Leading vs. leading & The risk of false memories

Before you venture into the work of regression, you should understand the difference between guiding and leading. Those who dare to effect a regression without this important understanding could find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit for a troublesome problem known as “false memory syndrome,” or even memory falsification, which is unintentional falsification existing own memory content means.
It is distinguished from false memory, the fantasizing imagination new own memory content. Both processes are self-deceptions and differ from a deliberate false statement (lie) in that the person remembering the statement believes it to be true.
Memory distortion has been the subject of psychological and, more recently, increasingly neurophysiological research for over 100 years. Memory falsification is of great importance in psychiatry and in court, where statements are checked for memory falsification or false memory;

Origin of the terms

The terms “memory falsification” and “memory falsification” were coined in 1886 by Emil Kraepelin in his article “Über Erinnerungsfälschung”were first introduced and defined. In 1887, he supplemented this article with two articles of the same name, in which he illustrated the new terms with case studies. In the 1886 article, Kraepelin wrote that he wanted to introduce terms for qualitative differentiation in addition to already known terms for the quantitative differentiation of “disorders of memory”, such as general amnesia, partial amnesia and hypermnesia. Analogous to the distinction between illusion and hallucination, he therefore wanted to distinguish between memory falsification and memory falsification.


Since perception and memory are neuronal processes, errors can sometimes occur. While perceptual illusions have been studied and researched for a long time, memory illusions have only been studied in a comparable form since the 1960s; Since then, experiments have succeeded in distorting the memories of test subjects with regard to serious details or even implanting pseudo-memories of new events into their memories using various methods.


Falsified memories can occur as a result of a suggestion or hypnosis as well as spontaneously (without external influence) under stress or in states of exhaustion; The term can thus be methodically distinguished from pathological delusions, which can occur as a symptom of some mental disorders; It is essential that the mental and emotional reproduction of the memory content is experienced as an image of a past, conscious event – unlike a memory of a dream, a vision or an active imagination: there the remembering person is aware that his memory does not correspond to any such external reality; Even in the case of a fragmentary, vague memory, the person remembering is aware of this incompleteness and imperfection.

The more often false events are mentioned by suggestion, the more consistent they are and the more often the person visualizes the situation, the more plausible they become. The resulting memories are often very detailed, emotional and very credible for the person.

A study showed that suggestion is particularly successful with emotional content; For example, 100 adults believed, based on their vivid and emotional memories, that they had been sexually abused in their childhood. It turned out that these memories were generated by the suggestive techniques of their therapists and through the recurring repetition and confrontation with these “memories” gained more and more details and credibility and solidified;

Emotional stimuli

People pay more attention to emotional stimuli than neutral ones. The memories of these stimuli are reinforced by stress hormones; Since emotional memories are recalled and reconsidered more often, they are additionally reinforced; However, this happens not only with actual memories, but also with falsified memories; False memories easily occur in an emotional context. It doesn’t matter whether the situation in question evokes strong negative or positive feelings. Negative emotion causes the person to focus on the center of the event and the periphery becomes susceptible to memory errors. In the case of a robbery, for example, the focus is on what is considered the most negative and life-threatening: the weapon. The person misses important information about the perpetrator (e.g. distinctive facial features, voice, clothing) and the setting; This phenomenon is also known as tunnel memory;
If, on the other hand, a situation evokes positive emotions, there is no reason to focus. The person expands their field of attention in order to take in as much as possible and discover new possibilities; Since these memories are not very detailed due to the breadth of attention, they are generally susceptible to falsification.

Memory falsification through psychotherapy

The idea that traumatic memories can be suppressed and later, for example in the context of psychotherapy, return to consciousness is widespread both in the general population and among therapists. While the existence of repressed trauma is beyond question, the frequency of its occurrence is the subject of current debate. It is often not possible to decide whether a memory was actually suppressed and later recovered, or whether it arose at a later point in time, i.e. whether it is a false memory.

For a memory to be properly classified as “recovered”, it must be established firstly that the event in question actually took place, secondly that it was forgotten and it was not possible for the person to remember it, and thirdly that it was remembered again later.

Loftus and Davis were able to demonstrate major methodological flaws in studies that supported the thesis of recovered memories. For example, it was not tested whether a remembered experience actually happened or not. Another study interpreted the fact that women who had experienced abuse that had objectively taken place did not mention this abuse in an interview seventeen years later as a suppression of memory. However, there may be other reasons for not reporting abuse in an interview, such as shame or a lack of rapport with the investigator; There was little evidence that traumatic experiences are usually repressed and forgotten and can be recalled later. Although there are numerous reports of people recalling abuse, some of it on a massive scale, this raises the question of the extent to which these events took place or are false memories and, if this is the case, how these false memories can arise.

Examples of memory distorting effects in psychotherapy:

  • Priming: Among the effects of priming are selective attention to relevant information, biased interpretation of relevant information, and memory processes by which consistent but false memories are created for priming and existing memories are distorted consistent with priming.
  • Bias: Many patients who enter therapy are looking for an explanation of their problems. This makes them susceptible to plausible-sounding theories for the cause of their suffering; If it is suggested to a patient that they may have been abused, together with a pre-existing idea about the possibility of sexual abuse, they may form a false memory of abuse. This possibility of an explanation can lead patients to stick to this thesis and defend it against doubts; On the therapist side, the person who believes abuse and repressed memories of abuse are common will be more likely to ask questions along these lines and be more receptive to patient symptoms that may indicate abuse.
  • Plausibility: Information that makes previously implausible information subjectively more plausible can encourage the creation of false memories. Suggestive influences inside and outside of therapy can reinforce the idea of abuse, regardless of whether abuse can actually be recalled or not. For example, if a qualified source indicates that a person’s symptoms could be caused by abuse, there is an increased likelihood that the person will also believe that abuse is the cause.
  • Acceptance and confirmation: Once a patient has come to the conclusion that they have been abused, there is a risk that they will work with the therapist to focus on accepting, confirming and reinforcing their new identity as a victim of abuse. Continuing to deal with the topic, reading case reports or attending a self-help group can in turn promote the emergence and persistence of false memories;

Inappropriate leadership vs. appropriate leadership

The best way to avoid an inappropriate conversation is to stick to the W questions: who, what, when, where, why and how. When we ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no answer, as we do with ideomotor finger signaling, we need to be extra careful not to lead forced decisions.
When using regression to discover the root cause of a problem, it is extremely important that both you and the client set aside any preconceived notions about the cause of the problem and instead allow the client’s subconscious mind to go where it needs to go.


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