Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dr. Faye Snyder & the Empty-Headed Theory

Dr. Faye Snyder's "Causal Theory" is nothing new, and you really can't be blamed for not having heard of it --or her -- at all. Among the unlimited morass of unscientifically formulated Self Help get-well-quick schemes, Dr. Faye Snyder's 8-DVD 16-hour Miracle Child Parenting seminar series -- available for an "introductory price!" of $199.95 -- anonymously blends in the mire, unremarkable and largely unnoticed.

"Dr. Faye" (as she prefers to be called) promotes herself as "the originator of the Causal Theory", which she describes on her website as,
[...] a progressive, if controversial, theory based upon cause and effect.  It assumes that there are no genetic causes for behavior.  Rather, it assumes that personality and behavior, including and especially adult behavior, result from childhood experiences beginning from birth, and perhaps even before.  It includes attachment theory, lessons from trauma theory, family systems theory, and some behavioral and cognitive models.  I imagine it has a splash of Zen, as well.
Many people, I believe (even those unschooled in Psychology... or Zen), will recognize this "blank slate" mode of thinking as far from progressive. It is, in fact, clearly regressive... a crass and sophomoric articulation of early behaviorist thought. The idea that "experiences" from before one's birth may presumably be remembered and play some role in future behavioral adjustment reveals just how much Dr. Faye doesn't know about human development.
[The Causal Theory is] an assumption which pays off in many ways.  Of course, the easier assumption is genetics.  First, Causal Theorists don’t dismiss anything as inborn.  We seek to understand what we see, and, consequently, we can see behavior more clearly than those who believe in genetics in partly [sic], because everything we see is meaningful to us and healable, as well. We look at all behaviors as clues which can inform us as to what has been wonderful in a person’s life and what needs to be corrected and perhaps even how to go about that task.  I have actually been developing evidence to demonstrate that Causal Theorists see children and behavior more clearly than those who believe in the genetics with influences from nurture.
When you believe that personality is created not born, you take more responsibility as a parent...
Remarkably, the question of scientifically sound rationalization appears to be secondary, at best, in Dr. Faye's "assumption" that genetics play no consequential role in behavioral development. The upshot is that everything is "meaningful" and "healable", thus apparently endowing the Causal Theory with a moral superiority over paradigms that acknowledge 21st century scientific understanding predicated on genetic research.

Senselessly, Dr. Faye goes on to explain:
Of course, we know that Down Syndrome is genetic.  We know that fetal alcohol syndrome, although not genetic, has medical and long term consequences in the creation of the mind and body of the child.  However, these are not personality and behavioral anomalies.  Personality forms around interaction neurologists say.  Down Syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome are medical issues, not psychological ones.
What is clearly missing from Dr. Faye's Causal Theory is any actual understanding of genetics whatsoever. Only the most crude misinterpretations could imagine that genetics devalues proper parenting, education, and healthy environmental conditions. The Causal Theory makes little sense in disregarding Down Syndrome as a "medical issue, not a psychological one", as Down Syndrome is undoubtedly a medical issue that has direct consequences on psychological and behavioral issues. While Down Syndrome is an extreme example, there is certainly a sliding scale of more subtle medical issues that take a psychological toll and are expressed behaviorally. Dr. Faye suggests that psychological disturbances must be related to previous trauma, and this is where the Causal Theory fails even as an "assumption" that compels us toward better therapeutic care of individuals. When the assumption is trauma, a trauma narrative tends to be laid upon a client, regardless of actual case history.

And what if a client has no reported history of trauma to account for his or her deleterious psychological state? Not to worry -- Dr. Faye understands that certain traumas are likely to be "repressed", so even if there isn't any history of trauma in the client's recollection, trauma must still be there. Dr. Faye's theory is confirmed, whatever the results in any scenario...

