Open Letters to the APA discrediting the FMS Foundation

Dr. Ken Pope

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This letter was written in late 1995 or early 1996. There are more details in Treating Abuse Today Vol 5, No 6 - Vol 6, No 1.

Subject: Open Letter (please read and consider the contents)

Dear APA Colleagues:

Internet posts have announced APA's approval of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) as an official sponsor of APA continuing education units.

Granting this accreditation seems a landmark for both organizations; APA's rich history, vast membership, and hard-won credibility now legitimize the foundation that invented the name False Memory Syndrome (FMS), a diagnosis that the Foundation and its board have supposedly validated scientifically through research on "the empirical data the FMS Foundation has from 12,000 families," a diagnosis resting on scientific findings supposedly providing "more support for this syndrome than for any other that has been accepted as a legitimate classification category," and, according the FMSF's recent announcement, one for which they have adequate scientific evidence for their claim that "False Memory Syndrome [is] a devastating phenomenon that has affected tens of thousands of individuals and families worldwide."

[Note: I urge all readers to obtain from FMSF their complete documents for quotes throughout this letter to verify independently that I have not inadvertently mis-transcribed the quotes, distorted meanings by quoting out of context, nor altered the documents in any way.]

This open letter to APA shares my concerns about this group's history in regard to threatening actions, targeting therapists, etc. First, I am concerned about FMSF promulgating ridicule of those seeking help for what they believe to be sex abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect. Exemplifying this "humor" is FMSF's use of its Newsletter to publish articles such as "Whining About Abuse Is an Epidemic" (containing lines such as "Many Americans feel they just haven't lived unless they've been abused. . .").

In my opinion, such ridicule, particularly carrying the prestige of the FMSF board as listed in each Newsletter, disrespects and erodes the dignity of children and adults claiming to have been abused and expressing their pain and need.

Ridicule has escalated to explicit statements telling ex-patients to imagine engaging in violence against their therapists, claiming that the impulse is sane and natural and that violent cognitions about murdering ex-therapists can be pleasurable.

Here is a passage from another FMSF Newsletter: "many ex-patients have strong feelings of wanting to get back at the people who hurt them so terribly. You may dream of murder or castration. It can be pleasurable to fantasize such scenes in vivid detail. Wanting revenge is a natural impulse, a sane response. Let yourself imagine it to your heart's content." This passage refers to the ex-patients of clinicians for whom the false memory movement has coined the term Recovered Memory Therapists.

Various members of the distinguished FMSF board have also used other terms to describe therapists who disagree with FMSF. As one FMSF board member wrote: "Our paper points out that a new sexual predator has come on to the playing field. Recovered memory therapists are a variety of sexual predator. . ." Others describe them as hate-filled and irrational "True Believers." Still other FMSF board members compare such therapists to Nazis, or compare themselves to those who risked their lives to prevent genocide during the Holocaust (e.g., a passage from The Boston Globe: "'I feel like Oskar Schindler,' Loftus muses, referring to the German financier who rescued doomed Jews from the Nazis."). Such descriptive terms suggest that the loss of such therapists would not be greatly mourned.

These epithets may also be viewed in the context of formal accusations and complaints made against fellow professionals who disagree. For example, 2 founding FMSF board members sued a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma who had discussed their work in a way that was not to their liking; both the trial court and the appellate court held for the trauma therapist and chastised the FMSF board members for trying to litigate rather than freely discuss science.

Two other FMSF Board members filed federal and state suits making allegations about individuals and about APA (e.g., fraud, racketeering); both versions of the suit were dismissed. In her book on Accuracy of Expert Testimony in Child Sexual Abuse Cases: A Case Study of Ralph Underwager and Holida Wakefield (a study commissioned by the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors), psychologist Anna Salter published a photocopy of a letter she received from the APA Ethics Office relating "to the complaint made against you by Ms. Hollida Wakefield of Minneapolis, MN. On the basis of a review of those materials in this discussion, the Committee voted unanimously not to find you in violation of the Ethical Principles and to dismiss the complaint as entirely without merit" (appendix A, p. 68). [Note: Dr. Wakefield is an FMSF board member.]

Although I may be unaware of anomalies, I have been unable to find any instance among these and other accusations in which a civil suit, ethics complaint, licensing complaint, etc., made by the FMSF Executive Director or an FMSF board member against a fellow professional was ever sustained. However, regardless of whether some or all such formal claims and complaints were eventually dismissed, they might intimidate those without the time, money, stamina, and willingness to defend against heinous charges whose resolution may literally take years. Even the prospect of such accusations may seriously threaten psychologists and other professionals who otherwise might publicly question or even disagree with the False Memory Syndrome Foundation's claims and tactics.

