Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT) and TPM
Comparison of TPM and Recovered Memory Therapy
Sexual Abuse Brought into the Light
Prior to the early 1970s, there was little discussion of domestic child sexual abuse. Students preparing to work in the mental health professions had limited training in dealing with this issue and were thus led to believe it was a rarity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several new therapy techniques emerged, including what is now referred to as Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT). RMT proved to have both beneficial and harmful results.
RMT helped expose the ugly reality of widespread sexual abuse in our society, pulling down the wall of denial that had kept it hidden for so long. Our society was forced to acknowledge that child abuse and child sexual abuse was occurring in American homes more than we ever suspected and had been occurring all along. But, as often happens in such sensitive areas, the new information led to overreactions. This included a frenzy of assumptions and careless practices in therapy. Although it was good for society to be exposed to the truth about child sexual abuse in its midst, there were unfortunate cases in which reports were false and innocent people were accused, arraigned, and even jailed.
While there is no doubt that allegations of abuse can be false, it is wrong to conclude that all forgotten memory is invalid or “false.” There have been occasions when outside witnesses verified the truth of the recovered memories, the perpetrator confessed to the remembered abuse, or physical evidence supported it. A responsible minister or prayer facilitator should neither assume that someone’s report is absolute fact nor dismiss its authenticity simply because it cannot be corroborated by outside witnesses.
TPM Brings a Safe and Balanced Approach to Memory Work.
Having said all of this, TPM is a balanced approach to helping people navigate through any painful memories that may surface. TPM does not make any assumption about the validity of the memories nor does it focus on memory content. The focus of TPM is on exposing the lies that were established in a life experience, now a memory, that are currently causing emotional pain.
The memory plays an important role in TPM in that it helps answer the question, “How did I come to believe the lie that I currently believe that is causing me to feel what I am feeling?” The ministry facilitator does not need ANY memory content revealed in order to ask the questions asked in a ministry session. Memory content has no bearing on direction, questions asked, or outcome of the ministry session. The person can choose not to reveal any portion of what he remembers with the prayer minister. Since the memory (whether accurate or not) is not understood to be the reason for anything that the person is feeling.
Whereas, RMT views the memory as the source of the problem and uncovering the “repressed” memory is a goal of the counseling session. This not so with TPM.
Although validation of the memory content is occasionally needed for reasons outside of a ministry session, it is not something that can or should be accomplished in a ministry session. While TPM acknowledges the existence of repressed traumatic memories, it also provides guidelines to keep both facilitator and ministry recipient from making false assumptions and reaching wrong conclusions. Therefore, TPM differs sharply from RMT.
General Overview of RMT
What I am about to say about RMT is not an evaluation or a judgment against those who may use this form of therapy. My only intent is to point out how it differs from TPM.
Recovered memory therapists believe that dysfunctional symptoms are often rooted in a repressed traumatic memory, which they believe can be uncovered using such techniques as symptom checklists, group dynamics, visualization, hypnosis, trance writing, dream interpretation, body massage, drugs, relaxation therapy, and spirit guides. Some therapists who use RMT believe that uncovering their client’s repressed memories through the use of these techniques will resolve the symptoms. I am providing an overview and do not mean to suggest that all of these techniques are being used by everyone who calls what they do Recovered Memory Therapy. This is not an all-inclusive list of the techniques practiced, but rather, what I found in my research that defined this approach. Please do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
TPM does not practice any techniques like those just described. TPM operates under the assumption that people’s present emotional distress is rooted in what they believe and that negative thinking results in unhealthy mental, spiritual and behavioral choices. TPM holds to the principle that people tend to feel and act out what they have set their minds on, as described in Proverbs 23:7: “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (NKJV).
A primary goal of TPM is to expose falsehood and replace it with God’s truth. In fact, a similar perspective is held by many other professional and pastoral counselors who knowingly or unknowingly practice some type of cognitive therapy in their efforts to identify faulty thinking and replace it with truth. A distinct difference with TPM is that the truth is not dispensed by the facilitator, but rather by the person having a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Another vital distinction between TPM and RMT is in the way people’s memories are accessed and how the truth is communicated. RMT sends people looking for memories that the therapist believes are the cause of the person’s troubles. TPM does not send people looking for memories, but rather relies on association to surface any memory that may be related to the emotions they feel.
TPM focuses on discovering the false belief that was established in a life experience and not on exploring the memory itself. It seeks to help people receive and assimilate the renewing truth that God reveals to them, not to expose the memory content. The purpose of memory is simply to help the person understand how he came to believe the lies that he currently holds as his truth. The facilitator actually does not need to know anything about the content of the memory to apply this process.
In contrast, RMT appears to view abreaction and the uncovering of the supposed repression as the means of achieving resolution. If that is all that occurs, it may leave the person in a worse emotional state than he was in before. Simply uncovering a memory does not bring any real resolution, because the pain in the memory is rooted in the lies that are believed, not in the memory itself. Resolution occurs when people receive truth from God which dispels the lies believed.
Distinctions Between Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT) and TPM
There are many distinctions between the basic techniques used in RMT and TPM. Each of the basic techniques of RMT listed below is followed by an explanation of how TPM differs.
- RTM sometimes uses a checklist of symptoms that are believed to indicate the presence of repressed memory. Examples are: “Do you have an aversion to sex? Do you feel uncomfortable in enclosed places? Do you have a fear of water?”
The TPM process does not use a symptoms checklist.
- RMT seems to assume that recovering repressed memory is essential to symptomatic improvement. Some RMT therapists are said to believe that ALL symptoms indicate repression.