It was a particular blog post regarding the "recovered memory" issue written by Dr. Faye that brought her to my focused attention for a brief time a few months back. What Dr. Faye had written was so spectacularly misinformed, historically and scientifically ignorant, that I had to learn a bit more about her. The piece is titled, The Politics of Memory: When One Is Requested to Shut the Eyes, and like any article designed to disparage the idea that the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s was even partially the product of false memories drawn forth from Recovered Memory Therapies, her piece is rife with an undercurrent of paranoia and conspiracy theory. She cites the McMartin pre-school trial. She references the works of Dr. Colin Ross and Dr. Corydon Hammond. She declares the "fall" of memory researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, on no grounds whatsoever, and despite Loftus's recent acceptance of the prestigious Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award. She asserts that "new research" has validated recovered memories, without citing any new research at all. She explains from the outset how her empty-headed "Causal Theory" assumption informs her further misguided assumptions regarding recovered memories:
The issue of false versus recovered memory has a context. In a bigger picture there is a war going on, in which this issue is only one battle. There wages an ongoing, unacknowledged yet heated debate running through all facets of psychology. Do we go after parenting and childhood experiences or inborn traits to understand the causes of pathology?
Dr. Faye, it seems, feels morally obligated to infer prior abuse from pathology. Despite her mention of McMartin, citations from Ross's work, and allusions to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation as some type of shadowy "political" entity, Dr. Faye seemed careful to steer her article away from any honest exploration of the conspiracist fears her writing strongly alludes to. She made no mention of stories derived from recovered memories that are demonstrably untrue. I submitted a comment to her piece wherein I sought elaboration on her position. As the False Memory Syndrome Foundation has only ever sought that "recovered memories" be corroborated before being accepted as evidence, I wondered what Dr. Faye's agitation toward them was truly about. In rejecting the idea of false memories, it seems, she must accept as historically accurate disproved recovered memories of supernatural satanic crimes that still act as the foundations for the most delusional elements of today's conspiracy fringe.
Hello Dr. Faye -

Thank you for this long article. Unfortunately, despite the quantity of text, a number of unanswered questions regarding recovered memory still linger for me. I'm hoping you'll be able to answer them. I came to the issue of recovered memories from a different angle than most. I began by investigating conspiracy theories of Satanic world-domination cults, the Illuminati, etc. By and large, it seems, these fringe networks of belief rely on the recovered memory testimony of those who claim to have been victim to this pervasive, all-powerful evil. They often cite articles very similar to yours here to support their views. Take for instance an organisation known as S.M.A.R.T. (Stop Mind Control And Ritual abuse Today).  I went to one of their conferences to find that they are headed up by an individual by the name of Neil Brick who believes he was personally a brain-washed cold war assassin for the Masonic-Illuminati.  One of the conference vending booths sold electromagnetic energy blocking hats, presumably as protection against remote mind-control. Speakers told stories that could only be politely described as unbelievable, one even telling supernatural tales of her experiences with Dr. Mengele: "My experience with Mengele involved much of the trauma-based mind control involving core programming (such as End-Time programming) that is connected to the global take over. He used the Psychic/Spiritual dimensions using, what I have come to call
'demonic harmonics', which involves using musical tones and quantum physics to open up portals into the spiritual realms."

I wrote of the conference here:

After this report was published, I suffered a good deal of outrage expressed by proponents of recovered memory legitimacy. Oddly, they near-universally refused to directly confront questions that related to their conspiracy narratives -- instead, they always attempted to steer the question back to the "science" of recovered memory. The thinking seems to be that if recovered memories are legitimate, so too must be their own recovered memory narratives involving their personal participation, victimisation, and honourable withdraw from this seemingly supernatural, certainly imaginary, Luciferian movement. You state that "While there is no “False Memory Syndrome” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the courts heard arguments to its validity in case after case". While I agree that False Memory Syndrome is not in the DSM, I wonder if you would look at the definition of False Memory Syndrome and flatly state that it is, in fact, a non-existent condition (with or without the DSM)?:

"When the memory is distorted, or confabulated, the result can be what has been called the False Memory Syndrome; a condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behaviors. The analogy to personality disorder is intentional. False memory syndrome is especially destructive because the person assiduously avoids confrontation with any evidence that might challenge the memory. Thus it takes on a life of its own, encapsulated, and resistant to correction. The person may become so focused on the memory that he or she may be effectively distracted from coping with the real problems in his or her life."

