The women brainwashed by therapists to believe their parents abused them

Daily Mail, UK/February 9, 2014

By Amanda Cable

Carol Felstead was unequivocal in the accusations she made against her family.

Her mother Joan, a nurse, and father, Joseph, an engineer, may have seemed like a respectable couple with five children.

But behind closed doors, she said, they were Satanists, who subjected her to years of childhood abuse.

The 41-year-old psychology graduate recounted in disturbing detail the night her mother murdered Carol’s older sister, Joan-Julie, before setting fire to the house to hide the evidence.

Such a catalogue of horror would cause lasting damage to any child. No one could blame Carol for cutting off contact with her parents and her four brothers.

Yet, shockingly, not one of Carol’s claims was true.

Though she seemed to believe every word, it later emerged that her recollections were false memories, which had been dredged up during controversial recovered memory therapy (RMT) sessions throughout her adult life.

Carol is just one of thousands of people believed to be victims of False Memory Syndrome, a phenomenon whereby a person is encouraged through therapy to ‘remember’ forgotten childhood trauma that is supposedly affecting them as adults.

‘But these so-called experts are often unregulated,’ says Carol’s brother Dr Kevin Felstead, 53, a former university lecturer from Stockport, Cheshire. ‘Anyone can go online, pay a fee to do a part-time course and be accredited to give therapy after just two weeks. Into their hands are placed vulnerable young women, such as my sister.’

A growing body of research shows that childhood memories are unreliable at best.

Indeed, a study published last week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that the higher the level of detail of a childhood memory, the less likely it is that it is accurate.

Other clinical studies have shown it is possible to plant false memories in a person’s mind, then have them ‘recall’ them in convincing emotional detail that they believe themselves.

Madeline Greenhalgh, director of the British False Memory Society, a registered charity, says they have records of 2,500 cases of untrue claims of sexual abuse after RMT, and receive thousands of phone calls from worried relatives each year.

‘Just yesterday a father rang to say his daughter, who is in her 50s, had suddenly made an allegation of abuse following sessions with a counsellor. He was distraught,’ she says.

‘We’re talking about fathers who give away their daughters at weddings, decorate their houses and babysit their grandchildren. Then something goes wrong in the daughter’s life and she sees a therapist as she searches for answers.

‘This isn’t about people who have a feeling that something was wrong in the past and then remember more during therapy. This is about people who produce a ‘memory’ out of the blue.

‘Suddenly, parents are hit by an allegation of abuse. The strain often ends their marriage and we see fathers lose their families, homes and jobs.’

Once the allegation has been made, Madeline says it proves difficult for the women to backtrack.

‘They have often grown close to their therapist, who believes they are saving them. They wield a huge influence,’ she says. ‘In Carol’s case, she found herself surrounded by therapists who took her stories at face value, though they remained utterly unsubstantiated.’

Carol’s birth in 1964 had heralded a new beginning for her devoted parents after a run of devastating bad luck.

The year before she was born, a fire had destroyed the family home, and the year before that a much-loved baby, Joan-Julie, had died in hospital from a heart defect at the age of two months.

Carols’ parents had three sons, Kevin and twins David and Anthony, who were older than Carol. Two years later, they went on to have another son, Richard.

‘Carol was the only surviving daughter, and though my parents didn’t have favourites, she held a special place in their hearts,’ says Kevin. ‘She was adorable and we couldn’t help spoiling her.’

But a trip to the GP with a headache at the age of 22 changed the course of Carol’s life — and her family’s.

She was referred to counselling for stress and later began ‘psychosexual’ therapy, which included RMT.

Carol’s family were unaware of her therapy sessions. But they did notice she had become hostile and unhappy. ‘She moved out of the family house around that time,’ says Kevin.

‘On her visits, she was distant and moody. Gradually, she stopped coming to the house. She moved to London in 1992 and gained a degree in psychology at Westminster University, but gradually stopped keeping in touch.

‘The last time we saw her was in 1994. She sent Christmas and birthday cards, but rang only once a year and never left her address. Then in 2005, she rang my brother Richard, said she was lonely and wanted to return home to live near her family.’

But she never made it home — two months later, Richard received a phone call from the coroner’s office in Battersea, South London, to say Carol had been found dead in her flat, surrounded by medication, aged just 41.

The cause of death was unknown and the inquest recorded an open verdict.

‘Richard was told that Carol had died two weeks earlier, and a cremation and funeral had been organised by a therapist, Dr Fleur Fisher, who had declared herself next of kin,’ says Kevin.

The family were left reeling, but worse was to come.

‘Dr Fisher had handed police a document, supposedly written by Carol, detailing satanic child abuse and alleging that Joan-Julie had been murdered by Mum,’ says Kevin.

‘My parents collapsed with grief; it was a double blow. They had lost their daughter — then they learned she had made these shattering allegations.

‘We were able to prove our innocence easily — Dad could produce Joan-Julie’s death certificate to show she died in October 1962 and the house fire was covered in the local newspaper in 1963 —but the damage was done.

‘My mother’s hair turned grey overnight, she suffered from depression and died from cancer in 2010. I am convinced the shock helped to kill her.’

