In 2014 I was an invited panel member at the Association for Business Psychology (ABP) conference presenting on the ‘Crossover between Occupational and Clinical Psychology’. I started with an ‘Ice-Maker’ blaming psychiatry and psychology for the malaise that permitted Jimmy Savile to engage in sordid Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) with hundreds of victims (some as young as 4 years). I went on to compare the well-developed Occupational Testing market with the rudimentary Clinical offering dominated by MMPI (developed through empirical ‘black box’ criterion scoring) and Millon’s awful MCMI – a tool with inferior measurement properties that is entirely inappropriately deployed (as a ‘weapon’?) in family court cases to ‘pathologise’ loving and protective parents to remove custody rights. Feedback from 100+ delegates was positive.
Half a year later I took up the occasion of the forthcoming general election to present a paper ‘Politics and the Psychology of Abuse’ at The Psychometric Forum (TPF). Building on my assessment expertise and a harrowing case study featuring ‘unbelievable’ disclosures I outlined typical features of an Organised Ritual Crime Abuse Network (ORCAN) and successful CSA prosecutions of Ian Watkins, Alberts and Carole Hickmann as well as Colin Batley – all in Wales. The good folks at TPF welcomed my input and published a touching review.
Buoyed by the positive response of my colleagues I put up my hand in January 2015 to volunteer for the ‘Science & Practice Strategy Group Convener’ role at the BPS emphasising in my personal statement that I would like to combat the ‘industrial scale’ and ‘organised nature’ of child sexual abuse – in my view a valid aspect of ‘Industrial/Organizational Psychology’ long overdue for research.
Sitting on the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) Committee was a learning-by-doing experience. Three-times a year representing the DOP at the BPS Research Board was daunting – 30 professors and lecturers representing the creme-de-la creme of psychology research. It was interesting to hear about a wide range of topics with the Research Excellence Framework (REF) taking up an extraordinary amount of time.
The current chair of the Research Board joined it in 2004. Shortly afterwards something happened that in my view was inappropriate for a ‘learned society’. Prof Martin Conway, who is on the Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society (BFMS), became chair of the BPS Research Board.
False Memory associations sprung up around 1990 in the wake of the ‘memory wars’ where increasingly allegations of incestuous abuse surfaced – many in organised abuse settings. False Memory adherents, led by their ‘academic darling’ Prof Elizabeth Loftus, tore into survivors and witnesses disclosing CSA claiming that what they recalled were probably ‘false memories’. An ‘industry’ blossomed where a small group of psychologists and psychiatrists would proclaim repeatedly that complainants were suffering from ‘false memories’- even when there was never a DSM entry of that name.
On the other hand, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Dissociative Disorder became entries in the 1980 edition of DSM in the light of the symptoms shown by Vietnam war veterans and domestic abuse victims. In 2018 ICD-11 added Complex PTSD as a diagnostic category – I presented in 2019 a C-PTSD case study at the ESTD conference in Rome which has already garnered 1000+ reads on ResearchGate.
About one hundred years earlier Pierre Janet accurately described the nature of traumatic memories. Shame on psychiatry and psychology for burying his findings and inventing pseudo-scientific narratives and treatments culminating in Electroshock Therapy (ECT – remember ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest’?) and Frontal Lobotomy (also covered in my TPF presentation).
As trauma-informed interventions gathered pace and organised abuse cases were widely discussed in the media (with some successful prosecutions) the False Memory adherents spread their ‘discourse of disbelief’ aided by controversial publications. For example, 40 senior mental health practitioners wrote a protest letter when Anthropology (!) Professor Jean La Fontaine published in 1994 a report, sponsored by then Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley, which was widely read as denying the existence of wide-spread ritual abuse in the UK.
How could the UK’s leading research psychologists, the BPS policy unit and the trustees let someone closely associated with the BFMS become chair of the BPS Research Board? Would you let Dr Marlborough lead research into the dangers of smoking?
To make matters worse nobody stopped Prof Conway from applying for an ESRC research grant and convening a working group drawn from his global false memory adherent network that culminated in the 2008 publication ‘Guidelines on Memory and the Law’ under the BPS banner. The content could just as well have been published by the BFMS as exemplified by its insidious statement ‘A memory expert is a person who is recognised by the memory research community to be a memory researcher‘ – a statement that qualified any ‘false memory’ researcher and disqualified all those clinical practitioners who encounter memory-based disclosures in their daily work. Under pressure this statement was modified in the 2010 edition to ‘… possess knowledge relevant to the particular case ‘.
The current chair of the BPS Research Bord and the current BPS Head of Research & Impact (who was recruited to the BPS in 1995 – just after the valuable publications of the ‘BPS Working Group on Recovered Memory’) were named contributors of the report and were, a dozen years later, pivotal in the decision to disband the Memory-Based Evidence group started only earlier in the year. What about governance?
An advert requesting expressions of interest had been placed in the January 2020 issue of the Psychologist followed shortly afterwards by a call for an Independent Review Group. I applied for the latter but was rejected despite 30 publications (including contributions covering ‘false beliefs’ seemingly inculcated through persuasive coercion by vested interests) on relevant topics since 2014. A retired Professor of Psychology who wrote a whole book about the Savile et al UK abuse cases was also rejected. Membership of the groups appeared sensible. However, I was uneasy that the chairperson appointed had worked for many years in an organisation whose members frequently followed a ‘discourse of disbelief’ (following the La Fontaine doctrine instituted by its leadership) and as an academic is receiving funding from related organisations. What about independence?
In November, the Research Board members were given the recommendation that due to seemingly insurmountable difficulties the group should be closed. Nobody said it would be easy! The IICSA is now on its 4th chair. Where there is a will there is a way. What about leadership – is such evasive conduct going to further the BPS motto ‘excellence in psychology’?
I got the impression that vested interests managed to ‘drop the hot potato’ and furthermore tried to bury it deeply decrying they tried ever-so-hard. I voted against the motion and made a handful of constructive recommendations for moving things forward. Highly qualified members of the group (who I look up to) made their own representations and indicated to me that work may well continue in some form. I will be watching developments with interest, anticipation, and trepidation.
For the time being I want to put as much distance as possible between myself and the BPS research bods. Technically I cannot resign from the BPS Research Board so that instead I informed my colleagues at the BPS DOP Executive that I want to step down from my ‘Science & Practice Strategy Convenor’ role.
Best wishes for 2021
Dr Rainer H. Kurz