Could you take these cases from S.M.A.R.T. who seem to devote so much much of their energy in fear of an enemy whose existence is doubtful at best and say that they somehow do NOT fit this definition? Or do you believe their tales? That is to say, do you too believe in a cult conspiracy of satanists? This question is not meant to be insulting. Members of S.M.A.R.T. have written papers much like yours above, to the point that such material tends to cause me to raise an eye-brow and suspect that the author may merely be a conspiracy theorist dressed to appear academic in a humourous tuxedo-print t-shirt. You seem to contradict yourself entirely when you write: "I believe it is possible that therapists have persuaded clients to remember events that never happened. I believe this mostly because I know people who have done regressions and come back remembering who they were in another life. I feel certain that I have also met very young children who were brainwashed to accuse their other parent of sexual abuse in custody disputes. However, I think it is rare that a therapist influences a patient to believe she has been molested when she hasn’t been." On one hand you flatly state there is no such thing as false memory syndrome or traumatic false memories, yet here you seem to be stating that you don't find credibility in recovered memory past-life claims. Why not? Then you mention children "brain-washed" in custody disputes. Do tell? Brain-washed how? Could you discern, in your expertise, whether a child was a victim of this unspecified brain-washing, or a legitimate victim?  And you do nothing to justify your marginalisation of such cases. Does not the existence of any such cases at all demand that we seek corroboration in all recovered memory cases? You may feel that these conspiracy tales are not legitimate recovered memories, but I assure you that -- in such a case -- they are certainly false memories. I'm wondering if you could tell the difference if their stories were more mundane and plausible? If any of these stories (from Brice Taylor's claims of being a sex-slave to Bob Hope, and Henry Kissinger, being forced to have sex with dolphins in porn films directed by Sylvester Stallone to Neil Brick's claims of Illuminati super-soldier status) are too much for you to credit, how do you distinguish such stories from legitimate recovered memories? How can you detect the mechanism that can allow them to believe these things, and how do you distinguish that from the true recovered memory? You can not simply say that because one story is too implausible, it must be dismissed, while other, more plausible stories of early abuse can be accepted without corroboration. The same mechanism that allows these people to believe their conspiracy theory laden autobiographies could surely allow them to believe plausible stories of abuse, could they not? Have you considered hypnotic-regression recovered memorie of alien abduction (which can also be traumatic memories)? How do you account for these recovered memories? Again, how can you distinguish the mechanisms?
You lament that the "False Memory avalanche of propaganda discredited repressed memories." But then you add, "Fortunately, the courts have moved again in the direction of accepting the existence of repressed memories." You then cite some cases, the most recent of which was in 1996. You also fail to mention the high profile cases that did so much damage to therapies that seek to recover repressed memories. Take, for example, Bennett Braun. A former patient of Braun's won a large settlement from him a malpractise suit wherein she revealed that under
Braun's care she "recovered" "memories" of satanic abuse, infanticide, cannibalism, all manner of depravity that she later came to realise could not have happened. Not only was there not corroborative evidence, there was falsifying evidence.  What do you think happened there?  Was Braun's patient a victim of false memory, or false memory propaganda? You also go to great pains in an attempt to disparage Dr. Loftus. Unlike [a previous commentor on this blog] I cannot claim to know Dr. Loftus, though I have spoken to her. She seems very nice, but that is beside the point. In the unlikely event that she were to murder a child in cold blood tomorrow, this would not do anything to discredit the veracity of her false memory research, which has been replicated and expanded upon time and again, despite your selectively limited appraisal of follow-up research. Nor does the fact that Loftus hasn't been called in as an expert witness on behalf of a legitimate victim do anything to discredit her research or character. She is called in in her capacity as a memory researcher, most likely in cases where there is reason to believe that the plaintiff's evidence is faulty. Would you say the same of a blood-spatter analyst? When the best a lawyer can do is point to an expert's consistency, I'll take this as testimony of the veracity of the research method. On the other hand, you quote Sheflin, Brown, & Hammond at length, though there is every reason to doubt their veracity.  For one, Hammond is a known conspiracy theorist who, in his famous "Greenbaum Speech", said of the international Satanic Conspiracy: "[...] they want an army of Manchurian candidates — tens of thousands of mental robots who will do prostitution, do child pornography, smuggle drugs, engage in international arms smuggling, do snuff films, all sorts of lucrative things and do their bidding. And eventually, the megalomaniacs at the top believe, [they will] create a satanic order that will rule the world.” Dr. McNally of Harvard exposes the scientific carelessness (to put it as delicately as possible) of Scheflin, Brown, & Hammond's work: "While searching for evidence of traumatic amnesia, Brown et al. sometimes cite findings attributable to direct physical insult to the brain as relevant to psychic trauma. For example, they state that 'Dollinger (1985) found that two of the 38 children studied after watching lightning strike and kill a playmate had no memory of the event' (Brown et al. 1998, pp. 609–10). Unfortunately, they fail to mention that both children had themselves been struck by side flashes from the main lightning bolt, knocked unconscious, and nearly killed (Dollinger 1985).
Such cases of obvious organic amnesia are irrelevant to psychogenic, traumatic amnesia."

