False Memories

Some false memories linked to mental health negligence

Mental health negligence may occur when a patient experiences false memories, or repressed memories. The condition is known as false memory syndrome.

Some mental health professionals believe that many of the most common psychiatric disorders are the direct result of childhood trauma. Employing hypnosis or guided imagery, they sometimes negligently lead their patients to believe that their illness is the result of often very bizarre, early experiences. The mental health professionals also may provide the controversial self-help book that examines “forgotten” memories of abuse, The Courage to Heal. Patients are sometimes negligently induced to believe that they were the victims of graphic sexual abuse or that family members were leaders of satanic cults who forced them to engage in horrendous acts of violence.

An example of how a false memory may be created

In an article in the Skeptical Inquirer, a typical case in which a false memory is recalled was described. A woman in her mid-30s seeks therapy for symptoms ranging from mild depression, anxiety, headaches or the inability to lose weight. The poorly trained therapist concludes that the symptoms are caused by repressed memories of childhood abuse. Shocked by the therapist’s suggestion, the woman denies ever having been abused. The therapist believes that her vehement denial is strong evidence she is repressing memories. The therapist may hypnotize the patient. If she is highly suggestible and eager to please the therapist, she may begin responding to leading questions. In time, the patient may begin to form images in her mind of shadowy figures that threaten her sexually.  Under continual urging, the patient’s memories grow more vivid. The shadowy figure takes the form of her father, grandfather or uncle. The more detailed these images become, the more convinced she and the therapist become that she has brought to the surface a terrible truth. The Inquirer article notes that a better-trained psychiatrist would know childhood memories are notoriously vague and the recollection of the details is a strong sign of fantasizing.

The false memory could lead to a confrontation with the person the patient believes was a molester. The accused family member would vehemently deny any such behavior, but that’s what the therapist would expect. The therapist may even suggest the whole family is repressing memories.

Childhood sexual assaults do occur, but the event is almost never forgotten. In fact, childhood sexual abuse survivors often try unsuccessfully to forget the trauma. The idea that child incest can be totally forgotten is a myth that does tremendous damage to families.

‘Theophostic counseling’ and false memories

One of the new techniques used by mental health professionals is called Theophostic counseling, which was developed in the 1990s. After concerns about legal liabilities associated with offering counseling services, the Baptist minister who developed the technique changed the name to Theophostic Prayer Ministry. Supporters say the method allows people to be delivered from a range of mental disorders and phobias. Critics, however, say Theophostic counseling is another form of the widely discredited recovered memory therapy. A clinician using the Theophostic method may get a patient to believe false memories of sexual abuse, satanic abuse or both.

Delayed memories are not reliable

Unfortunately, many patients come to fully believe that these are accurate memories from their childhood, without having received warnings that delayed memories are not reliable and are uncertain. Because of the mental health professional’s negligence, the patient’s newly discovered memories become the patient’s new reality and often leads to greater depression and an increased sense of hopelessness.

All too often, the patient is thrown into even greater despair, leading to tremendous psychological turmoil and sometimes suicide. Where a mental health professional fails to give proper documented warnings about the nature of memory and has negligently engaged in memory retrieval, he or she has acted negligently and will be liable to the patient for any injury that results.

Attorney Skip Simpson is nationally recognized for his expertise in suicide and repressed memory cases. He settled the first case ever brought by a sexual abuse “retractor” against a therapist, based on repressed memory issues. Since that first case, he has handled and tried many other false memory cases very successfully.

Contact our law firm

If you or a loved one experienced false memories due to mental health negligence, contact an experienced lawyer today. For a free consultation, call 214-618-8222 or fill out our online contact form.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson – fighting for justice, one client at a time.