Monopoly on an open mind

January 20, 1995

It is interesting how John Morton (THES, January 13) manages to transform the controversy over false memory syndrome into a contest between British chartered psychologists on the one hand and therapists and psychotherapists on the other over the right to regulate memory revelations.

The one group consists of "specially trained and regulated" people who are subject to the disciplinary procedures of the British Psychological Society, while the other is a disparate collection of people who "may or may not belong to a body with regulatory power" and, worse still, may have been trained by an "unaffiliated organisation with no control over the education of their students or the practices they encourage".

There are no prizes for guessing which one you should trust with your memories. Morton's interesting distinction between qualified and unqualified memory mediators is an indication of just how far the professionalisation of psychology and psychotherapy has progressed. When the British Psychological Society wants to know whether false memories exist whom does it ask for a sensible answer? A thousand British chartered psychologists, of course.

Even if the majority have had no experience of an actual case of recovered memory, at least they can be relied upon for a balanced response. The fact that, in the absence of unbiased, contemporary records of events, nobody can know for certain whether a "recovered memory" is true or false disappears from sight as Professor Morton parades the virtues of training, regulation and disciplinary procedures.

Indeed, it is this very absence of certainty that allows certain professional groups to claim the exclusive right to control for society the validity of what people claim to remember and the use made of those memories. If all that is possible is a healthy scepticism and an open mind when faced with the phenomenon of recovered memories, then one wonders what makes Morton and the BPS so confident that chartered psychologists have a monopoly of these qualities.

Michael King Centre for the Study of Law, the Child and the Family Brunel University

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