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Recovered Memory Therapy

This is a belated response to J. T. Stocks' response to my response to his article--all on the topic of recovered memories in therapy (Stocks, 1999).

I must admit I was impressed with Stocks' replies to me and to the seven others who responded in the September 1999 Social Work to his article, "Recovered Memory Therapy: A Dubious Practice Technique" (pp. 423-436). An answer to most of our comments, his "Recovered Memory Therapy: Responses to All" (Stocks, 1999), was a tour de force of refutation. He overdid it a bit, though, refuting the remarks even of those in some agreement with him, in particular Sandgrund, who discussed, from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, how therapists can become so zealous in pursuing memories that they temporarily lose sight of their clients. Professors, of course also can become so zealous in defending a particular point that they temporarily lose sight of their science.

Stocks, for example, seemed disingenuous in confessing he did not understand the relevance of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) to his article. The main point of my response--and of its tide, "Recovered Memories: Context and Controversy" (Lein, 1999)--was that until Stocks' article, Social Work had not focused on the longstanding controversy over recovered memories. Stocks neglected to acknowledge the debate he belatedly joined, and he chose to present only one side of the debate, curiously that of FMSF.

Whether or not memory research is used in the courts on behalf of women and children who have sued therapists for malpractice does not diminish the fact that such research has been used frequently to discredit women who have recalled childhood sexual abuse. In fact, many lawsuits on behalf of women and children alleging therapist malpractice have occurred only after these women and children have first had their memories discredited and then blamed on therapist implantation.

To this clinician, Stocks' article, despite his protestation to the contrary, did seem to imply that therapists should avoid assiduously working with clients' memories of abuse. At least, after precluding virtually all current trauma treatment methods, Stocks assiduously avoided giving even the slightest suggestion on how to proceed with such clients, how to deal with their memories.

Stocks glossed over significant differences between normal memories and trauma memories. As van der Kolk (1996) noted, trauma is organized in memory on a perceptual level rather than a declarative or narrative level, with these perceptual memories tending to remain quite accurate, especially about the most egregious trauma. He also cited his and Fisler's 1995 study that not only showed the significant difference between how we experience traumatic memories and other memories but supported "the idea that the very nature of a traumatic memory is to be dissociated, and to be stored initially as sensory fragments that have no linguistic components" (van der Kolk, 1996, p. 289). Furthermore, van der Kolk observed, at the time of this study, "I could find no published accounts in the scientific literature of intrusive traumatic recollections of traumatic events in patients suffering from PTSD that had become distorted over time, naturalistically, or by manipulation, either in an experimental or in a clinical setti ng" (p. 282).

This last comment by van der Kolk (1996) points to a weakness in a few of Stocks' arguments, those based on popular books or newspaper accounts of lawsuits which, of course, are not subject to professional peer review. In fact, as Brown, Scheflin, and Hammond (1998) have asserted, this is how FMSF has attempted to discredit the scientific findings on dissociative disorders and their treatment--relying on books, speeches, and the media and bypassing the slower and more painstaking accumulation of scientific data, such as turned up by Tsai, Condie, Wu and Chang (1999), who used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate personality switches in a woman with dissociative identity disorder, a line of research that promises more neurological evidence of dissociation and of the difference between trauma memories and ordinary memories.

In commenting on my quotation from Karon and Widener (1997), Stocks cited research on treatment of war neurosis, including the figure of a 47.5 percent cure rate with downed pilots and crew members. Under real combat conditions, not those of psychiatrist Sidney Freedman on the M*A*S*H television show, these results are impressive, undeserving of Stocks' dismissal: "This is scarcely a resounding testimonial for memory recovery work" (1999, p. 492).

In his article and in his reply to those responding to the article, Stocks clearly stated the need for caution in dealing with trauma memories in therapy. This is a caution therapists need to keep in awareness. Stocks went a bit far, though, in ruling out any memory retrieval efforts in therapy--far enough to enter a context and controversy and position himself near those like Holmes (1994), Ofshe and Watters (1994), Loftus (1994) and, yes, FMSF, whose agenda seems more political than scientific.

James Lein

Minot, ND


Brown, D., Scheflin, A. W., & Hammond, D. C. (1998). Memory, trauma treatment, and the law. New York: W. W. Norton.

Holmes, D. (1994). Is there evidence for repression? Doubtful. Harvard Mental Health Letter, 10(12), 4-6.

Karon, B. P., & Widener, A. J. (1997). Repressed memories and World War II: Lest we forget! Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 28, 338-340.

