Mental health issue studied

Manufactured memories’ topic of directed study

Memory therapy is the focus of a directed study by Northern Michigan University criminal justice student Joan Roberts. She said research has shown the therapy to be problematic. (Journal file art)

MARQUETTE — A criminal justice student at Northern Michigan University wants to raise awareness on fraud in mental health as it relates to false allegations and wrongful convictions.

Joan L. Roberts, who also considers herself a victims rights advocate, completed a directed study at NMU titled “Danger, Danger, Manufactured Memories Ahead.”

With some personal knowledge of the issue, Roberts has researched wrongful conviction cases as well as cases of patients becoming victims of memory therapy and children manipulated to make false allegations against their parents.

Roberts said that with a directed study, students are assigned to write about topics of their choice. She created two directed studies: one for political science and another for criminal justice.

“What I determined was the pattern that is there for recovered memory therapy,” Roberts said. “There’s no doubt that there’s a pattern.”

She believes a therapist can decide that anyone who has a problem has been sexually abused, so he or she tries to bring up such memories from the patient.

Her research indicates female patients eventually get away from these therapists and relate how the process happened.

“The therapist will keep hounding them,” Roberts said, “and if they go home, sometimes they’re sent home with an ‘incest survivor book,’ and they have nightmares.”

A therapist, she said, might interpret those nightmares as flashbacks.

“A therapist’s job is not to suggest,” Roberts said. “Their job is to listen and to help somebody.”

She believes wrongly convicted people need to be exonerated.

“My big interest is educating and informing people what can happen because there is no truth consent form for mental health,” Roberts said. “They don’t have the same criteria.”

It’s her belief that patient confidentiality is being abused, and law enforcement needs to know about what she considers poor training of some therapists.

“They just thought if someone said they’d been sexually abused, then the mantra was ‘always believe,’ or it would be ‘no child would say that if it wasn’t true, no one could make that much stuff up,'” Roberts said. “Those are kind of the things that I brought out in my directed study, and that isn’t true.

“These people aren’t making it up. Someone is telling them this happened and making them like they have to believe it until they either file criminal charges against someone, usually in the family, or they stay within that therapy, and the pattern is once they believe something must have happened, then they are isolated from their family.”

The American Psychological Association has indicated that experienced clinical psychologists said the phenomenon of a recovered memory is rare, with one practitioner reporting having a recovered memory arise only once in a 20-year time period.

Roberts volunteers for the National Center for Reason and Justice, a nonprofit that educates and advocates for child-protective laws and criminal justice practices based on “science, fairness and good sense,” and supports people who are falsely accused or convicted of crimes against children, according to its website at ncrj.org.

Roberts said no one wants to believe someone’s being abused, but guards against what now is called “victim-centered investigations,” which might prematurely convict a suspect.

She believes a patient, when walking into a therapist’s office, needs to be educated about possible therapy.

“They need to know what therapy is going to be used, and they need to have a consent form that is clear about what is going to be done behind closed doors,” Roberts said. “Otherwise, you have these wrongful convictions and these false allegations, and families are just wrecked, and then the patient, of course, is really damaged. They have this constant fight within them where they can’t remember what they were supposed to have remembered.”

Roberts is available for public speaking. She can be reached at 906-250-2782.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.