Pamela Freyd is the co-founder of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. She foundedthe organization with her husband Peter Freyd in 1992 after their daughter Jennifer Freyd,a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, accused Peter of abusing hersexually as a child, based on memories she had recovered through therapy. This interviewtook place on August 28, 2001.

TRACY: Is “False Memory Syndrome” (specifically related to memories of child sexual abuse) a relatively new phenomenon? If so, when do you think this problem first began, and what were the causal factors?

PAMELA: It’s important to begin any discussion of the topic of false memories with the fact that all the mental health professional organizations have issued statements saying that the only way that one can distinguish a true from a false memory is through external corroboration.

We all have false memories but generally they don’t make a huge difference in our lives.

When such a memory leads to the accusation of criminal behavior of another person, however, the stakes are raised. To be falsely accused of the unforgivable crime of child sexual abuse places individuals in a quandary. How does anyone prove a negative?


The Foundation has done a number of surveys of the families that have made contact. One of the questions in a survey we are just now analyzing is “In what year did you learn about the accusation?” We have one person in 1970 and another in 1971 who said they were accused in those years based solely on the claim of a “recovered repressed memory” with no other external evidence. We have a total of 12 reports from the 1970--contrasted with more than 550 reports for just the years 1991-1992. The frequency data indicate that the recovered memory phenomenon is a fad--at least based on the data from the surveys.

The numbers have been in decline since 1992.

The McMartin case in 1983 received national media attention and made child abuse and Satanic Ritual Abuse a front page topic. Sociologists have referred to the false memory/child abuse accusations phenomenon in terms of a “moral panic.” Child abuse is inherently evil and as statistics about its frequency increased, so did fear. When people are afraid, they panic. That’s why schools have fire drills so that students don’t panic should there be a fire. People often get trampled in panics caused by fires and they get accused in moral panics.

The explosive period of the fad appears to have begun in 1987-1988. Whether it is a cause or an effect is not clear, but 1988 saw the publication of the book The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. Since that book has been listed as the most recommended book by psychotherapists (at least in the early 90s) it is possible that it helped spread the beliefs.


TRACY: Could you estimate what percentage of “recovered” abuse memory claims investigated by your organization are found to be based on false memories?

PAMELA: The Foundation cannot determine the truth or falsity of an accusation in the absence of external corroboration anymore than anyone else can. Indeed, the Foundation would not be the appropriate group to conduct investigations since it could be said to be biased. The Foundation does not “certify” anyone but rather has as its purpose to disseminate information about the nature of memory.

Individual families have tried to get mental health professionals to investigate the accusations and have filed complaints for that purpose. Because the accusers would not release any records, however, this approach did not work. Some families brought lawsuits in the hope that this would open an investigation, but again, without access to records, there is little that can be done. What is left then, are the cases in which a child sued and that case then went to court. Most of these types of cases have been dismissed for lack of evidence.

What the Foundation noted was that the reports from the people who made contact showed certain patterns, and it was these patterns that brought alarm to scientists and psychiatrists who studied memory. Therapists were using

  • hypnosis,
  • guided imagery,
  • sodium amatol,
  • relaxation exercise,
  • participation in groups,
  • reading suggestive literature
  • and other techniques
in an effort to excavate memories. Although people may remember things with any of these techniques, there is absolutely no evidence that what they remember is historically accurate. Indeed, because these are suggestive techniques, it is highly probably that the patients pick up the suggestion and create false memories.


It’s important to remember how memory works. If it worked like a tape recorder, storing everything that was experienced, it would make sense to dig for memories because the problem would be one of access. But that is not how memory works. People store bits and pieces and even these bits and pieces can be lost and altered over time. When someone has a “memory” it is a highly creative process of reconstruction. The bits and pieces are woven together to make a story that makes sense to the person in the here and now. People fill in the blanks. They incorporate information from a variety of sources.

TRACY: What telltale signs do you look for to determine if a recovered memory is false? What would it take to convince your organization that a recovered memory was true?

PAMELA: I repeat what I wrote previously, the Foundation has no way of knowing whether a particular memory is true or false in the absence of external corroboration. If any of the suggestive techniques I mentioned previously are used (i.e., hypnosis, sodium amatol, guided imagery, relaxation exercises, participation in survivor groups, reading suggestive literature, seeing suggestive videos, etc) the task becomes virtually impossible. Any memory that arises using such techniques must be suspect because of the suggestibility inherent in the use of the techniques themselves.