Lein, J. (1999). Recovered memories: Context and controversy. Social Work, 44, 481-484.

Loftus, E. F. (1994). The myth of repressed memory. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Ofshe, R., & Watters, E. (1994). Making monsters: False memories, psychotherapy, and sexual hysteria. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Stocks, J. T. (1998). Recovered memory therapy: A dubious practice technique. Social Work, 43, 423-436.

Stocks, J. T. (1999). Recovered memory therapy: Responses to all. Social Work, 44, 491-499.

Tsai, G. E., Condie, D., Wu, M. T., & Chang, I. W. (1999). Functional magnetic resonance imaging of personality switches in a woman with dissociative identity disorder. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 7, 119-122.

van der Kolk, B. A. (1996). Trauma and memory. In B. A. van der Kolk, A. C. McFarlane, & L. Weisaeth (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body and society (pp. 279-302). New York: Guilford Press.

van der Kolk, B. A., & Fisler, R. (1995). Dissociation and the fragmentary nature of traumatic memories: Overview and exploratory study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9, 505-525.

Social Work and Speciesism

I have been reflecting on my "specieist" behavior toward my daughter's former cat. She (the cat) has been freed from bondage since my enlightenment after reading "Social Work and Speciesism" in Social Work by David B. Wolf (January 2000, pp. 88-93). She has shed her "slave name" (which I shall not mention for fear she would be offended) and now refers to herself as "Meow."

Meow was quite impressed with Mr. Wolf's commentary, although she questioned the ethics of his using an animal name as his own. She was also somewhat defensive when I suggested that mice and birds were generally considered members of the animal kingdom. Meow reminded me that, as an animal oppressor, I had no right to question her lifestyle choices.

We have entered into mediation over compensation over the loss of her reproductive capacity and other atrocities my family has committed during her captivity. One of her demands is to be relocated to China where she has been told the dog population is rather small. I have encouraged her to build bridges with her oppressed fellow animals rather than continue to react to traditional stereotypes. Meow contends that, as a specieist human being, I could not possibly understand the depth of her trauma, having been forced to share her territory with a narrow-minded aggressor (the dog next door).

It may take federal intervention to resolve some of these issues.

Gary Tester

Chattanooga, TN

I was thrilled to read David Wolf s article "Social Work and Speciesism" (January 2000, pp. 88-93). Too often I have felt that our profession isolates itself from the larger environmental and spiritual issues, although we cannot achieve our goal of better treatment for humans while doing so. If every social worker were to become vegetarian, we would do as much for the world at our meals as we do at our jobs. Cruelty is cruelty, and ideologies based on dominance and hierarchy are destructive no matter who the underclass is. My only complaint is that he Omitted Susan Griffin's On Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her from his bibliography. This book illustrates better than any other I have read the interrelation of sexism, racism, speciesism, and mistreatment of the earth. I hope that Social Work will continue to publish articles like this that address the larger picture of abuse and the need for a holistic strategy of healing and progress.

Alison Stone

New York, NY

I was dismayed to see that David B. Wolf s discussion of speciesism (January 2000, pp. 88- 93) completely overlooked a darker side of this issue, which involves much more than an arid philosophical debate. Peter Singer, a Princeton professor who is referenced in Wolf s piece, has gone far beyond the positions taken in his book, Animal Liberation. Singer is now advocating that there be no moral distinction between animal life and human life; the decisive characteristic is whether one is a "person" or "nonperson." Animals have the capacity to rise to personhood in his view, and humans may lost their status as persons by being disabled. (Montgomery, 1999; Singer, 1993).

The potential consequences of this sort of moral paradigm are ominous for many of the clients we serve. Singer's "preference utilitarianism" even goes so far as to endorse infanticide and involuntary euthanasia for the disabled (LAETF, 1999). Building on his work, the Hemlock Society has continued down what has been referred to as the "slippery slope" in advocating for the creation of a judicial determination to permit involuntary euthanasia for "burdensome," "demented," or "severely disabled" individuals (Hentoff, 1995; IAETF, 1998).

