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Reforming Mental Health Care: How Ending “Recovered Memory” Treatments Brought Informed Consent to Psychotherapy

Reforming Mental Health Care: How Ending “Recovered Memory” Treatments Brought Informed Consent to Psychotherapy

Repressed-Recovered Memory–Multiple Personality Disorder (RRM-MPD)
COMMENTARY BY
R. Christopher Barden, PhD, JD
R. C. Barden & Associates

I recently reviewed Dr Richard Noll’s article “Speak, Memory” (as posted on Psychiatrictimes.com, March 19, 2014 at http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/history-psychiatry/speak-memory), including the attached commentaries from Drs David Spiegel, Richard Kluft, and Bennett Braun. I agree with Dr Noll’s suggestion that “now is the time for everyone to share their memories” of the “Repressed-Recovered Memory–Multiple Personality Disorder” (RRM-MPD) iatrogenic epidemic—surely one of the most tragic chapters in the history of psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy.

Unfortunately, historians reviewing Dr Noll’s comments and the ensuing online debate would learn little about the prodigious efforts that put a stop to the RRM-MPD misadventure and brought important, lasting reforms to the US mental health system. As one who was very involved in the creation and prosecution of these national efforts, I am grateful for this opportunity to share some memories—documented with media and journal citations.

Dr Noll’s brief history began with a description of the RRM-MPD craze of the late 1980s and 1990s. He accurately noted, “members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) were making it worse.” Dr Noll then veered off course by asserting, “eventually, just like the last wave of the influenza pandemic, after 1994 it ended as suddenly and incomprehensibly as it had started.” Amazingly, this last statement failed to acknowledge, much less accurately report, the well-documented history of coordinated legal-science-policy-education-licensing-media actions that rapidly ended the RRM-MPD debacle.

Truncated histories such as Dr Noll’s increase the risk that psychiatry could fail to remember the errors and abuses of the RRM-MPD movement and therefore tragically repeat them. In sum, Dr Noll’s account lacked an informed discussion of how the “Memory Wars” were won.

The end of the RRM-MPD epidemic was not “incomprehensible” but rather the predictable—and predicted—result of carefully planned and executed, multidisciplinary efforts to protect the fundamental human rights of vulnerable patients and families. These integrated efforts included model legislation, litigation (malpractice suits in dozens of states), regulation (multi-state licensing prosecutions), public education via international media, continuing medical-professional education, a wave of scientific research publications, Daubert-Kumho legal hearings to exclude RRM-MPD notions from courtrooms,1 and criminal prosecutions of therapists.

Our multidisciplinary, legal-policy-media reform strategy was aided and enhanced by the collective efforts of some of the world’s leading psychiatric and psychological scientists and reviewers, including Richard McNally,2 Harrison Pope,3 James Hudson, Elizabeth Loftus,4 Paul McHugh, Richard Ofshe, William Grove, Paul Meehl, Stephen Ceci, Maggie Bruck, Michael Lamb, Margaret Singer, August Piper, and many others. Our national science allies investigated, published, reviewed, and testified about the science of memory and false memory, thus providing the valid and reliable science we needed to effectively educate juries, licensing boards, and the public.

Our national wave of successful (financially viable) reform litigation began in August 1995. Following a nearly 2-month trial, a St Paul jury awarded $2.5 million to Vynette Hamanne for damages inflicted by RRM-MPD “therapy.”5 Dramatic reports of this extraordinary verdict echoed throughout the international media, including the CBS Evening News, the BBC, NPR, the Associated Press Newswire, and other major media sources worldwide. The long-standing legal myths that psychotherapy negligence lawsuits were “impossible” and “not financially viable” were crushed.

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