Say It Again: ‘Repressed Memories’ Do Not Exist

Yet another study attacks the theory of “repressed memory,” which has sent real people to real jails for crimes that they supposedly committed against children.

Professor Grant Devilly, from Griffith University’s [Queensland, Australia] Psychological Health research unit, says the memory usually works in the opposite way, with traumatised people reliving experiences they would rather forget.

“It’s the opposite. They wish they couldn’t think about it,” he said.

In a briefing to the US Supreme Court, Professor Richard McNally from Harvard University described the theory of repressed memory as “the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry”.

Where do “repressed memories” come from? Therapists help patients to invent them, as described in this 1993 article from American Psychologist.

Here is another article by Prof. Devilly on the “memory wars.”

During the “Satanic abuse” scare of the 1980s, some prominent Pagans were fooled by supposed abuse survivors who came to Pagan gatherings and would spout some nonsense about how “I was abused by ‘witches,’ but now I see that your kind of Witchcraft is not like that.”

The template for many such fantasies was Lawrence Pazder’s Michelle Remembers, about a little girl in Victoria, B.C., who supposedly spent her childhood as the plaything of a ring of organized and powerful Satanists.

And I will admit that I was blown away by the story when I first read it, such that I did not notice the obvious plot holes.

I say “plot” because it is a work of fiction, dreamed up cooperatively by patient and doctor (who later married) under hypnosis.

These “moral panics” seem to come through on a regular basis, and all you can do is seek the facts and hope that justice does, in fact, move slowly and deliberately and not at lynch-mob speed.

Dark of the Moon

I tend to get into some bad places psychologically when it’s the dark of the Moon and work is not going well. “No one respects me, no one pays any attention to what I say”—that sort of thing.

The best cure is to take a dog (who may or may not pay any attention but who can be bribed) and go for a hike, interrupted with geocaching, as described at the other blog.