As bizarre as it may seem, policy initiatives that pose a direct threat to the human population with disabilities have originated in the benevolent-sounding animal rights movement. A closer review of pronouncements made by animal rights activists reveals intolerant references to humanity as a "cancer" an d the assert ion of a moral equivalence between the 6 million victims of the Holocaust and chickens perishing in slaughterhouses (Marquardt, Levine, & LaRochelle, 1993). Despite the chilling possibilities inherent with such reasoning, the human services community has been largely silent regarding these new "bioethicists," and Professor Singer, for one, is not considered to be on the fringe (Smith, 1997). This stands in contrast to rebuttals from some of the "nonpersons" whose lives would be at risk; the disability rights group Not Dead Yet protested Singer's appointment at Princeton, and Marcia Bristo, Chairperson of the National Council on Disability, said any proposed lessening of the rights of people with disabilities to establish a system of involuntary euthanasia amounts to "a defense of genocide" (Montgomery, 1999).

Social work as a profession would be well advised to scratch the surface of the animal rights movement, which at first glance can seem to be progressive and well-intended. What will be found if it is examined critically is a growing school of philosophy that holds our disabled clients to be less than persons and subject to being killed for the convenience of the fit.

William C. Hughes

St. Louis, MO


Hentoff, N. (1995). The slippery slope of euthanasia. In J. D. Moreno (Ed.), Arguing euthanasia: The controversy over mercy killing, assisted suicide, and the "right to die" (pp. 110-112). New York: Simon & Schuster.

International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force. (IAETF) (1999). Update, 13(2) [Online serial]. Available:

International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force. (1998). Update, 12(1) [Online serial]. Available:

Marquardt, K., Levine, H. M., & LaRochelle, M. (1993). Animal scam: The beastly abuse of human rights. Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway.

Montgomery, C. (1999, July/August). A defense of genocide. Ragged Edge, [Online serial]. Available:

Singer, P. (1993). Practical ethics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, W. J. (1997). Forced exit: The slippery slope from assisted suicide to legalized murder. New York: Random House.

Response to William Hughes

When a writer cites a reference to support a point, there is not an implication that the writer concurs with all views of the referenced author. There are surely many positions and views possessed by Singer and other animal rights advocates with which I do not agree. In the commentary "Social Work and Speciesism" I asserted, "as social workers we are obligated to at least consider the moral, ethical, and practical implications of our treatment of species other than ourselves." I stand by this point, though I don't advocate going down the slippery slope and backing absurd ideas such as ascribed by Hughes to the "new bioethicists." The commentary acknowledges that it has "not resolved or even addressed all concerns related to social work and speciesism," and maintains that "the profession should at least consider the issue of speciesism." Responses such as those of Hughes contribute to this discussion, and this is the sort of dialogue that is valuable for social work.

David Wolf

With David Wolf's "Social Work and Speciesism" (January 2000, pp. 88-93) we have truly reached the apogee of the trivialization of the profession. Using the pretext of person-in-environment, Wolf embarks on an exploration of making speciesism required content for social work's mission. This is but another illustration of the profession's simplistic rendering of "-isms" into content worthy of exploration.

Unfortunately, social work has failed to deliver on what it has promised in the past, so it has little to gain from taking on new orders. The profession has failed with respect to two of its traditional assignments: Child welfare is a scandal, though social welfare professionals have proven more adept at rationing services than admitting it (Costin, Karger, & Stoesz, 1996; Epstein, 1999). Public welfare was so neglected by social work that it became ripe for conservative welfare reform (Stoesz, 1999, 2000).

If past is prologue, social work will bow to ideological fashion and add speciesism to its agenda, plodding along unwittingly in its uncritical presumption that it has the wisdom to facilitate universal, if not galactic, well-being. The Council on Social Work Education will mandate that syllabi incorporate relevant course content. In affirming the validity of another marginal group, NASW will augment its Board of Directors--the sole difficulty being the choice of species.

David Stoesz

Richmond, VA


Costin, L., Karger, H., & Stoesz, D. (1996). The politics of child abuse in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Epstein, W. (1999). Children who might have been. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Stoesz, D. (1999, May-June). "Unraveling welfare reform," Society.

Stoesz, D. (2000). A poverty of imagination. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Response to David Stoesz

For the reasons stated in the commentary "Social Work and Speciesism" I contend that consideration of our treatment of species other than humans has potential to enhance and enrich the mission of social work, at the individual and institutional level. The article did not presume to evaluate comprehensively the effects of such consideration on the many facets of the mandate of social workers, and of course in fulfilling our responsibilities we must prioritize. I don't believe that appropriate sensitivity to other species trivializes the profession, but rather such humaneness dignifies the field of social work. Furthermore, as mentioned in the commentary, there is research evidence that indicates that attention to the issue of speciesism can augment our effectiveness in more traditional areas of social work concern, such as child protection, juvenile justice, and reduction of violent crime.

David Wolf
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Publication:Social Work
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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