TPM assumes painful emotions, dysfunctional behavior, and many disorders (eating, personality, etc.) are often rooted in faulty thinking (lies), whether conscious or repressed. None of the symptoms described here are assumed to have anything to do with the memory itself. TPM believes that symptoms improve when the lies in either repressed or conscious memories are exposed and replaced with truth. Merely uncovering a person’s painful memories will not reduce the discomfort; in fact, without mind renewal it is likely to further intensify the person’s problems. TPM teaches that the painful emotion the person feels is not sustained by the original event but rather by the person’s lie-based interpretations of it.
- RMT often uses group therapy: putting people with similar issues and symptoms together.
TPM does not advocate group therapy or support groups when administering the TPM process. TPM focuses on the individual’s specific lie-based issue(s) and not memory, with the goal of helping that individual to personally encounter the living presence of Christ. This is not to say that support groups do not have value, for they absolutely do. TPM should not be used in a group setting unless it is a group that is committed to doing one-on-one ministry with each other. TPM is NOT a group dynamic model where sharing stories or group participation is practiced, as is common with a recovery group model. What may or may not have happened to a person is never the focus. Memory is never addressed or expressed for the purpose of disclosure or catharsis, but only to help the person to identify how he came to believe the lies he currently believes and why he feels what he feels.
- RMT utilizes visualization techniques to achieve age regression, which tends to be hypnotic in nature. For example: the therapist might ask his client to imagine entering an upper elevator and descending floor by floor toward the basement, the descent representing regression to a younger age. The intent is to uncover the repressed memories believed to be stored in early childhood events.
TPM opposes the use of visualization in any form as a therapy technique and ministry recipients are not encouraged to create mind imagery as a vehicle for time travel.
- RMT sometimes uses “trance writing” or “inner child journaling.” These practices can/usually take place during hypnosis. The client is given a pen and is encouraged to allow his supposed “inner child” to express hidden memories and feelings in drawings. The therapist then examines the drawings to discover evidence of a repressed memory.
In TPM, people are not directed to get in touch with their “inner child” and there is no use of hypnosis. Journaling is not employed during ministry sessions, although it can be valuable in other contexts.
- RMT sometimes uses massage in order to release hidden memory. The therapist massages the area of the body where he thinks the cells have stored the memory of a particular trauma. The practice is based on the premise that traumatic memory is stored in body cells and needs to be released to the brain in order for the person to get emotional resolution.
TPM does not advocate or use any form of massage therapy.
- Recovered Memory Therapy utilizes dream interpretation, often in the context of hypnotherapy. The person may be hypnotized and asked to replay the dream, which the therapist then interprets in regard to possible repressed trauma and abuse.
TPM strongly discourages any interpretation of dreams, visual images, inner thoughts, or anything that might provide false information to the person. The facilitator is taught not to give personal input regarding any aspect of a person’s memory content. They work only with the information that the person provides, and hypnotherapy is never used in TPM.
- RMT sometimes uses drugs such as sodium amatol to aid in memory recovery. Sodium amatol is a barbiturate drug (truth serum) that produces an altered state of deep relaxation in the client. After administering the drug, the therapist will question the person about the past, using age-regression techniques to probe for repressed memories.
TPM never uses any drugs for any purpose.
- RMT may suggest using “spirit guides” to lead to repressed memories. The person is told to look for a personal spirit guide along the pathway that he envisions leading into the hidden places of his mind. The spirit guide is to help by revealing hidden “truths” about the past. At some point the person may report meeting a spirit guide—who may even say he is Jesus.TPM opposes this practice and views any spirit guide, even a “Jesus,” that a person might so encounter as either a demonic spirit—an evil impersonator of good who will ultimately lead the person into deception—or a fabrication of the person’s mind. This practice falls into the same category as channeling and is totally repudiated by TPM.
- In one of the RMT techniques, the therapist may have the person visualize a quiet, safe place where he can let down his defenses and relax. While the person is in this relaxed and susceptible state he is encouraged to allow his repressed memories to surface. Some therapists have assumed the role of guide during this time and made memory content suggestions.
TPM does not use relaxation therapy. People receiving ministry are never told to visualize anything. They are not told to relax or calm down or seek a place in their mind that is peaceful or their “happy place” or even where they may have encountered the Lord before. All of this would be considered guiding and directing. Actually, in a TPM session, people are encouraged just to feel whatever they feel and not to calm themselves down. To the contrary, they are encouraged to acknowledge their absence of peace, if this is the case, and move in the direction that is causing the pain they are feeling. They are encouraged to feel the painful emotions, not to escape them.
In TPM a person is usually asked to close his eyes in order to block out any external distractions. Some say that encouraging a person to close his eyes and focus inwardly on his thoughts and feelings is a form of hypnosis or a relaxation technique. In the Scriptures we are told to “be still and know that [He is] God.” This is what most of us do when we pray. We close our eyes and become introspective and seek to hear what the Spirit has for us.
TPM is not hypnosis. It is taking ownership of our emotions and feelings, and casting our anxieties on Jesus. As we focus on Him and allow Him to renew our thinking with His truth, we are able to enter into His peace. I have never had anyone who has experienced a genuine TPM session describe it as relaxing. For most people it is very painful to open up the hidden places of their hearts and stand bare before the Lord in His truth and light. Although the process can be exhausting, the peace that follows receiving truth from the Lord is relaxing and restful. Those that practice the discipline of TPM have found that God is faithful to bring peace in every circumstance (2 Thess 3:16) when lies are brought before Him