Archive for March, 2015

Understanding the Complex Issue of False Memories

NBC News anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for six months without pay because of exaggerating stories regarding the potential danger he was in while reporting from disaster-afflicted regions. When it finally came to light remarks he had told were not accurate, some memory experts offered explanations other than deliberate misstatements by Mr. Williams. The possible argument made to justify his comments: the complexity of memory and how memory works.brain

Mr. Simpson, a lawyer well versed in the dangers of false memories, states “Mr. Williams, the NBC news department, and the nation all may believe Mr. Williams has deliberately lied when in fact Mr. Williams may simply have had confabulated memories. Confabulated memory is the production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or his or her environment, without the conscious intention to deceive. I sincerely hope the possibility of a confabulated memory is carefully considered rather than a rush to condemn a good man.”   Simpson adds “there are techniques to employ to determine whether or not the Brian William’s comments are more likely confabulations or deliberate misstatements.   The pile on by other networks is self-serving and not informative. This entire William’s story can be one where the public is educated about the false memory controversy; a subject which major mental health organizations warned about in the 90’s.”

A mental health malpractice lawyer knows that false memories are a controversial issue and one that becomes a major cause for concern when people’s testimony of terrible crimes is used to secure a conviction in court. It is important to understand the complexities of false memories and the truth behind how memories work to develop a better understanding of why certain types of counseling may be problematic.

False Memories a Complex Subject

The Boston Globe reports on how memories change over time to create a story that makes sense based on your current world. Some experts believe that memories often provide false accounts of events that may have occurred, or provide “at best, semi-accurate records of what we experience.”

Research supports the theory that memory is fallible. Last year, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience involved 17 participants looking at a computer screen at an object. The object was then moved to a different place in the same background. The participants were then asked to put the object back to where it had originally been, and they always put it closer to where it was in the second picture. This suggests the second picture had repealed the old one in their minds.

If the brain can create incorrect memories just by looking at different pictures, this means there is an even bigger risk that the brain will create false or incorrect memories when faced with explicit suggestions. This is part of what made Repressed Memory Therapy dangerous and is part of what makes theophostic counseling dangerous.

Repressed memory therapy (RMT) is a field of psychotherapy that assumes issues like insomnia, anxiety, bulimia and other related problems are caused by memories of child abuse that have been repressed. Techniques like hypnosis, guided imagery or other trance like states are used to help people “recover” their memories of abuse that their subconscious may have allegedly buried. In the last four decades however, repressed memory therapy was found to have caused many individuals to make false accusations of sexual and or satanic abuse that didn’t occur. RMT is not recommended by mental health professionals because of the risks of inadvertently planting false memories.

Theophostic counseling was developed in the 1990s and is also aimed at helping people to identify underlying causes of ongoing emotional pain and ongoing causes of current sins. The premise is that everyone is emotionally wounded because of lies the memory creates about past experiences and everyone must seek to have hearts and minds healed by Jesus. There are 14 principles of theophostic counseling, including finding renewal for the past to redeem the present.  However, many critics believe this process of dealing with past experiences is just a form of repressed memory therapy by another name.

If counselors use techniques like RMT or theophostic counseling and people falsely remember things like abuse, mental health counselors who participate in these widely-criticized forms of psychotherapy can sometimes be held liable for the consequences.

A psychiatric malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Skip Simpson can help. Call (214) 618-8222 or visit http://www.skipsimpson.com to schedule a free case consultation.