IPT Book Reviews

Title: Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria
Authors: Richard Ofshe and Ethan Walters
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons, ©1994

Charles Scribner's Sons
Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
$23.00 (c)

This goal of this 340-page book is to demonstrate that devastating mistakes are being made by therapists who use questionable and unsupported techniques to help people recall long-buried memories of childhood abuse. The authors state that their book "is intended as an exposť of a pseudoscientific enterprise that is damaging the lives of people in need" (p. ix). Richard Ofshe is a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on psychological coercion. He was the 1979 co-recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting. Ethan Watters is a well-known freelance journalist.

The authors note that people who come to believe they have recovered memories of child abuse fall into three categories. The largest category consists of persons, generally women, who believe they were sexually abused, usually by a parent or other relative. The second general category consists of those who believe they were abused in an organized, satanic cult in ceremonies involving ritualized rape, torture, abortion, murder, infanticide, and cannibalization. Approximately one-fifth of people with recovered memories include such stories. The third category consists of people who believe they have developed multiple personality disorder. These categories are not mutually exclusive; some recovered memory patients represent all three categories.

After this introduction, Ofshe and Watters argue that the practice of uncovering repressed memories, along with the theories of multiple personality disorder and satanic-cult abuse, are fads as widespread and damaging as any produced by mental health practitioners this century. They present evidence that a "significant cadre of poorly trained, overzealous, or ideologically driven psychotherapists have pursued a series of pseudoscientific notions that have ultimately damaged the patients who have come to them for help" (pp. 5-6).

The authors describe the faulty assumptions about memory that allows recovered memory therapists to believe in a "robust repression" mechanism. Through talk therapy, patients uncover "memories" of past events they can identify as the direct cause of their current distress. Such narrative creations are greatly influenced by the therapist's preconceived ideas about the likely cause of the patient's problems.

Hypnosis, broadly defined to include Amytal interviews, relaxation, and guided imagery exercises, is often used to break the barrier separating the patient from her unconscious repressed memories. But most researchers agree that hypnosis decreases critical judgment and increases suggestibility, allowing the patient to engage in fantasy and role playing and to create subjectively real pseudomemories. Case examples illustrate this process.

Separate chapters are devoted to satanic abuse stories and to multiple personality disorder. More case examples are presented and a chapter is devoted to the George Franklin trial. The book closes with an appendix covering recent research, detailed footnotes, a comprehensive bibliography, and a useful index.

One thing I found noteworthy in this book was how the behavior of the recovered memory therapists resembles the "grooming" engaged in by pedophiles. Such therapists gradually persuade their patients to accept they were abused. By persuading vulnerable patients that they have found the answer to their problems, other possible etiological agents are never explored. Fantasies are legitimized as historical fact and the group becomes the patient's new family. The lack of hard data supporting their techniques doesn't trouble the therapists, who substitute intuition for empirical research.

This excellent book joins others (Wakefield & Underwager's [1994] The Return of the Furies (Paperback); Loftus and Ketcham's [1994] The Myth of Repressed Memory (Paperback); Goldstein and Farmer's [1993] True Stories of False Memories (Paperback); Pendergrast's [1995] Victims of Memory (Paperback); and Yapko's [1994] Suggestions of Abuse (Hardcover)) in alerting us to the existence of this problem. The book is highly recommended to professionals and lay people.

Reviewed by LeRoy G. Schultz, Professor Emeritus of Social Work, West Virginia University.

Order this book: Paperback

Visit our Bookstore

  [Back to Volume 7, Number 4]

 
Copyright © 1989-2014 by the Institute for Psychological Therapies.
This website last revised on April 15, 2014.
Found a non-working link?  Please notify the Webmaster.