Revelations and scandals surrounding allegations of child abuse by church officials in the past several years have resulted in a great deal of reflection and reorganization within the institution as it struggles to investigate the incidents and ensure they do not happen again. As part of these efforts, the Church of England has recently endorsed an early edition of the book The Courage to Heal, a text which has stirred up significant controversy among those in the fields of psychotherapy and psychology. The book, which aims to help victims of abuse and other types of trauma overcome their difficulties, includes phrasing which suggests that having no recollection of past abuses does not rule out the possibility of having been abused. Railing against what they see as a potentially damaging and scientifically lacking set of premises, groups specializing in the study and awareness of false memory syndrome have recently issued a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury calling for the official to renounce endorsement of the book.
The concerned psychologists and therapists argue that the suggestions offered to readers in the text may encourage them to believe they were hurt even if they were not, a phenomenon witnessed some years ago when a string of psychotherapy clients “falsely created” memories of child abuse during sessions and subsequently sued their therapists, claiming family relationships had been ruined. Some officials within the church, as well as some therapy professionals, counter with the idea that a false memory cannot exist. The Courage to Heal was re-issued in a number of revisions that do not include the particular verbiage in question, but the church has specifically given its support to an early release that does contain the text. Whether the letter’s signatories will be successful in convincing church officials –or patrons– of the potential danger they perceive in the book remains to be seen.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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