In its 1992 publication "Legal Aspects of False Memory Syndrome," FMSF discussed lawsuits against therapists (filed by ex-patients, parents, etc.) and pointed out: "Therapists, medical institutions and insurance companies will be seriously threatened by such actions. . ." (p. 3).

[Seemingly remarkable in light of many FMSF public statements, a federal court (as reported in the Miami Herald, June 9, 1993, page 4E; the Baltimore Morning Sun, May 23, 1993, page 5B; June 5, 1993, p. 16B) found that an individual who is currently an FMSF board member falsely claimed that a fellow professional with whom he disagreed was a convicted pedophile. Again, even if accusations that professionals who disagree are criminally convicted pedophiles, are sexual predators, are comparable to Nazis, etc., are eventually shown to be false, the consequences not only for those accused but also for those who otherwise might have questioned claims by those who constitute FMSF and serve on its board may be hard, costly, pervasive, and lasting.]

Whether to parody, provide laughs, draw attention, make a point, or accomplish other goals, FMSF's explicit statements telling ex-patients to imagine engaging in violence against their therapists, claiming that the impulse is sane and natural and that violent cognitions can be pleasurable are significant in light of the violence and risk of violence that therapists all too often face. As expressed throughout this letter, my opinion is that such statements and tactics raise professional and public policy questions that are literally vital in regard to the award of CE accreditation.

FMSF has popularized the notion that a single therapist can, through an imaginative suggestion (e.g., "Imagine how you might have been abused") unintentionally implant an idea in the patient's mind that "orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle" (quoting the definition of False Memory Syndrome) and leads the patient to take aggressive, destructive action against parents. An influential foundation to whom prominent professionals have lent their names, reputations, and support as board members and to whom APA now gives formal approval may possess substantial power as a source of suggestion. If an imaginative suggestion spoken by a single clinician or read from a book such as Courage To Heal can orient a person's entire personality and prompt aggressive action against those perceived as causes of distress, is there any possibility that imagery so vivid and suggestive of violence (i.e., castration and murder) against a class of targeted therapists as described in FMSF's Newsletter, in tandem with the names of so many prominent advisory board members, might affect patients struggling with violent impulses or delusions, angry or confused ex-patients seeking the approval of a prestigious organization, those patients the false memory movement has described as especially suggestible, distraught parents who have been falsely accused, or others involved in an area in which passions seemingly tend to run high? Might some take such words of violence as FMSF's and its distinguished board's not too subtle suggestions? Would current scientific theory and research suggest that such vivid and authoritative statements emerging from this source and in this context and with APA's approval of FMSF's educational efforts might create or increase a risk for violence directed at the targeted therapists? And a final question: Would targeting an ethnic minority, or girls and women, or any other group for such violent scenes pose no barrier to APA approval, or do therapists offering treatment to clients claiming to be victims of abuse alone warrant portrayal as the objects of apparently natural and pleasurable scenes of violence?

Second, similar statements and actions may have already significantly altered the safety and privacy that some patients may need or expect. A statement typifying this approach was published in the Portland Oregonian, quoting the FMSF Executive Director: "She urges confronting a child's therapist. Follow your child to the office, hire a private detective, pry the information from other relatives your child may talk to, pose as a patient yourself" (8/8/93, p. L6). This approach of following patients, using detectives, prying information from others, and posing as a client has already produced results profound and perhaps irreversible.

In The Myth of Repressed Memory (Loftus & Ketcham, St. Martin's, 1994), FMSF board member Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D., discussed an investigation of patient-therapist sessions that Playboy Magazine had previously published.

[begin quote from The Myth of Repressed Memory] Journalist Debbie Nathan wrote an article for Playboy magazine, detailing her experiences while attending a four-day marathon retreat for survivors of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. On the first morning, three dozen women clutching teddy bears or other "cuddly toys" crowded together with six therapists. . . . . . Soon it was time to plunge into the gory details. A veritable competition over satanic abuse began. . . .

[end quote from The Myth of Repressed Memory, p. 203]

Such publications may serve as a warning to all who might otherwise seek help from professionals for "sex abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect," that retreats, group treatment, shelters, safe houses, rape trauma centers, drop-in clinics, emergency rooms, etc., may include someone who will later publish apparently verbatim accounts of what transpires among those claiming abuse and the therapists, perhaps providing pseudonyms and attempting to conceal identities.

