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TBC Staff

Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2005 (Excerpts):The Idea That Launched a Thousand Suits—While under treatment for depression in the mid-1980s, Patricia Burgus made a horrible discovery. Her psychiatrist, employing both hypnosis and medication, helped Burgus remember that she had been a victim of horrendous abuse as a child—torture, cannibalism, even participation in ritual murders. She also learned that she had more than 300 alternate personalities. Burgus was hospitalized for more than two years, often in leather restraints....Burgus was one of many swept up in the  “recovered memory” craze of the 1980s. Zealous therapists encouraged clients to recall repressed memories of childhood abuse, leading to more than 800 lawsuits against alleged abusers between 1985 and 2000. Many of these resulted in incarcerations. A few led to suicides....

The source of many of the recovered memories was the therapist. Leading questions, especially when combined with drugs, hypnosis and suggestive dream interpretation, can easily produce false memories that seem quite real to patients.

The Cult of Self-Esteem

Humorist Garrison Keillor is famous for his stories about the fictitious Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.” Statistically speaking, however, all children can’t be above average—unless, that is, they’re raised in self-esteem-obsessed America.

Feeling good—as opposed to behaving well—came into vogue in the 1960s, driven in part by books like Nathaniel Brandon’s Psychology of Self-Esteem. By the 1980s, many schools were spending upwards of three hours a week on counseling and self-esteem classes, and at some schools all students were made  “Student of the Month.” Curriculum pro-grams such as educational psychologist Michele Borba’s Esteem Builders stimulated the development of more than a thousand off-the-shelf exercises like “I Love Me,” in which students complete sentences like “I am” with words such as “gifted” or  “beautiful” and then memorize the sentences.

But hundreds of studies have failed to show that self-esteem training produces lasting positive results. To put this another way, merely feeling good about yourself doesn’t necessarily make you more effective. What’s more, recent studies suggest that self-esteem training may be harmful—that it leads many students to overestimate their abilities, for example. One study even shows that people with high self-esteem are more likely to be violent or racist.