You also cite van der Kolk.  Perhaps you are unaware that in a deposition taken by Dr. Christopher Barden back in December, 1996, van der Kolk was revealed to have used a paper co-authored by a grad student convicted of scientific fraud -- the use of bad, manipulated data (NH v. Hungerford
I don't think you'll find van der Kolk taken seriously as an expert witness, as Loftus is.

I thank you for pointing us to this very apt quote from Brown, Scheflin, Hammond: "“The false memory controversy needs to be seen for what it is—more political than scientific, more the dissemination of propaganda than the distribution of scientific knowledge, and more the strategic use of pseudoscientific arguments as social persuasion to influence public policy and
sway juries than the articulation of lasting truths about the human condition”
 Dr. Faye did not post my comment on her site, rather she emailed me directly, answering very few of my questions, but citing her rush "to get to sleep" as an explanation for this failing:

Dear Doug,

I am rushing to get to sleep, but I just got your long comment sent to my email address. I have just put this article up, and I have already been seriously criticized by members of the FMSF. It seems the political organization of this group is astounding. Wow! I wish I could organize my non-profit as effectively.
This is perplexing. Apparently, criticism against her misinformed view can all be dismissed as the nefarious doings of the ubiquitous yet mysterious False Memory Syndrome Foundation. She continued to explain how she eventually discerned that I wasn't actually interested in a dialogue at all, thus apparently justifying a total dismissal of any information I may have provided to her:
I thought at first that you were actually hoping to have a dialogue with me to see if we had common ground and a desire to identify the truth, letting the chips fall wherever they may. I was quite compelled with your original concerns and was on you side, so to speak. I have always been uneasy the fringe psychologists who report ritual abuse. I have known many unstable psychotherapists, and I have known many unstable scientists, and I think we can find them everywhere embarrassing us and misleading us. Unfortunately, I think there is SOME ritual abuse out there, for real. I have had dialogues with Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, and I believe these cults do exist in very small number [...]
This is clearly the argument from "moderation" which seems to state that in any argument where there are two extreme points of view, the truth must be somewhere in the middle. Sure, that stuff thrown into the mix by S.M.A.R.T. is clearly over-the-top, but there is SOME ritual abuse going on out there. Which is to say what, exactly? That a cult conspiracy of satanists does exist, only it acts a bit less often than S.M.A.R.T. speculates? That ritual abuse practitioners operate in isolation, removed from any centralized authority, but all follow roughly the same amnesia-inducing extreme abuse regimen on the children around them? What does the serial killer Richard Ramirez have to do with any of this? Does Dr. Faye know something about the Ramirez case that the rest of us do not? Why has she not written about this?
I am a good therapist. I have facilitated a process that recovers memories somewhere around 20, 000 times. I make no suggestions during the process, and it does not involve hypnosis. I know that there are recovered memories, because I witness the recovery process multiple times every week, and I have checked on the memories enough times earlier on to become reassured that this process really works. Some day I will write about it. Most of the memories are supported by parents and other family members or doctors. Most of them are not of sexual abuse, but they were forgotten. Further, people who make preposterous claims don't just make them about a parent molesting them. They make one preposterous claim after another. They are unstable and have difficulty sorting out reality.
I should love to know more about Dr. Faye's unique method for facilitating the recovery of repressed memories with such a reliable degree of accuracy. "Some day", she'll write about it. Maybe then, the process can be peer-reviewed and validated. Until then, I suppose we just have to take her word for it.

