IPT Book Reviews

Title: Survivor Psychology: The Dark Side of a Mental Health Mission
Author: Susan Smith
Publisher: Upton Books, 1995

Upton Books
Social Issues Resources, Inc.
P.O. Box 2348
Boca Raton, FL 33427
(800) 232-7477
$14.95 (p)

In this 233-page book, Susan Smith explores the origins, foundations, and theories that have contributed to the growth and development of a movement she sees as having evolved into a moral crusade. This movement, which she terms "survivor psychology," contains elements of 12-step recovery culture, contemporary urban legends, and pseudoscientific notions such as "body memories." The spread of survivor psychology is not limited to bad or untrained therapists; many people with respectable credentials and degrees are involved. The results of this movement are that patients are harmed rather than helped, and parents, whose adult children have accused them of everything from "emotional incest" to satanic ritual abuse, are devastated.

Smith answers several frequently-asked questions, including how she got into this area. She tells of taking a college course where the text was Bass and Davis' The Courage to Heal (Paperback)(Audio Cassette). The instructor said always to affirm sexual abuse and gave the class a list of symptoms of repressed memories, including items such as "A dislike for tapioca pudding, mashed potatoes and runny eggs." When Smith complained to the administration, her objections were ignored. Following this, she began to realize how widespread the problem was.

In several chapters Smith discusses the fears, folklore, inflated and misleading statistics, propaganda, slogans, and persuasion techniques that have caused people to accept the claims of survivor psychology. The last chapter is on body memories and other pseudoscientific assumptions and transcripts from interviews with 38 therapists who claim to specialize in sexual abuse, "repressed memories," and treatment of sexual abuse survivors are included. The book ends with an appendix containing information from her therapist survey, chapter end notes, a list of references, and a short index.

This book provides a good popular discussion of the fallacies of recovered memory therapy but lacks a detailed description of Smith's interview project and the reference citations scholars would have liked to see included. Her discussion of body memory notions and the contributions of the 12-step recovery movement to survivor psychology is useful.

Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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