False Memory Syndrome (FMS) consists of somebody having pseudo-memories usually arising in the context of adult psychotherapy and often quite vivid and emotionally charged.

It’s part of a field of research spanning trauma, memory and confabulation. Physicians and therapists should be alert and keep an open mind about this disorder. Research is needed on the identification of memory mechanisms, specific situations and personality factors involved in this syndrome.

Some people and therapists believe that memories can also be repressed, wether this is the case or not, it can lead to a conundrum of false accusations. For example patients with physical and/or psychological symptoms (such as having panic attacks) enter the therapy session with a therapist who is convinced of the possibility of repression. Such clinicians assume that such symptoms are the result of an unconscious latent memory of abuse. If the patients claim to have no memory of any past abuse, that can be grist for the clinicians’ mill. This in their mind proves that the memory has been repressed. Patients are then told that their symptoms arose because they had once been abused in the past but that the memory of it has been tucked away in their subconscious.

Such suggestive hints not infrequently lead to fake memories of abuse. The patient is not relieved of her problem and instead now has a fabricated traumatic past. Many court cases have shown that such pseudo-memories can also result in false accusations of abuse and even cause wrongful convictions. See the accusations during ’the satanic panic’ period in the US or the qualitative interviews [here]([The Construction of False Memory Syndrome: The Experience of Retractors]).

Bessel van der Kolk is psychiatrist and author of “The body keeps score” (2016). In the book he describes cases where traumatic memories were repressed and express themselves in all kinds of bodily reactions. With that idea, Van der Kolk wants to convince readers that when a traumatic experience is too overwhelming for a victim and is therefore pushed away, the body does ‘remember’ the trauma. Ineke Wessel, experimental psychopathology (RUG), in an interview with Argos (2019) relates that the little experimental evidence that would support van der Kolk’s theory doesn’t amount to much and that the scientific consensus on how memory works is rather at odds with van der Kolk’s ideas.

bessel van der kolk’s ideas on trauma and repressed memories, reviews

the satanic panic

“The Satanic panic is a moral panic consisting of over 12,000 unsubstantiated cases of Satanic ritual abuse (SRA), sometimes known as ritual abuse, ritualistic abuse, organized abuse, or sadistic ritual abuse) starting in the United States in the 1980s, spreading throughout many parts of the world by the late 1990s, and persisting today. The panic originated in 1980 with the publication of Michelle Remembers, a book co-written by Canadian psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and his patient (and future wife), Michelle Smith, which used the discredited practice of recovered-memory therapy to make sweeping lurid claims about satanic ritual abuse involving Smith. The allegations which afterwards arose throughout much of the United States involved reports of physical and sexual abuse of people in the context of occult or Satanic rituals. In its most extreme form, allegations involve a conspiracy of a global Satanic cult that includes the wealthy and powerful world elite in which children are abducted or bred for human sacrifices, pornography, and prostitution, an allegation that returned to prominence in the form of QAnon.”

source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_panic

select academic articles

False memory syndrome: A review and emerging issues, following a clinical report

The false memory syndrome: Experimental studies and comparison to confabulations

False memory? False memory syndrome? The so‐called false memory syndrome?

The Relationship Between the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and the False Memory Syndrome (FMS)

The Construction of False Memory Syndrome: The Experience of Retractors