When she states that she has facilitated the recovery of memories that were not of sexual abuse, Dr. Faye seems to make no distinction between the idea of "repressed memories" and simple forgetting. Nobody debates that mundane events may be forgotten but later recalled, given the proper cues. The question is whether or not trauma, which is proven to typically be remembered all too vividly, and much harder to forget than mundane events, can be "repressed". I begin to doubt that Dr. Faye fully grasps the argument at all.

From here she blathered on for a bit, still insisting that Loftus's work is suspect and accusing me having bought in to "propaganda". Not grasping my point that the issues of character and scientific veracity are separate, Dr. Faye went on to write:
Unfortunately, you lost me when you began to trash van der Kolk. I have seen FMSF websites that are for nothing else than to trash the reputation of its greatest critics. I have read van der Kolks work, and he is a hero. He is highly respected in the field. I don't know the story behind what you wrote, but it smacks of innuendo, as well as argumentum ad homenum, and nothing is more telling for me about credibility than as a forensic evaluator who always finds the same thing, never once finding that memories of a father molesting his child are credible. Never once. That makes her not one bit credible to me. I am sorry. Sexual abuse exists, and the entire process of dissociation protects victims of trauma while they are in it. If you can't acknowledge this widespread phenomenon then I see you and your friends as on a crusade to cover up, whether you are motivated to do so consciously or unconsciously.
Even though I cited a specific instance of questionable scientific conduct related to van der Kolk, Dr. Faye dismissed this as "argumentum ad homenum" [sic], indicating that not only does she not know what that term means, but also is incapable of critically evaluating claims.

She goes on to explain that she can indeed tell when somebody has been "brainwashed", and then, infuriatingly, she concludes -- apropos of nothing -- that I don't believe sexual abuse even exists!
Yes, I can very easily tell when a child has been brainwashed or not. I don't think you read what I wrote, if you couldn't tell how easily that can be done. There are many ways to question memories. I have no desire for a false accusation to harm a parent. I have questioned memories until I felt sure that the allegation was real, and almost always the allegation never leaves my office. So, by the time I got to the end of your response, I could see that you did not believe that there are true allegations of sexual abuse. So, my hopes for a real meaningful dialogue with you faded. You appear to have an agenda like everyone else who has written to me on this, but you are much smoother.
Indeed, I am smooth. But the allegation that I don't believe sexual abuse exists because I doubt recovered memory fidelity to real world events is profoundly ignorant and unfounded.

She goes on to reveal that she doesn't understand the meaning of the word "syndrome":
Regarding the issue of FMS I think you miss a point. A syndrome implies that it is a somewhat common condition. While I have seen children brainwashed like soulless robots who repeat phrases as if they were bad actors in a bad play, that does not a syndrome make. I don't even think these children reported real memories. I think they said what they were taught to say. To actually brainwash a child or adult to remember something that never happened that ends up impugning their parent is far far far more difficult to do than to convince a molested child not to tell.
In fact, "syndrome" does not mean "somewhat common condition". It is a word for a grouping of identifiable symptoms that define a certain condition. Nor does Dr. Faye justify her claim that it is any more difficult to "brainwash" a child toward an accusation of abuse than it is to turn the child toward cover-up.