TRACY: Does your organization on the whole reject claims of childhood Satanic Ritual Abuse? Are there any cases of SRA that your organization has investigated which were not found to be the result of False Memory Syndrome?

PAMELA: Kenneth Lanning (1992) of the FBI investigated many cases and found no external corroboration for the types of claims to which you are referring. A much more extensive study was conducted by psychologist Gail Goodman and colleagues for the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (1994). They found no external corroboration for the many cases they examined. What they did find was that

  • “a very small group of clinicians, each claiming to have treated scores of cases, accounted for most of the reports of ritualistic child abuse.”

In Great Britain, anthropologist La Fontaine (1994) examined all the cases of claimed Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) in that country and came up empty handed for evidence. She found that belief in SRA was closely linked to fundamentalist religious groups.

In 1995, Bottoms, Shaver, Goodman and Qin examined whether religious beliefs can foster child abuse. They were alarmed at finding cases

  • “involving the withholding of medical care for religious reasons, abuse related to attempts to rid a child of evil, and abuse perpetrated by persons with religious authority,”

and argued that as a society greater effort should be made to protect children in these circumstances.

Evidence for an intergenerational Satanic cult that breeds children that they then abuse does not seem to exist. Rebellious teens may dabble with Satanic symbols and


ceremonies and there are religious groups that focus on Satan but there is no evidence for the kinds of claims made in books such as Michelle Remembers.

TRACY: I understand that 18% of the claims that you investigate involve some form of SRA. Can you speculate on why so many such claims have come forth since the 1980, all remarkably similar?

PAMELA: The McMartin case put SRA on the front page and into the minds of many people. I suspect that the similarity of the claims is due to the fact that books such as “Michelle Remembers” were quite popular and that authority was given to these beliefs by some television programs, both those that brought on “experts” and those that displayed patients who held such beliefs. Within the therapeutic community, ideas were spread at continuing education seminars. There are now, however, hundreds of former patients who, once they left the therapeutic context, came to realize that their memories of Satanic abuse were fantasy, although deeply disturbing and painful at the time of belief.

TRACY: Has your organization specifically investigated the claims of people whose recovered memories involve the so-called secret “Project MONARCH,” supposedly the CIA’s experimental program aimed at creating “mind-controlled sex slaves” and Manchurian Candidate-like assassins through the infliction of severe childhood trauma, along with the use of drugs and hypnosis?


PAMELA: No. The Foundation has limited its focus to issues of families torn apart based solely on claims of recovered repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.

TRACY: According to both alleged victims of and self-proclaimed experts on Project MONARCH, the above-described techniques (including the use of rape, torture, and “Satanic Ritual Abuse”) so traumatize the young mind of the victim that it splits off into numerous separate personalities, to compartmentalize the trauma. Each of these personalities can supposedly then be programmed to perform specific tasks without the knowledge of the others. These programs can purportedly be accessed later through the use of pre-arranged code-words and signals, which automatically trigger the hypnotic state in the victim. Does your organization have any opinion on whether or not such programming is even possible using the techniques described above?

PAMELA: The FMS Foundation has not been involved in examining any of the claims about CIA brainwashing. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide the public and professions with accurate information about memory and to help those families who contact the Foundation by providing information. I think the following passage by Philip Zimbardo and Susan Andersen addresses scientific understanding on the CIA mind- control topic:

  • “John Mark’s (1979) expose of the CIA’s secret mind-control program made it clear that no foolproof way of “brainwashing” another person has ever been found."
  • (The word “brainwashing” is used here in its popular connotation, which came out of movies and
    sensationalized press accounts--that is, absolute control over another. This is not what the leading researchers [Lifton, 1961, Schein, Schneier, & Barker, 1961] of the Korean War-era “brainwashing” meant by their terms, thought reform and coercive persuasion, respectively.)
  • "Electroshock therapy, hypnosis, exquisite torture devices, and psychoactive drugs have not proved adequate for the task of reliably directing behavior through specific scenarios designated by would-be manipulators.
    It is a person (or various persons) in a convincing social situation – not gadgets or gimmicks – who control the minds of others. the more worried we are about being regarded as ignorant, uncultured, untalented, or boring, and the more ambiguous the events that must be evaluated, the more likely we are to take on the beliefs of those around us to avoid being rejected by them .”
  • (Michael D. Langone (Editor) Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, Norton, 1993, page 106.)

