Transcript

215:

Ask An Expert
Transcript

Originally aired 06.14.2002

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/215

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Tom are you there?

Tom Maggliozi

Yeah

Ira Glass

Ray, are you there?

Ray Maggliozi

Yes, indeed.

Ira Glass

OK. So repeat after me, from WBEZ Chicago.

Tom Maggliozi

From WBEZ Chicago.

Ira Glass

And Public Radio International.

Ray Maggliozi

And Public Radio International.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life.

Ray Maggliozi

We'll do that in unison.

Ira Glass

OK.

Tom And Ray Maggliozi

It's This American Life.

Ira Glass

What pros you are.

OK, here's the set up. In a studio in Boston, the host of NPR's Car Talk, Tom and Ray Maggliozi, experts in car repair and owners of their own car repair garage in Cambridge. In the This American Life studio in Chicago, me. And in a studio in New York City, a former employee of the Car Guys radio show, Joe Richman. Who once turned to these national experts for help with his own car.

But as we all know, sometimes the experts screw up.

Ira Glass

Joe, what was your exact job at Car Talk?

Joe Richman

I edited the show. They would do the show live in Boston, and then I would kind of package it for the national show.

Ray Maggliozi

I do remember-- I have this image of you, Joe, sitting there on the other side of the glass, looking very studied. Like you were concentrating on the parts that you have to cut out. Making mental notes as you went along. That won't do. No, that's going to have to go too.

Joe Richman

When I was living in Boston I had this '72 Plymouth Valiant. Slant-6 engine. It was red with a black top.

Ira Glass

Now, Joe, your mother had a special feeling about this particular car.

Joe Richman

Well. OK. I guess the thing was, my mom kept saying that I wasn't going to find a girlfriend until I got rid of the car. I'm not sure. I think she felt that there was a little too much obsession with the car. The car was just too big a part of my life.

Ray Maggliozi

Now, what does that mean, too big a part of your life? You were spending too much time thinking about the car? Loving the car? Fixing the car?

Joe Richman

At this point I didn't have a lot of friends. I drove the car around a lot. I paid attention to the car. was kind of-- I wrote a song about the car. It was that kind of a thing.

Ira Glass

Wait, you wrote a song about the car?

Joe Richman

Yeah, I wrote a song about it. I actually, I looked for the lyrics.

Ray Maggliozi

Well, can we hear it?

Joe Richman

I looked for the lyrics, I couldn't find them.

Ray Maggliozi

Oh, you're a liar. You're a liar.

Joe Richman

I'm not lying. I loved the car.

Ira Glass

Joe, do you remember any of the song at all?

Tom Maggliozi

You must remember the chorus.

Ray Maggliozi

Yeah. Give us a line or two. You don't have to sing it, maybe you could just recite the words.

Tom Maggliozi

Come on. You can't leave us like this.

Joe Richman

Basically, the song was sort of about this issue. Can I have a girlfriend if I've got the car?

Ray Maggliozi

Ah.

Ira Glass

In fact, I know from talking to Joe that at the time, Tom and Ray knew what Joe's mother thought about this, and agreed with her. As long as he had the car, he would never get a girl. And then, the car started to have big troubles.

Joe Richman

Just to let you know what time period this was, everyone has started to call it the Plymouth Valdez. That's around the time--

Ira Glass

Around 1989, 1990.

Joe Richman

Thank you. Well, I asked Ray about the car. And I said, you know, it was burning a lot of oil. And basically he said, we'll do a ring job. I don't know if we can fix it. And it was that kind of thing where, you know, am I throwing money away? Should I just put money into a new car? But, of course, you don't do that when you have a '72 Plymouth Valiant, right? So I decided to take a chance.

So anyway I got the car back and that-- I guess that was about-- Ray, what would you-- was that about $600 back then would you say? Not only-- it didn't really fix the problem and, in fact, that kind of initiated the steep decline of the car where it kind of never recovered.

Tom Maggliozi

Oh, that was the beginning of the end.

Joe Richman

It was the beginning of the end.

Ray Maggliozi

We did a valve job. And I am sure I warned you in advance that it might not work.

Joe Richman

You did. You said, this might not do it. And you could be throwing your money away. And that's what--

Tom Maggliozi

Not really throwing it away. You were giving it to my brother.

Ray Maggliozi

And my kids were in college at the time, and these things happen. Let's just call it a cash transfer.

Ira Glass

So Ray sent this car spiraling toward its grave. It only took a few weeks, Joe says. It's like the car slowly dissolved into dust. Like a vampire stake through the heart. And, just a few weeks after the car died, Joe started dating. And if you ask Ray today if he killed Joe's car intentionally, knowing that Joe would end up with a girlfriend if he did that, Ray will only say that that is something that he is certainly capable of doing.

Which is the way it goes when you go to an expert. Sometimes they will ignore what you want, and do whatever they want to do. And then sometimes they just fail. Maybe that's what happened.

Ray says that when you go to a mechanic, the chances that they will give you solid, honest advice, real advice, and not try to rip you off, and not accidentally screw things up in some way, he says the odds of that are actually pretty bad.

Ray Maggliozi

Oh I think you're way below 50% in that regard. No seriously. I think even well-intentioned mechanics are going to give you the wrong advice half the time.

Tom Maggliozi

Gee, I don't think it's like that.

Ray Maggliozi

I would think more by accident than by mal intent.

