The Fact and Fiction of Recovered Memories

by Patricia McBroom

The eyewitness testimony of a young woman that she saw her father kill her best friend may have been influenced by hypnosis, according to the investigations of Berkeley social psychologist Richard Ofshe.

Based on extensive review of court transcripts from the 1990 Franklin murder trial in the Bay Area, Ofshe believes that the daughter's memories of being on the scene during the murder were fabricated during hypnotherapy.

In a book published this month, Ofshe and journalist Ethan Watters give a step-by-step account of how Eileen Franklin's memories developed and changed over the course of therapy that took place in the year before her father's trial for murder.

"This was hypnotically refreshed memory--no question about it," said Ofshe.

He said that court records laid out the history of Eileen Franklin's therapy and that his research directly counters claims made during the trial that hypnosis never influenced her testimony--the key evidence that sent George Franklin to prison for murder, where he remains.

Ofshe's research also counters another crucial prosecution claim that Eileen Franklin had pulled so much hair from her head in unconscious imitation of her dead friend's head wound that her own head developed a bloody bald spot. According to Ofshe's interview with Franklin's mother, the young woman never had a bloody bald spot of any kind on her head nor any loss of hair.

Ofshe does not think that the daughter intended to fabricate a story about her presence at the murder scene. Rather, he said, she was led to believe that her visualizations of the murder during therapeutic "relaxation" sessions were real memories.

Relaxation techniques can induce a trance state and may function as the equivalent of hypnosis, he said.

The Franklin story is one of several gripping accounts taken from the annals of the recovered memory movement and scrutinized by Ofshe and Watters in their book, "Making Monsters: False Memory, Satanic Cult Abuse, and Sexual Hysteria," published by Charles Scribner's Sons.

The reconstructions, documented from diaries, interviews, medical records, and legal testimony, tell of people victimized by therapists who convince them they have been sexually abused but can't remember it.

It is a mistake, he said, to believe that hypnosis produces reliable memories or that any visualization is likely to be a real memory.

"These horrendous errors are doing damage to tens of thousands of people," said Ofshe, who hopes the book will help stop recovered- memory therapy and induce the mental-health industry to clean its own house.

"The serious people (therapists) have lost control to the quacks," he said.


Copyright 1994, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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