Next, Dr. Faye concludes by establishing herself as the great arbiter of reality. Essentially, a recovered memory is true if it is deemed plausible by Dr. Faye. But, despite her consistent citations of works and research produced by those who have openly used hypnosis to recover memories of trauma, Dr. Faye reveals that she finds hypnosis untrustworthy:

The reason I don't find credibility in past life claims is because they are not plausible to me and they result from a process of hypnosis. I don't trust anything that comes from hypnosis. I think the probability, however, of large numbers of therapist hypnotizing people to believe they were molested, rather than large numbers of people having been molested by parents, is as far fetched as the SMART claims about which you talk. If you think there are a significant number of therapists out here committing these atrocities, I think you are witch hunting and delusional, yourself. Further, if you think that there is not a substantial population of people molested by parents as children, you are in denial, while you give comfort and safety to people who are unsafe for children. And lastly, if you don't believe that the most brainwashed people on the planet are children who are taught to cover for their parents, then we can't have a reasonable dialogue, because you are clearly an apologist for parents.

I wish you had turned out to be someone who really wanted to get to the bottom of things.


Dr. Faye
Recognizing that Dr. Faye had effectively immunized herself from assimilating new information, I had little interest in a prolonged private dialogue. Thus, I wrote her back:

Hello Dr. Faye -

I'm afraid you've misinterpreted my comment on nearly every level. I'll be happy to correct you on your blog once my comment is approved.

Thank you -

This whole thing was altogether too much for poor Dr. Faye who began to see the power-mad designs of a foul political machine conspiring against her:
Hi Doug, I don't know what to make of this. I posted something that was needed to create balance on behalf of patients who need to be taken seriously. I have been barraged by FMSF supporters, called names, told I was lying, etc, and at first I wanted to be fair. I don't know yet how much of this will continue to happen and whether this will ruin my experience of putting information out there. If I thought this were a real dialogue, I would be interested, but right now, I don't trust your intentions. I don't see any concern for true victims. I don't know what it means to "accept." I don't know how much this will continue to happen. So, I have to ask some colleagues if I want to "accept" all these challenges. I fee misconstrued very much, myself, and it is exhausting. It seems like a political campaign and movement to me.


Dr. Faye
 This was the last of our exchange.

By all means, Dr. Faye, continue to put "information out there". Only, in the future, try to make sure it's accurate information. I suggest you learn something of the scientific method and basic logic to help you discern what accurate information actually is...


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  2. Came across this while i was researching Faye Snyder. My comment, like yours, was moderated off her website. I'm not a professional so my "diagnosis" doesn't count but I think this woman is oblivious, can't make a rational argument, exhibits signs of paranoia and is actually ... well ... rather stupid. She also appears to have a frightening hatred of parents which she displays when she informs you that "you are clearly an apologist for parents." Do parents need apologists? Couldn't she have specified parents who abuse their children? Or is it parents in general that she feels this way about? (I suspect the latter.) Thanks for taking the time to try to talk to her. You clearly did your best but she's a lost cause. Take comfort in the fact that no sane person is going to read her drivel and take it seriously.

  3. My impressionable sister has fallen victim to this predator!! She had been convinced that my father sexually abused her with the "help" of Dr. Faye and her staff. After spreading the lie to our family and even contacting his place of work, my dad went to Dr. Faye to defend his name and character. After a lengthy debate, Dr. Faye apologized to my dad for misguiding my sister. But therapy had to continue in order for my sister to continue paying, so they turned to a person who was not able to defend his name and character: my grandfather. The grandfather who died when she was less than 2 years old and suffered with cancer for most of her life up until his death. How can such a weak, ill man abuse a toddler?? I guess stranger things have happened, but any "recovered" memories facilitated by Dr. Faye and staff has lost credibility after the false accusations made thus far. How do I expose this serpent as a fraud? How do I bring light to this situation? My sister has disowned her entire family at the advise of Dr. Faye and staff due to our resistance to "The Theory". Tell me that is not a cult? I feel my sister is lost to this organization, but I hope to bring my niece out of it to be able to live a normal, loving life.