Peter Byrne – Recovered Memories-False Memories – A Psychiatric Perspective

THE LETTER 15 (Spring 1999) pages 117-124


False memory syndrome (FMS), as a concept, is a complete misnomer. As it describes a situation where someone reports a version of events which did not happen, it is not a memory. When we first challenged its status as a ‘syndrome’,1 commenting that it had been elevated to the status of syndrome by the media and pressure groups rather than mental health professionals, we drew a sharp response from both the US and UK FMS pressure groups.2 3 The use of the word ’false’ in the title can also be criticised: when an amputee describes pain in the missing limb, the condition is called a phantom limb, not false limb syndrome. Even psychiatric conditions where the patient tells lies, pseudologa fantastica and Munchausen’s syndrome, have a softer ring to them than false memory syndrome. Not only has the term FMS become widely acceptable in scientific and professional circles, but it has become the starting point for discussions about child sexual abuse, the value of and basis for psychotherapy and latterly, psychiatry.

The Either/Or Discourse

The FMS debate has frequently been reduced to two positions: the allegation of child sexual abuse (CSA) is true, and circumstances have…

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