While I have no personal academic qualifications to speak authoritatively on this subject, I do have a profound conviction that the use of recovered memories as evidence in court cases alleging sexual abuse is, prima facie, about as wrong as it is possible to get..
I spent a considerable amount of time helping Felicity Goodyear prepare the early drafts of "First Do No Harm", so I am broadly familiar with the material she covers. I have also used many of the techniques employed in recovering memories in my own practice, often in association with my particular brand of bodywork. I have experimented with age regression, with trance, with "past life" memories and so on.
(Incidentally, almost none of these "recovered memories" involve sexual abuse. Curious...)
(For what it's worth, it is possible using the same techniques to obtain information about "future lives", and "parallel lives". This can introduce an appropriate note of lightness on occasion.)
My point is that anything can be grist for a therapy session, anything can be employed to deepen understanding and insight. "Play" and "dance" are wonderful ways of containing complex and often symbolic truth. Recovered memories, etc, take their place in this area of therapy.
This material is emotionally organised. It is not spatially or temporally organised, though it presents superficially as if it was.
It juxtaposes images that are emotionally related, as in dreams. We can learn techniques that permit us to recall our dreams, but seldom do we believe them to be representations of "real-life" events. I believe recalled memories are of the same nature, but typically the therapists evoking them treat them as memories of real events. They simply cannot bear this interpretation.
Consequently, they tend to be censored somewhat en route to the police station. (Much of the interview material in the Peter Ellis case was withheld by the prosecution, and not made available to the defense, as its blatant improbability would have undermined the remainder of the "evidence".)
I need to emphasise that censored or not, this material deserves no credibility.
When we apply rational (read spacially and temporally organised) criteria, this becomes obvious. In one recorded incident involving an alleged child-rape, a detailed description was elicited, incorporating a sofa which was not purchased until some years after the alleged incident. In another equally detailed account of an alleged rape, the person charged was (fortunately) in a position, some years later, to be able to demonstrate that he was elsewhere at the time. A third woman who had alleged multiple rape and impregnation by her father on the basis of recovered memories was eventually examined by a doctor and discovered to be a virgin. Et cetera.
In the seventies a therapeutic modality called Primary Activation practiced and taught by a man called Bennett enjoyed a vogue for a period. According to this model, every adult parent sexually abused opposite-sex children, women by sitting on their infant son's face, men by inserting a penis in their infant daughter's mouth. This experience compounded of choking and disgust, was universal, and so traumatic that it was buried deeply in the unconscious memory of both parties.
By activating a conscious awareness of this "primary" experience, a therapist could generate an enormous sense of personal liberation in a client, comparable to that achieved around the same time by Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy, exploring the birth experience.
For all its grotesqueness, this therapy generated some amazing life changes in its time. It was obviously tapping into some universal area of human experience, for which the alleged "sexual abuse" was a powerful metaphor. But only a metaphor.
If you want to convince me that this "primary" event physically happens to everybody; if you want to convince me that such an experience can be as universal as alleged in a world where the vast majority of human beings enjoy little or no privacy, and still manage to escape witness and record totally and completely over hundreds of years, you are asking too much.
It is an emotionally organised experience using spatial and temporal units to express itself.
Ditto the satanic abuse scene. The physical evidence is missing because it simply never happened. No bodies of babies, no bones, no bloodstains, no tunnels, no records of missing children, that might back up the grotesqeries attributed to various unfortunate preschool workers in the last twenty years.
Even something as ostensibly "real" as conscious memories can be affected in this way. With the passage of time, memories are typically simplified. Material reinforcing an emotional colouring can be added, and other material censored. The elements of my wedding day, nearly twenty years ago, that I recall are quite different in many respects from those my wife recalls, yet, from the beginning of the service we were rarely out of each other's company during the remainder of the day.
Material elicited from the subconscious or unconscious is even more subject to emotional organisation. As I have pointed out elsewhere (When Walt Disney Meets the Readers Digest), many aspects of typical adult/child relationships are intrinsically abusive, though not necessarily sexual in nature.
(In passing, that essay was regarded as being too controversial for publication when it was first written around 1991.)
It will require relatively little assistance from a therapist with a sexual agenda to recast this material.
In New Zealand, the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) funds counselling for sexual abuse and for violent physical abuse but does little in respect of other forms of abuse. There is thus a powerful economic incentive for the therapist to diagnose sexual abuse, and this is further compounded by any other agendas which may be present and interfering with sound professional judgement.
Therapists who attempt to use this material as if it corresponds with here and now (there and then?) reality are a real danger. Once memories have been recovered, and interpreted by the therapist, they are typically experienced as reality, and are often extremely difficult to dislodge.
Families can be quite easily destroyed, and entire life savings wiped out in legal defence fees, while the therapist, unscathed, convinced of her righteousness and often of the unspeakable evil of the vast majority of men, signs up her next batch of taxpayer funding. (I use the words "she" and "her", etc, as most therapists in this field tend to be women, though by no means all.)