Through data protection requests, the family were able to retrieve Carol’s medical notes, which revealed a catalogue of increasingly incredible treatment.

‘One therapist noted that urinary tract infections, which Carol suffered from, are a sign of ritual satanic sexual abuse,’ says Kevin. ‘We believe Carol was effectively brainwashed by her therapists.’

Retired clinical psychologist Katharine Mair is so concerned about the trend for RMT that she has written a book, Abused By Therapy, which was released at the end of last year.

‘There is an ongoing campaign by groups and clinics to spread the notion that various psychological disorders are always caused by childhood abuse. This really alarms me,’ she says.

‘The therapy is intensive and often the patient is placed in a trance-like state as they are encouraged to “remember”.

‘This is when false childhood memories spring up. The therapists encouraging these “memories” genuinely believe they are helping and, being in a position of authority, are able to convince clients that these visions really did happen.’

According to Mair, families accused of abuse because of recovered memory therapy tend to be middle class.

However, statistically, abuse is more likely to occur in deprived and impoverished homes.

‘This treatment is devastating previously happy families,’ she says.

Today, Peter Jones, 70, a product development engineer from Sheffield, has nothing but photographs to remind him of the happy family he’s lost because of a therapist who still treats his 48-year-old daughter Janet.

‘This therapist must have made an awful lot of money out of my daughter — and yet all our lives have been destroyed,’ he says.

‘My marriage has broken up, I lost my job and my family. I haven’t seen my granddaughter since she was three.’

Janet, a former banker, turned to a private psychotherapist ten years ago when her career collapsed after a period of illness.

‘A few weeks later she came to see my wife Mary and me. She could hardly speak,’ says Peter.

‘Eventually she said my wife’s parents — her beloved grandparents — had raped and abused her. I couldn’t believe it, but my wife Mary instantly threw her arms around her and comforted her.

‘My in-laws were on holiday in Spain and I had to ring them to tell them. Six months later, her grandpa died of a heart attack — a broken man. I rang the psychotherapist and left messages, begging her to call me and saying I was worried about Janet. Shortly afterwards, Janet wrote to my wife, claiming I had abused her as well.

‘It was just ridiculous. I’m certain Mary didn’t believe it, but she had no choice but to support Janet or risk being cut out of her life altogether, like my in-laws.

‘She divorced me, but secretly sent me a photo of our granddaughter. Why would she do that if she thought I had abused our daughter?

‘I’ve since discovered that before going private, the therapist had at least one disciplinary hearing while working for the NHS for misleading patients.

‘I still love Janet, but I can’t believe our whole family has been destroyed. I should have been celebrating my golden wedding anniversary this year — instead, I am utterly alone.’

Peter’s only hope is that some victims of false memory syndrome do realise they may have made a terrible mistake.

‘One woman last month did manage to admit it,’ says Madeline. ‘She is an intelligent woman in her 40s and, after ten years of accusations and then silence, she walked up the drive as her father was washing the car and said: “I’m so sorry, dad.” They fell into each other’s arms and hugged.’

Maxine Berry, 41, is thankful her father was just as forgiving when she retracted false accusations that he had abused her as a child.

A senior clinical trial assistant from Leeds, she was 18 when she went to see a student counsellor after suffering with stress about starting university.

‘The counsellor referred me to a private clinic which, unbeknown to me, specialised in recovered memory techniques,’ says Maxine.

‘I was given a book to read about childhood abuse and invited into group therapy sessions. Finally, in one therapy session, I said “Well, perhaps my father did do something to me in the past” and it just spiralled from there.

‘I was doped with a cocktail of anti-depressants and gradually my stories became wilder. I claimed I was abused by my father from the ages of two to ten.

‘But my dad Gary, a writer, split up with my mother when I was three and moved away. I hadn’t actually seen him since.

‘Our group counselling sessions became like a competition, with everyone trying to out-do each other with a worse story than the person before. One therapist became really angry when I started to question if these things had really happened, telling me: “You are not accepting things.”

‘My claims started with inappropriate touching and spiralled until I truly believed my father had raped me. I was so unhappy I attempted suicide several times.

‘It was my husband Brian who finally said I sounded as if I was reading from a script. Our marriage had suffered because of the therapy, too.

‘We married when I was 22, but separated within a year because I wouldn’t listen to him. Therapy had taken over my whole life.

Thankfully, we reconciled the following year, but when I told my therapists we wanted children they were horrified, telling me I would probably abuse them in turn because I had been so damaged.

‘I was so worried that I had a sterilisation when I was 23, denying me the chance of having my own family.

‘It was only as Brian helped me come off the medication that my head started to clear. Later that year we saw a TV documentary about recovered false memories and I realised that was what had happened to me.’

Maxine began legal action against the clinic, but they settled out of court. Afterwards, she made contact with her father Gary for the first time in 20 years.

‘He was horrified to hear what I had believed,’ she says. ‘Our meeting was highly emotional. He forgave me, hugged me and now we see each other often. But Mum didn’t speak to me for years.

‘I’m so angry that therapists played with the mind of a vulnerable girl. It almost destroyed my family and nearly killed me.

‘I managed to walk up to my father’s front door and say sorry, but it took all the courage I had to admit I’d been wrong.’

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