Hypnotic regression therapy is a process by which people believe they can uncover repressed memories years, or even decades, after they have been forgotten. For example, regression therapist Barbara Lamb specialises in uncovering memories of alien abductions. One of her patients discovered that she had married an alien: a cat-faced primate with whom she has had four children, two of who live on Earth.
Leading questions can manipulate people into constructing memories that never happened. Regression therapy assumes the brain is like a video tape recording its observations perfectly and then keeping or erasing them. This is not the case. Memories are pieced together in a kind of patchwork created by a combination of association between things and events in the environment. Repetitive replaying of a memory in your head is likely to alter it, so sometimes the memories we think we remember best are actually inaccurate.
Our memories are also highly susceptible to suggestion. In an American experiment in memory fabrication, adults were shown photo shopped pictures of themselves as children doing things they had never done such as riding in a hot air balloon or on a sailing ship. 33 percent of people claimed to not only remember the experience, but could add details of their own, describing what happened.
People who believe they have uncovered repressed memories are not liars or fantasists. The memories are real and may create real joy or trauma for their host. Barbara Lamb says, “When we do the regressions, it is like reliving the whole experience that they do not consciously remember.” What is actually happening may be the exact opposite – rather than uncovering memories that have been forgotten, the therapists are implanting new memories that never happened.
The most damaging result of regression therapy is when a patient is led to believe they have experienced some kind of abuse as a child. In 1992 Missouri woman Beth Rutherford received an out-of-court settlement of $1 million from her ex-therapist for implanting memories in her mind that led her to believe her mother and father had repeatedly raped her as a child, and forced her to give herself two abortions. She believed the memories were true until a medical examination revealed that she had never been pregnant. This is not to say that the memory does not now exist and the person is making it up. Memory is malleable. Implanted memories can be as real in the mind of a person as any real memory.