False Memory Syndrome: A Dangerous Myth

Although it is commonly believed that it is possible for people who have experienced traumatic events to block those painful memories out and then recall them  later on when they are uncovered through therapy, this is the part of this so-called syndrome that is the most false of all. Despite the fact that there have been no credible studies that have demonstrated this scenario to be true, “recovered” memories have been used to “prove” many cases of alleged child abuse.  Despite the fact that there is no evidence that this syndrome exists, lives have been destroyed, and today there are many adults who falsely believe they were actually subjected to the memories that were actually created and put into their heads by overzealous therapists and social workers.

How it All Began

During the late 1980s memory regression therapy became popular, and as mental health professionals experimented with this technique they began to claim to be able to uncover repressed memories that the patient had no memory of and were only able to recall through guided hypnosis. In the early 1990s court cases began appearing in which the only evidence against the accused was these “memories” that the victim only had knowledge of once they began the therapy. There is no evidence that demonstrates that the human mind has the ability to repress trauma and then recover the memories later on through the aid of hypnotherapy, and modern psychiatry does not support the existence of this syndrome.

Satanic Panic

Perhaps the most famous example of False Memory Syndrome being used to destroy lives is the McMartin Preschool case, which took place during the 1980s and at six years was the longest US criminal trial in history. Through therapy that claimed to uncover hidden memories, children which until that point had reported no wrongdoing suddenly “remembered” that they had been involved in occult rituals in which blood sacrifices and sex acts had taken place. This trial cost the state of California $15 million, but more than that it cost the members of the McMartin family their reputations and their livelihoods despite the fact that they were found innocent and no evidence to back-up the wild claims was ever discovered.

Why Does This Happen?

What happened to the McMartin family is not an isolated incident. Different versions of this same scenario have happened to countless families and individuals across the country despite the fact that False Memory Syndrome was debunked many years ago. One study described how easy it is to implant false memories, and in this study it was determined that even claiming to see a person do something can implant a false memory that can lead a person to make a false confession. Corroboration by another person can easily lead to the creation of false memories, and when you are dealing with a child it is easy to see how they could be led in that direction by a DHR worker with a vendetta.

What We Know Now

Today the idea of False Memory Syndrome has been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community, and there have been numerous studies conducted that have explained how false memories are created. Although the number of court cases related to this phenomenon have sharply declined over the past several years, the fact that this was once a popular courtroom defense at all shows just how easily false memories and information can be planted into the minds of impressionable children. If it is at all possible, do not permit your child to be interviewed by a DHR agent without a lawyer, a qualified therapist, or other medical professional present.