Christian Porter and Kate, the alleged victim, at a formal debate team dinner, Sydney University, January 1988 (Image: provided)

I am a registered psychologist and for over 40 years have treated many patients, including for trauma. Obviously any therapeutic “recovery” of memories is a contested and difficult area, and the current debate about a deceased accuser of a minister is problematic in the extreme.

However you seem to have been black and white in your coverage. In my view your recent article contains unhelpful misrepresentations of psychological therapies.

Unfortunately your article appears to rely on dated reporting on eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and on Dr Bessel van der Kolk — by Forbes magazine 18 years ago in 2003, and The New York Times in 2014. (Van der Kolk threatened to sue the latter about misrepresenting his views as supporting “repressed memory therapy” and they apparently issued a partial apology.)

I saw van der Kolk present at several respected conferences, and he was certainly not advocating “recovered memory therapy” — not that there is any therapy named as such.

Many clinicians maintain that some therapeutic experiences result in the recollection of previously unremembered traumatic events. Others maintain these are constructed memories (the debate is known as “the memory wars”).

Furthermore, your sentence: “In recent years the therapy has been rebadged as dissociative identity disorder” makes no sense.

Dissociative identity disorder is a diagnosis — not a therapy — listed by the DSM-5, the manual put out by the American Psychiatric Association.

I have not utilised EMDR much at all clinically, although I was trained in it years ago. But I feel compelled to say that your description of EMDR as the therapist “waggling their fingers” is a misrepresentation of the detailed protocol required in EMDR treatment.

It is not a “pseudo-science therapy”, and it is not used to elicit repressed memories.

It is endorsed by the World Health Organization as a first-choice therapy for post-traumatic stress treatment. The new International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies guidelines rated EMDR as “strongly recommended” in the treatment of PTSD.

The Black Dog Institute recommends EMDR as a treatment for trauma. The Australian Psychological Society, the peak body for psychologists in Australia, also has an EMDR interest group, which tracks the latest research and controlled studies into EMDR. It recently held a workshop presenting clinical work with bushfire survivors.

It appears you did not do much research on this, nor did you consult the peak Australian psychologists’ body for your article, relying instead on two old (American) general magazine articles.

I agree with your implication that memory is not straightforward and that we cannot know whether Christian Porter is “guilty”. But your misrepresentation of psychological therapies that are at times very useful for treating trauma is misleading and very, very unhelpful.

You appear to wish to de-legitimise the deceased accuser of Porter, by stigmatising the therapy she apparently received. I wish you’d done broader research.

Diana Scambler is a registered psychologist, a full member of the Australian Psychological Society, and a fellow of the College of Counselling Psychologists. She has worked for over 40 years with trauma-affected clients in both private practice and in public sector bodies such as the Family Court and Child Protection Services.

Peter Fray

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