Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 152:606 (Apr 95) p. 223
“Satanic Ritual Abuse: A Question of Memory,” Dale McCulley, Journal of Psychology and Theology 22 (1994): 167-72.
In recent years thousands of counselees have recovered repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse (known as SRA). Large portions of the popular media, both Christian and secular, were initially receptive to their sensational stories of human sacrifice, cultic sexual abuse, and secret occult societies. However, despite several years of police investigation, essentially no physical evidence has emerged to confirm the counselees’ testimonies. Further, influential counselors have regularly cast doubt on the accuracy of recovered memories and on the methods of the counselors specializing in SRA. Indeed, the popular press is now telling another sensational story: the story of how some counselors planted false memories in their clients’ minds. SRA victims now regularly appear on talk shows to recant prior claims and to accuse their counselors of manipulation.
The last word on SRA has not yet been uttered, but at this point counselors as a whole, including most Christian counselors, seem to be skeptical of SRA claims. McCulley, however, feels that the testimony of thousands of (alleged) victims is weighty evidence, and the suggestion “that legions of mental health professionals of all types are systematically implanting detailed memories of childhood abuse in the minds of vulnerable and suggestible patients stretches credulity far beyond all reasonable limits” (p. 169).
The nub of contention is whether the recovered memories are reliable. Research does in fact show that normal memories are malleable and can be distorted over time. All parties in the debate accept this fact. But McCulley contends this research does not apply to traumatic memories. Scientific evidence that shows the malleability of normal memory may not be applicable to SRA-like trauma. Further, studies of traumatic memory show it is not malleable; it is reliable.
McCulley cites numerous empirical studies that distinguish traumatic memory from normal memory. The distinction seems to be well established in the field of memory research; there are measurable and
BSac 152:606 (Apr 95) p. 224
significant differences in the recall of normal memory versus traumatic memory. The brain may actually use distinctive mechanisms to store and recall these two kinds of memory. Theory aside, the distinct character of traumatic memory is an important issue that should be more carefully considered in the SRA debate. Critics of SRA recall cannot use evidence for the malleability of normal memory; they must appeal specifically to evidence about traumatic memory. In this respect McCulley has...
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