Conspiracy therapists and those who defend them rarely, if ever, acknowledge the existence of retractors. Retractors are individuals who were previously subjected to recovered memory therapy and once believed the memories of abuse but have come to understand that they are false. False memories due to recovered memory therapy have included themes of Satanic ritual abuse, CIA/military/Illuminati mind control, alien abduction, and non-ritual sexual abuse during childhood.
By ignoring the very existence of retractors, conspiracy therapists and their advocates overlook the inherent dangers of practicing recovered memory therapy. This also allows them to more easily fashion themselves champions for victims of abuse. However, it is all too common for never-forgotten memories of abuse — often a significant factor in bringing someone to therapy in the first place — to be ignored and unaddressed while the therapist digs for additional trauma. Moreover, false memories of abuse are often traumatizing.
Taken together, the typical experience of a retractor is as follows: someone enters therapy for depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or similar. They may have a history of abuse (which they have always remembered). The therapist, convinced that the client’s psychological problems are rooted in repressed memories of abuse, begins to dig. The therapist may ask leading questions, such as Are you sure nothing else happened? The therapist may not accept anything other than confirmation of their preexisting belief that the symptoms of mental illness are secondary to unconscious memories of abuse.
To “find” the memories, the therapist enrolls the client in a program of recovered memory therapy, utilizing hypnosis, EMDR, dream interpretation, sodium amytal, or any other method that increases the client’s suggestibility. The therapist encourages the patient to “visualize” an abuse scenario, or “imagine if” some abuse occurred. Then the client begins to experience intrusive “flashbacks” of supposedly forgotten abuse. With the therapist’s encouragement, these flashbacks are to be understood as memories of actual events that occurred. Although these “memories” feel different from the client’s other memories, the client believes they are genuine because their therapist told them so.
The therapist diagnoses the client with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and insists that memories of abuse are stored by alter personalities which must be accessed by the therapist to uncover the trauma. The client experiences a rapid decline as they come to believe that their childhood was far worse than they had previously understood. The client may confront the alleged abusers — typically their parents and/or other close relatives — resulting in a fracturing of the family. The therapist fosters dependence as the client is isolated from family and friends. Individual therapy sessions increase from once per week to twice or more per week, often with the addition of group therapy with other clients similarly diagnosed with DID and enduring recovered memory therapy.
For many, this process continues indefinitely. On the other hand, retractors-to-be often will experience some kind of event that will lead them to question the whole enterprise. They may wonder why their mental health hasn’t improved after months or years in therapy. They may come in contact with their alleged abuser(s) and find it impossible to ignore the vast gulf between the image of the alleged abuser(s) that emerged during therapy and who they really are. They may wonder about the implausibility of a significant proportion of their therapist’s caseload consisting of clients diagnosed with DID and undergoing recovered memory therapy. Or their insurance may no longer cover therapy sessions, and time away from the therapist results in improving mental health and a questioning of the recovered memories.
Every retractor’s story is different, but they often share many similarities. If you (or someone you love) may be experiencing false memories due to recovered memory therapy, know that you are not alone and you don’t have to suffer in silence. Please reach out to us.
If you’d like to learn more about the experiences of retractors, we have a page with interviews with retractors located here. Our open letter to patients of conspiracy therapists can be found here. See also our summary of a Washington state report on repressed memory claims. In addition, we have a page to assist with looking up your therapist’s license if you’d like to file a complaint, and a page with some guidance on finding a therapist.