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Recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 14 February 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:488

The Royal College of Psychiatrists issues important precautions

  1. Harrison G Pope Jr, Associate professor of psychiatrya
  1. a Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA

    The Royal College of Psychiatrists has just issued a set of recommendations for good practice in treating patients with “recovered memories” of childhood sexual abuse.1 The college advises strongly against persuasive or suggestive psychotherapeutic techniques designed to unearth sexual abuse of which the patient has no memory and encourages psychiatrists to voice any doubts which they may have about the historical accuracy of patients' recovered memories. These recommendations will figure strongly in the widely publicised current debate on “recovered memory therapy” and the possibility that such therapy may encourage so-called false memories.

    When false memories occur patients may become convinced that they were victims of long repressed childhood sexual abuse, often at the hands of their parents or other trusted figures. These memories may become a raison d'être for certain patients, diverting them from any other therapies, alienating them from their families, and often producing devastating aftershocks in the courtroom. In a recent American case, for example, a young woman in psychotherapy recovered the memory that …

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