Recovered-memory lawsuit is settled out of court

APA Monitor/September 1998
By B. Murray

A malpractice lawsuit alleging that a psychologist implanted false memories in her patient was settled out of court in late June.

The insurer of the psychologist, Renee Fredrickson, PhD, of St. Paul, Minn., paid $175,000 in damages to Mary Sommerfeld of Arden Hills, Minn. Sommerfeld had accused Fredrickson of using coercive methods to evoke false memories of childhood abuse.

For 10 months, between 1994 and 1995, Sommerfeld sought treatment from Fredrickson for trauma related to childhood sexual abuse by a neighbor. During that time, Sommerfeld claims that Fredrickson used guided imagery, dream interpretation, hypnosis and other persuasive tactics to induce memories of ritual cult abuse and incest. Fredrickson, author of 'Repressed Memories: A Journey to Recovery from Sexual Abuse' (Simon & Schuster, 1992), denies Sommerfeld’s charges.

Last year, Sommerfeld and her husband sued Fredrickson for malpractice and filed a formal complaint against the psychologist with the Minnesota Board of Psychology. The suit settled out of court because the ceiling on Fredrickson’s insurance coverage was $200,000 and Fredrickson says her insurer feared that undertaking a lawsuit would cost more than that. 'Lawsuits against therapists are far easier and more lucrative for unhappy patients to pursue than recovery from child abuse with amnesic features,' says Fredrickson. She believes further research will 'confirm the reality' of childhood amnesia.

But R. Christopher Barden, PhD, JD, a psychologist and lawyer who represented Sommerfeld in the suit, disagrees. Barden says the willingness of Fredrickson’s insurer to settle signifies the demise of recovered-memory therapy.

The courts--and society in general-- increasingly recognize that 'credible research demonstrates that repression [of memories] and dissociation are either extremely rare or myths,' he says.

The Minnesota Board of Psychology is still investigating Sommerfeld’s complaint.


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