Mark Pendergrast

"Pendergrast is an affable guide on a wondrously labyrinthine tour. He explains complex phenomena with remarkable clarity, in a relaxed tone, and with a sense of humor." —Philadelphia Inquirer
"Mark Pendergrast, the ultimate free-lance journalist with an eclectic mind, writes about deceptively narrow topics that in fact have figured in world history for millennia." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Mark Pendergrast speaks at universities, schools of public health, business conferences, management seminars, and psychological meetings. His presentations are tailored to his audience but are always entertaining, thought-provoking, and challenging. Contact him to arrange an event. Click here for links to speeches, TV, and radio appearances. Click here for comments on his presentations.

Appendix: A Summary of Myths and Realities on Memory and Therapy

Myth

1. You must identify the root cause of your unhappiness (from your past) in order to heal and be happy in the present.

Reality

1. It is unfortunately the normal human lot to be frustrated and unhappy at various points in your life. There is no magic pill to make you happy, and your attitude in the present is much more the issue than anything that happened to you in the past.

********

Myth
2. Checklists of “symptoms” are reliable tools to identify disorders.

Reality
2. Beware of symptom checklists, particularly if they apply to nearly everyone in the general population. At one time or another, most people experience depression, troubled relationships, ambivalence towards family members, and low self-esteem. These are not necessarily “symptoms” of anything other than the human condition.

********

Myth
3. You can trust any therapist who seems compassionate, warm, wise, and caring. You do not need to ask about credentials, experience, training, philosophy, treatment approach, or techniques.

Reality
3. Just because a therapist is warm and caring does not mean that he or she is competent or can help you. Training, philosophy, and treatment modalities are extremely important. Therapists who dwell unceasingly on your past are unlikely to help you cope with your present-day problems. Therapy should challenge you to change your way of thinking about and dealing with the present-day conflicts that sent you to therapy in the first place.

********

Myth
4. Your therapist should become an extremely important person in your life, a surrogate parent.

Reality
4. Good therapists never encourage a client to become overly dependent. The goal of therapy should be to make you a fully functioning person capable of independent judgment. Any therapist who relishes the role of authority figure or guru should be avoided. Any therapist who tells you that he or she alone cares about you and understands you is a bad therapist. Good therapists constantly guard against “countertransference” in which they bring their own egos, needs, and biases into the therapy session.

********

Myth
5. Therapy is an art, not a science. Therefore, it is inappropriate to ask for a treatment plan.

Reality
5. Therapists who hide behind statements about how therapy is an art-form should take up painting and stop practicing their “art” on unsuspecting minds. Patients should not be used as guinea pigs for experimental techniques. Like brain surgeons, those who treat mental problems should base their treatment on scientifically proven, safe and effective methods. Patients should seek alternate opinions from therapists with different clinical orientations.

********

Myth
6. Your therapist is an intuitive genius who does not need to consult with other therapists or refer you to a physician for any physical problems. Therapists have an uncanny ability to discern the truth or falsity of your statements.

Reality
6. Therapists are no better than anyone else at determining truth or falsity. Enormous confidence in one’s intuition turns out to be a drawback in terms of predictive outcome. “Clinical intuition” is notoriously inaccurate. In one study, clinical psychologists were correct less than 50% of the time in assessing sexual abuse. That being the case, therapists should remain suitably humble and seek outside consultation frequently, especially if clients present with physical problems. Such clients should be referred to competent psychiatrists and physicians for a full mental and physical evaluation.

********

Myth
7. All “Christian therapists” and pastoral counselors can be trusted because they are sincere and in touch with the Lord.

Reality
7. Unfortunately, more atrocities have been committed in the name of God than any other cause. True Christians believe in love, family unity, and forgiveness. Too many so-called Christian counselors and ministers are promoting hatred, family destruction, and no forgiveness. In the name of the Lord, they inadvertently conduct the Devil’s work. Jesus warned that false prophets would arise in His name; He was correct.

********

Myth
8. Group therapy is always a good way to treat survivors of sexual abuse.

Reality
8. Group therapy can indeed be helpful in some cases, but it can be extremely damaging in others, particularly when there is peer pressure to conform to group expectations. In an “incest survivor” group, for instance, retelling and embellishing horror stories can create an emotional hothouse atmosphere in which those who do not have “memories” feel inadequate or left out, and they feel pressured to “remember” similar horrors. Similarly, they are often told that if they react strongly to a story, it is proof that they were abused.

********

Myth
9. Self-help books are always helpful and authoritative.

Reality
9. Self-help books can indeed be very useful, but readers should never forget that many publishers are interested primarily in profits, not accuracy. In other words, just because something is written in an authoritative style and is published in a best-selling book doesn’t mean that it is true. Books such as The Courage to Heal are full of misinformation and have caused untold damage. Intelligent readers of such books should employ their own critical thinking skills and should also read books expressing contrary views.

********

Myth
10. If you recalled traumatic events on your own, outside therapy, they are reliable because you could not have been led into them.

Reality
10. Beginning in the mid-1980s, and extending into the 1990s, the idea that personal problems may stem from long-forgotten sexual abuse became so prevalent that almost all women have considered whether they might have been incest victims without knowing it. Many seeking answers to their problems have desperately sought “memories” both in and out of therapy. Many have recovered such “memories” after reading self-help books, being “triggered” by a talk show, or talking to a friend. They are led into this false belief system just as surely as in formal therapy.

********

Myth
11. All good therapy takes a long time and involves delving into the past.

Reality
11. The forms of therapy that have proven to be the most effective are cognitive and behavioral therapy that do not dwell on the past, but help clients cope with current life stressors, often by reframing the way they perceive their problems. Such therapy can often be short-term.

********

Myth
12. Memories are always accurate.

Reality

12. All memories are reconstructions of likely scenarios in which you fill in the gaps. Thus, all memories are somewhat inaccurate, though they serve us well enough under normal conditions. Under severe social influence, however, memories can be distorted or even entirely rewritten. Memory is largely a matter of rehearsal. The more often a scene is rehearsed, the more real it becomes to you. Experiments have shown that people can be induced to remember events that did not occur.

********

Myth
13. If you have a tiny intuition or a feeling that you may have been sexually abused, you probably were.

Reality

13. If you have a “tiny intuition or a feeling” that you may have been sexually abused and that you have repressed the memories, you have probably been influenced by The Courage to Heal , similar books, or the popular culture that has made such notions so popular. If you were truly sexually abused, the odds are very good that you would remember it all too well.

********

Myth
14. Repeated trauma is so distressing that it must be repressed or dissociated. You could have been raped for years and not remember anything about it.

Reality
14. There is no scientific evidence that human beings are capable of “massive repression.” On the contrary, there is much evidence that repeated traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than others. There is no way to prove that massive repression does not exist, however, just as one cannot prove that ghosts or witches do not exist; one cannot prove a negative.

********

Myth
15. If you cannot remember chunks of your childhood, you were probably so traumatized that you forgot them.

Reality
15. No one remembers every event from his or her childhood. Most people recall the high and low points, but not much in between. This is normal and does not necessarily indicate any trauma in childhood.

********

Myth

16. You must remember and relive all traumatic events from your past in order to heal.

Reality
16. Although talking through recent painful events is often helpful, dwelling on long-past traumas tends to make people worse rather than better. The idea that you must “relive” or abreact the trauma to get better is simply not true. On the contrary, therapists who tell clients, “You must get worse before you get better,” are misleading them. The endless downward spiral into retrieving more and more “memories” is harmful rather than helpful.

[Continued… There are 29 points in all. To order the book directly from the publisher, Upper Access Books, click here.