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What FMSF said they did:

“Our educational work is not finished. We still receive calls informing us about the continued use of suggestive therapeutic techniques… We need your help to complete the work of the Foundation.” - FMSF Staff, in FMSF Newsletter. [1]

“Given the risks of factually inaccurate information, care should be taken not to use hypnosis or other techniques involving suggestions in attempting to elicit statements from children or adolescents concerning sexual abuse.” - Martin Orne, Quoted in FMSF Newsletter. [2]

What FMSF actually did:

✓+ Used the same suggestive interviewing techniques that they campaigned against

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation has frequently spoken out against suggestive interviewing techniques, alleging that they produce false memories.

However, prominent members of the FMSF’s Scientific and Professional Advisory Board have used the exact techniques the foundation criticizes for generating false memories. Despite its outspoken stance on suggestive interviewing techniques, the FMSF has never denounced the actions of either board member listed below.

McHugh and Sodium Amytal:
Dr. Paul McHugh is a psychiatrist and one of the first False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) Advisory Board Members who regularly presented at FMSF conferences and wrote articles for the FMSF newsletter. In the words of Pamela Freyd, the founder of the FMSF, “Dr. McHugh has been on our board of advisors from the very beginning.” [3]

McHugh has admitted to using suggestive interviewing techniques – specifically, hypnosis and sodium amytal. In his opinion, he would “encourage similar efforts” [4] to get patients to admit they falsified memories of childhood abuse, even though prominent members of the FMSF state that it is impossible to verify the accuracy of any statement given by a patient under sodium amytal.

“It is known that sodium amytal, like hypnosis, often results in confabulation.” - Pamela Freyd, in the FMSF Newsletter. [5]

“In addition, under Amytal, patients' claims about details of their histories--events, places, names, dates -- are untrustworthy. Further, these investigations noted that the drug also makes patients vulnerable to either accidental or deliberate suggestions from the interviewer. Finally, and most importantly, patients under Amytal fail to reliably discriminate between reality and fantasy.” - August Piper, in the FMSF newsletter [6]

“Hypnosis and sodium amytal administration ("truth serum") are unacceptable procedures for memory recovery… Subjects receiving hypnosis or amytal as general memory aids (even in instances where there is no question of sexual abuse) will often generate false memories.” [7]

Details of this incident were published in the FMSF newsletter, May 2 1995:
“Dr. McHugh personally practiced the memory-recovery techniques of hypnosis and sodium amytal about which he has publicly urged caution. We obtained a copy of the transcript that was read, and we contacted Dr. McHugh for his response.
PAUL MCHUGH, M.D.: "The transcript is of my interview on Nightline where I was asked by Dr. Richard Berendzen to join him in discussing how his (unforgotten) experience of sexual abuse as a child may have played a role in his adult deviant behavior. I described several ways that we attempted to challenge his account of sexual abuse. A counter opinion was that he was fraudulently claiming this abuse so as to blunt criticism and escape some punishment for his actions.
One of the methods we employed was an interview under amytal sedation. It was not our aim to use this sedated state to explore his memory for other experiences in his history. We did, and still do, consider an amytal sedated patient to be vulnerable to influence that can create artifactual memories. Our effort was devoted to observing whether he would admit, under amytal sedation, that he had concocted a child abuse story and might then deny it. Dr. Berendzen held to his memories despite the sedation. We then launched other efforts to confirm or dismiss them. When all our investigations were completed we, as noted in the transcript, concluded that he had been sexually abused and was not untruthful in this matter… We believed and still believe that we were ultimately acting in the patient's interest by retaining an initial skepticism towards his claims and in launching a good faith effort to confirm or reject them. We encourage similar efforts -- not necessarily of an identical kind -- to challenge childhood memories when subsequent treatment and management will depend upon their accuracy."” [4]

Dr. Richard Berendzen pleaded guilty to two charges of making obscene phone calls from his office. Before he underwent investigation and was charged guilty, he was seen by Paul McHugh at Johns Hopkins Hospital. [8] The Washington Post covers the story in an article titled “Berendzen Pleads Guilty to Calls.”

Underwager’s Interviewing Bias:
Pamela Freyd stated that the False Memory Syndrome Foundation “would not exist” [9] without the critical role Ralph Underwager played in its foundational years. He served on the FMSF’s Scientific and Professional Advisory Board until he resigned due to his favorable comments about pedophilia.

Underwager displays the kind of “interviewer bias” he often attributed to others. In the Rouse case, where the limitations on Underwager’s testimony at trial were a major issue on appeal, a three-judge panel ultimately upheld the convictions, rejecting Underwager’s opinion: “It is clear from the record that [Underwager] was intent upon expressing the ultimate opinion that the victims’ accusations of sexual abuse were not credible.” [10] At the trial itself, Underwager tried to introduce videotaped statements of two children he characterized as recanting. Those videotapes are still under seal, but as Judge Peirsol described them, Underwager was a biased interviewer. He literally told the two children that “he was there to help the children get the defendants [their relatives] out of prison.” The convictions were upheld on the basis of strong medical evidence and contemporaneous statements. [11]


[1] FMSF Staff. (1995, November/December). Help Us Complete The Work. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 4(10), 3.
[2] Orne & Dinges (1989). Chapter 30. In Kaplan & Sadock (Ed.) Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry IV Vol 2 5th. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
Quoted In: “Memory Enhancement” (1993, June 3). FMS Foundation Newsletter. 2(6), 8.
[3] FMSF Staff (1993, December 7). “We are Proud to Report…” FMS Foundation Newsletter. 2(11), 11.
[4] FMSF Staff. (1995, May 5). Our Critics: In Professional Publications: Example 5. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 4(5), 5.
[5] Freyd, Pamela. (1994, May 4). Dear Friends. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 3(5), 1.
[6] Piper, August. (1994, March 8). Questions and Answers “Truth Serum” and “What Really Happened.” FMS Foundation Newsletter. 3(3), 5-6.
[7] Hochman, John. (1994). Recovered Memory Therapy and False Memory Syndrome. Skeptic Magazine. 2(3). 58-61
[8] Brown, DeNeen & Sanchez, Rene. (1990, May 24). Berendzen Pleads Guilty to Calls. The Washington Post.
[9] Freyd, Pamela. (1992, May 21). Dear Friends. FMS Foundation Newsletter. 1(5), 1.
[10] U.S. v. Rouse, 111 F.3d 561, 571
[11] Cheit, R. E. (2014). The witch-hunt narrative: Politics, psychology, and the sexual abuse of children. Oxford University Press. p. 402

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