Such publications seem to indicate that when clinicians encounter people claiming to have suffered sex abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or neglect, the therapist must make clear these potential risks so that the choice to enter therapy or seek other forms of help can be adequately informed. A person considering reporting, discussing, or seeking help for any kind of abuse needs to know that if he or she goes to a therapy group, a self-help group, a shelter for battered women, safe house, rape trauma center, or other clinic or helping organization, there may be undercover people there who might sell the story to a publisher, testify about it in court, pass it along to their employer, or use it for other purposes. The other patients, clerical or support staff, shelter volunteers, or other people present may actually be detectives, investigative reporters, writers, researchers, parents, journalists, or others presenting themselves as patients, staff, volunteers, etc. The information gathered may appear in "Playboy: Entertainment for Men" and similar erotic magazines; in scientific texts debunking the myths that supposedly underlie recovered memories of abuse, describing claims of having been abused as a "veritable competition," etc.; in courtroom testimony; in workshops; etc.

Children and adults seeking help for what they report to be sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect must also risk a more immediate form of confrontation. Some FMSF members have begun showing up repeatedly at the offices and homes of therapists, confronting patients through the use of picket signs with such statements as "Toxic therapy" and "Voodoo therapy."

Third, claims about the so-called False Memory Syndrome have been diverse and influential. Some involve the wholesale application of the FMS diagnosis to individuals with whom the diagnosing clinicians have had no contact. I am concerned about the model this poses for psychologists, about the educational, scientific, and clinical assumptions and consequences of this model, and about whether this model will be strengthened by the imprimatur of APA CE accreditation. The FMSF Newsletter highlighted 3 advisors for their CEU programs, one of whom had publicly applied the FMS diagnosis to someone solely on the basis of the diagnosed person's post on the internet. Calling the person by name, the psychologist described the "defensive" quality of the person's "anger" and "fear," indicated the person was a coward, disclosed what "motivated" the person, and concluded that "he's an FMS victim." I do not know the person named in this public assessment, but apparently such a clinical assessment can be conducted without notice or informed consent, the False Memory Syndrome can be validly, reliably, and scientifically diagnosed without meeting the person, and a psychologist can publicly use FMS to characterize someone without obtaining informed consent for release of information.

This process has affected people I know. For example, an FMSF letterhead document declared that the memories of abuse reported by a colleague were completely false. Linking this assertion with the letterhead name of the Foundation supported by such a distinguished board lends power, authority, and credibility to the proclamation that this APA member's memories of having been abused are bogus. Statements on Foundation letterhead, in the Foundation Newsletter and other FMSF publications, in amicus briefs and other legal documents submitted by FMSF to the courts, in testimony about FMSF's syndrome in Daubert (or Kelly-Frye) and other hearings, in FMSF press releases, and so on will now have the additional respect, influence, and prestige of APA continuing education provider status.

I am puzzled and concerned that APA formally lends its name, reputation, integrity, and weight to this foundation. I am also concerned about the bind that members may experience in light of APA's approval of FMSF. If some members believe that their APA membership, dues, etc., support actions that create or increase the likelihood that targeted therapists may suffer violence, that targeted therapists will be confronted repeatedly at their homes, that targeted therapists will be covertly investigated by private detectives, that targeted therapists must defend themselves against vile accusations ultimately assessed to be "entirely without merit," that targeted therapists will be characterized as sexual predators and Nazis, that targeted therapists "will be seriously threatened" by legal actions that FMSF outlines and endorses, that clients claiming to have been abused will be publicly ridiculed, that clients claiming to have been abused will be followed to their therapist's office and harassed by what some would call "picketing," and so on, will these APA members consider whether they can in good conscience participate in this process, lend their support, and allow this to happen? APA has taken strong stands of conscience, e.g., refusing to hold conventions in states whose legislative stances are supposedly inimical to APA's values. It is one thing when an association of so many thousands of professionals do nothing when an unpopular group of so-called True Believer therapists are made targets in vivid scenes of imagined violence; it is something else when they join together in their association to lend formal support to those whose publications describe how natural, sane, and pleasurable imagining such violence can be.

Thank you for considering these opinions and concerns about issues crucial to professional and public policy and to the children and adults who do not deserve ridicule.

Ken Pope

We cannot find an email address for Dr. Pope. We'll keep looking.

Dr. Ken Pope is still online with his accessible, disability-friendly psychology resource page, He resigned from the American Psychological Association in 2008 as a matter of conscience. He also has a page for help with companion animals including assistance animals, and a section for disability issues of all kinds. Please support Dr. Pope's resource site!

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