Although it has been often repeated that severe childhood trauma causes the mind to split and multiple personalities to develop, there is no scientific evidence to that effect. This notion spread after the publication of Sybil. In the last five years two things have occurred that cause grave doubt as to whether Sybil was actually a multiple personality. First was an interview with Herb Spiegel, M.D., one of the doctors who treated her. Spiegel said that Sybil was not MPD. Second was the discovery of some tapes of talks between the doctor and author who wrote the book Sybil. In these tapes, it appears that Sybil’s MPD was created by these two.


That someone has the manifestations of MPD is not at issue; they may. The question is what is the cause of the symptoms. Many in the psychiatric community believe that MPD is iatrogenic, that is, caused by the use of hypnosis and the type of interviewing techniques of the doctor.

TRACY: Has your organization specifically investigated the claims of the following people:

  • - Brice Taylor (a.k.a. Susan Ford, author of Thanks for the Memories: The Truth Has Set Me Free?
  • - Cathy O’Brien (author of The TRANCE Formation of America)?
  • - Arizona Wilder (author, Revelations of a Mother Goddess)?

PAMELA: The FMS Foundation is not an investigative group. Its purpose is to provide information about the nature of memory as it has appeared in the scientific literature.

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of stories that people have written about their recovered memories of torture of some sort -- in past lives, in space alien abductions and in Satanic rituals. Evidence is lacking for the existence of these events -- other than the stories. A case study or a story is not scientific evidence although it can be used as a basis to being a scientific program. When it comes to memory, the scientific program has been in place for many years, and what has been discovered is how suggestible people are.


A very well-known memoir is that of Binjamin Wilkomirski, who wrote of his childhood in German concentration camps (Fragments). The existence of the concentration camps is not an issue as is the existence of space alien abductions, past lives and intergenerational Satanic cults. The book received numerous prizes and he was given awards and spoke around the world. The publisher withdrew it in 1999 when it was discovered that the memoir was fiction. The author had spent the war years in Switzerland.

It’s interesting how this ties in with Satanic Ritual Abuse. Credibility had been given to the Wilkomirski story when it was confirmed by a Laura Grabowski who claimed she had known Wilkomirski at Auschwitz. But in an interesting twist, it appears that Laura Grabowski was quite confused. Her real name is Lauren Stratford and she is the author of Satan’s Underground, a book in which she describes being forced to be a “baby breeder” in a Satanic cult. An expose of Grabowski appeared in the Nov, 1999 Cornerstone Magazine. Lauren Statford was born in Tacoma, Washington, and has spent her entire life in the United States.

  • [Editor’s note: According to Cornerstone’s website,, “Lauren Stratford doesn’t exist, except as the pen name of Laurel Rose Willson, and Satan’s Underground is only one of the stories she’s told about her life.”]

TRACY: Some high-profile and outspoken “child abuse survivors” with recovered memories have also claimed to be victims of “harassment” by the FMSF after coming forward with their accusations. Does your organization engage in any contact with the alleged victims that could be construed as such?


PAMELA: The only persons I know who might fit your description are David Calof and Laura Brown, Ph.D. They are both therapists rather than survivors and have both complained about being picketed by Chuck Noah, a retired construction worker in Seattle, Washington. One look at the names on the Scientific Advisory Board of the FMS Foundation should belie any idea that the Foundation is interested in picketing as a way to educate people about the nature of memory. The Foundation has held conferences and seminars. And indeed a number of these were picketed by people opposed to the Foundation. The Foundation is interested in fostering family reconciliation where it is possible, not in harming anyone.

I cannot answer your question unless you tell me what you are referring to. What harassment? Who? When? In the same manner, I might ask if you have stopped beating your husband or whomever. How does one respond to such insinuations?

TRACY: Is the term “False Memory Syndrome” recognized by the psychiatric field at large?

PAMELA: The term is now in most dictionaries and even in the OED. To my knowledge no one has sought to have it included in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” of the American Psychiatric Association. The foundation is interested in promoting therapy in which the development of false memories is not a likely outcome. Did PTSD exist before it was included in the DSM? Did MPD exist before inclusion in the DSM? Since there


have been at least a dozen professional mental health journal issues devoted to the topic of false memories, I must assume that it is recognized at some level by professionals.

TRACY: Is there any difference between a false memory and outright lying?

PAMELA: A lie is a deliberate falsification often for some purpose. People with false memories believe them sincerely and with much conviction, especially if some hypnotic techniques are involved. There is a difference.