Report Summary: Repressed memory claims in the Crime Victims Compensation Program

In 1990, Washington State legislation allowing those who were the victims of a crime to receive compensation was amended to permit individuals to seek treatment under the Crime Victim Act if they claimed a repressed memory for childhood sexual abuse. A report compiled by registered nurse Loni E. Parr six years later attempted to measure the efficacy and results of the recovered memory therapy and its effects on participants. 

The report, compiled on behalf of The Department of Labor and Industries and obtained by Grey Faction through a FOIA request, reveals grave concerns about repressed and recovered memory therapy, even noting that “it is not clear if the legislature was aware of the controversial nature of repressed memory at the time” of amending the Crime Victims program. 

The report begins with a good faith disclaimer that its purpose is not to dispute the prevalence, seriousness or impact of child abuse, “nor the emotional devastation connected with rape and other forms of sexual molestation” but rather “to ask questions about the efficacy of treatment for repressed memory and the unusually high number of multiple personality diagnoses in which satanic ritual abuse (SRA) is the primary focus of treatment.” (p. 1)

Maintaining that the report is not intended to diminish the “exceptional work” of the majority of Washington therapists, Parr’s tone is one of concern as she continues: 

[T]he patients in the… [repressed memory] program… demonstrate an unusually high rate of mental and emotional problems which manifest during therapy and are proliferated as therapy continues. Repressed memory patients tend to be in therapy significantly longer than other mental health clients but with little improvement in their conditions after years of therapy. Indeed it appears that the longer the patient is in treatment, the more disabled s(he) will become. Of significant concern is that over the course of time, repressed memory patients often become isolated from their families and communities, suffer employment and financial losses and demonstrate devastating mental problems which diminishes their capacity to form or maintain meaningful relationships or enjoy life.

(p. 2)

She further notes that “the high rate of repressed memory patients might have an iatrogenic component” and that “documentation appears to suggest that provider influence, biases, personal beliefs and training may be impacting treatment outcomes” for these patients. (p. 2)

The report touches on ethical boundaries that were of repeated significant concern in the program, noting that “some providers who treat repressed memory patients become unusually entrenched in the lives of their clients,” experiencing a loss of “professional objectivity” (p. 2). Of further concern within the program was significant evidence of therapists leading the narrative of memories with patients who are notably suggestible and hypnosis-prone. 

Parr repeatedly states that little positive change in the case reports was observed and that “the ability of repressed memory patients to function in the activities of daily living is significantly and possibly irrevocably impaired as a direct result of the controversial therapy modalities.” She further warns of the “debilitating consequences” (p. 3) of continued usage of repressed memory therapies, adding that there were reasons to question the culpability of the department itself for providing the harmful treatment as well as its continued obligation to provide “last resort” treatment to attempt to correct the harm. (p. 7)

The Satanic Ritual Abuse Problem

Regarding Satanic ritual abuse, the report notes that in “an alarming percentage of cases” (p. 8) the patient had expanded significantly upon the original claims of sexual abuse after a few months of memory retrieval therapy, with “bits and pieces of surfacing ‘memories’ which suggest that the claimant was subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of a satanic cult…”

The memories included frighteningly grotesque details about rape, human sacrifice, murder, cannibalism, “blood letting, stabbing, cuttings, vaginal and rectal mutilation, wires, probes, knives and harsh implements being inserted in various body orifices,” being forced to “consume” a severed penis and the “flesh and blood of [a] child, as well as claims of being used for “breeding purposes.” 

Memories of this nature were common with recovered-memory claimants, as well as very often stating that they were being reserved for a “higher purpose” due to their families’ exalted status within the Satanic cult. 

Despite these gruesome details of childhood abuse, “at no time in the file or in telephone conversations do the therapist[s] question the validity of their client’s [recovered] memories” or attempt to retrieve pediatric records, medical records, school reports or otherwise despite the fact that such abuse as a child would have proved to be life-threatening necessitating medical care. 

Police involved in the cases did not attempt to corroborate or investigate the claims of the patients, despite many dubious reports, some including details of a “goatman dancing” and cannibalism — even going as far as suggesting these details were consistent with other reports, despite the existence of an extensive FBI investigation of Satanic cult activity which revealed no evidence of such crimes. 

Is it Multiple Personality Disorder?

Multiple personality disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder) was the most commonly reported diagnosis within the recovered-memory program. The report makes note of the fact that it is not unusual “for the claimant to have dozen[s] or even hundreds of personalities” (p. 9) referencing two individuals cases — one with over 700, the other with over 3000. The report also expressed concerns over the recent “high rates” (p. 10) of self-diagnosed and therapist-diagnosed multiple personality disorder cases in the program and in the United States in general (many of which were suspected iatrogenic cases resulting from suggestive therapeutic practices).

The majority of these cases are enmeshed in narratives regarding purported Satanic ritual abuse, leading the report to make note of the connection between the diagnosis and the phenomenon within the claims. 

Therapists who were questioned for the report posited that their specific techniques of “mapping” the system of alters and uncovering trauma “owned” by specific alters was to facilitate communication between alters and reduce amnesia. 

However, the report notes that in “none of the 30 select cases [that were closely analyzed] was there evidence of true amnesia between alters or between alters and the primary personality” (p. 11).

The Bad, Bad Outcome

Ultimately, the overall inclination is that the repressed memory amendment to the program was a horrific failure.

Suggestions for the program included repealing the repressed memory amendment from the Crime Victim Act entirely as well as declaring memory retrieval work controversial due to possible side effects of “suicidal ideation, self-mutilation and mental decompensation necessitating inpatient hospitalization” as well as “new and often bizarre behavior” (p. 19).

Responsibility for the damage was weighed as well with the department itself recognizing the potential for litigation by claimants or their families for the “failed treatment and the effects of irreversible mental illness” as a result of the treatment. 

By and large, the reported results of the randomly analyzed cases in the program were heartbreaking. A letter from Elizabeth Loftus, Brian L. Grant, Gary M. Franklin, Loni Parr, and Rachel Brown to the Mental Health Subcommittee of the program provides some devastating figures (reported on p. 55-56 of Dr. Tana Dineen’s book Manufacturing Victims: What the Psychology Industry is Doing to People (1996)):

  • The first memory surfaced during therapy in 26 (87%) of cases
  • All 30 were still in therapy three years after their first memory surfaced. Over half were still in therapy five years after the first memory surfaced.
  • Prior to recovering memories, only 3 (10%) exhibited suicidal ideation or attempts; after memories, 20 (67%) exhibited suicidal ideation or attempts. 
  • Prior to recovering memories, only 2 (7%) had been hospitalized; after recovering memories, 11 (37%) had been hospitalized. 
  • Prior to recovering memories, only 1 (3%) had engaged in self-mutilation; after recovering memories 8 (27%) had engaged in self-mutilation.
  • The sample was fairly well educated, and 25 (83%) had been employed before entering therapy. Three years into therapy, only 3 of 30 (10%) were still employed.
  • Of the 30, 23 (77%) were married before they entered therapy and got their first recovered memory; within three years of this time, 11/23 (48%) were separated or divorced. Seven (23%) lost custody of minor children; all 30 were estranged from their extended families.

Undeniably, many patients’ lives were utterly destroyed. Their partners and families were often understandably overwhelmed by their loved one’s new and disabling symptoms, or else abandoned when therapy-induced paranoia overtook the client. 

The program’s cost shot up to over 2.5 million dollars due to the years long treatment time specific to the recovered-memory cases which in turn did not garner patient improvement, instead often having a deleterious effect on patient’s lives and the lives of their children.