.

‘We did a case study in New York and couldn’t really tell if people had been helped by the providers – but the providers felt great about it,’ Patricia Watson, a co-author of the report who works at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress told The New York Times.

‘It makes sense; we know that altruism makes people feel better.’

According to the report, therapy centres were set up in the offices of major employers and in fire stations after 9/11.

But for many survivors, the standard procedure at the time of asking them to talk through their experience was not helpful.

Researchers believe that the process can sometimes push people deeper into depression and worsen anxiety.

Of course, it will take a generation for this new insight to filter through the “helping professions.”



Gallimaufry with Forbidden Phrases

• According to John Rentoul of the British newspaper The Independent, these phrases should be banned due to overuse. He tips his hat to George Orwell, all well and good, but someone in the comments notes that the Irish satirist Brian O’Nolan also eviscerated bureaucratese in his day, which was even earlier.

• Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” is a staple of introductory psychology classes. But Gary Lachman (a/k/a Gary Valentine of Blondie, etc.) at The Daily Grail notes that it can take some odd twists in the world of the esoteric: “Maslow’s vision of a kind of Brahmin caste of ‘self-actualizers,’ uninterested in the kind of material gratification that most people desire, and oriented toward more ‘spiritual’ concerns, is a recurring fantasy in the world of occult politics.” Read the rest.

• If you have a book proposal in mind, does it include zombies? Get on the zombie bandwagon! Consider this one: “Christ, mythras [sic], and Osiris as zombie archetypes – a new spirituality for a new age…”

• Odd manners of dying in sixteenth-century England.