Tom Maggliozi

I would guess way higher than that.

Ray Maggliozi

You haven't been around the shop much lately.

Ira Glass

Experts give bad advice all the time. And so we devote our radio program today to stories of people getting terrible advice from specialists who supposedly know better. I'm Ira Glass. Our program today in two acts. Act One, "An Epidemic Created by Doctors." In that act, the story of how thousands of people went to psychotherapists who, with the best of intentions, administered a kind of therapy that just made these people worse, not better. Act Two, "Not Stella Adler, just Stellllaaah." In that act, a glimpse of Marlon Brando's series of instructional videos about acting called Lying for a Living. They have yet to be released, we get a sneak preview. Does being a great actor make you a great acting teacher?

I bet if you had guessed the answer to that question right now, you would guess right. But stay with us.

Act One. An Epidemic Created By Doctors.

Ira Glass

Act one, "An Epidemic Created by Doctors." In the early 1990s, people across America turned to experts in psychology for help. And many people were told that the source of their problems could be traced to traumatic events that they could not even remember. To memories that had to be recovered through special techniques. This was the recovered memory movement.

These days, this whole approach to psychology has fallen out of favor. There were a series of well-publicized cases, and multimillion dollar lawsuits against therapists by patients who had been led to remember instances of child abuse and satanic worship that simply never had occurred. At this point, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have both concluded that buried memories like this are rare. And treatment to recover these memories should be viewed with skepticism.

Testimony based on recovered memories is now difficult to enter in court cases. Malpractice insurance often doesn't protect therapists if they do this kind of therapy. And, in retrospect, it feels like therapists accidentally unleashed a kind of epidemic. Doing people more harm than good.

So what happened? That so many experts came to believe in a treatment that turned out to make so many other patients worse? And what happened when the patients and the therapists figured it all out? Alix Spiegel put together this story.

A warning to listeners with small children that it mentions sex and child abuse. Alix's story begins with one patient, and a simple question. How did it happen? In a simple, practical way, how could an expert lead a patient to believe all sorts of horrible things about his or her own life which never happened at all?

Alix Spiegel

Here's how it happened to Beth Rutherford. She was 19. A student nurse working on a cancer ward. Surrounded by men who bled through every opening on their bodies. By old women who died alone in the middle of the night. She found herself struggling with depression. This feeling that life was somehow thin and flat.

Her parents were concerned. They suggested that she talk to a therapist. There was one at their church they thought might be good. Beth's father actually made the call.

This first visit was productive. The woman allowed Beth to talk about her experiences in a way that made Beth feel better. She seemed kind, sensible. Beth emerged after an hour feeling calmer, but was told to schedule a follow-up appointment, just to be safe.

Four weeks later, when Beth returned, she was doing fine. In fact, she was doing so well that after half an hour she actually ran out of cancer ward material.

Beth Rutherford

And then, it's kind of like we had nothing left to talk about. But we had some time left over on my appointment time with her. So she asked me, is there anything else that you want to talk about? And I said, no, no. That's kind of it. I can't think of anything. And so she said, well, you know are you sure? This is kind of your time. So if you can think of something.

And I said, well, you know, I kind of do have these funny dreams sometimes. And she said, well, what do you dream about? And so I said, I always have these dreams, these horrific dreams where my dad's coming after me and sending bears after me, and we're just hollering at each other.

Alix Spiegel

Beth explained that she and her father had a good relationship. Which is why these dreams always puzzled her. In her waking life, they rarely fought.

Beth Rutherford

She then stopped me and she said to me, has anything ever happened to you? As a child? And she said by way of, like a sexual nature, where you were touched inappropriately or those kind of things. And I said, oh no. Absolutely not. And she said, well, usually people who have been abused by somebody-- these kind of dreams that you're having are indicative of having been abused. Of course, then that's when we hit our 15-minute time limit, or whatever we had left. And she says, well, I want you to go home and I want you to think. And see if you can remember anything.

So I went home. And, again, I don't remember anything. I was 100% confident. I knew nothing had happened to me. And my concern was, I didn't want to leave any doubt in her mind-- because she knew my mom and dad-- wondering if they had done something to me.

So, anyway, we make the third appointment. And I go in. I said, I've thought about this stuff and I can't think of anything. And again, she started, well, are you sure? And then she explained to me that it is possible to have things happen to you and forget about them. And that you can have these horrific things done to you, and be a part of things and that you don't remember it. That's your body's way of coping.

Alix Spiegel

This therapist, Beth reasoned, was a professional. Someone with training. Perhaps she knew something about Beth that Beth did not know herself. Her therapist, by the way, declined to be interviewed for this story.

But anyway, I should tell you that it took a long time-- 18 months-- for Beth to believe that she'd been sexually abused. This process began simply, with a detailed review of her childhood. And it was during these conversations that Beth's therapist would offer new interpretations of the ordinary facts of Beth's life. When Beth told her therapist, for example, that her parents had encouraged her to do well in school, her therapist suggested that perhaps this was done out of guilt.

Was it possible they were trying to cover for some harm they'd done her? The therapist didn't know either, she was just asking. Beth, who was living at home to save money, began to avoid her family. She spent more time in her room.

Beth Rutherford

And then I was given books to read about stories of people that had been abused. And she'd actually pick out certain chapters for me to read. And it began obviously to preoccupy a lot of my time, thinking about this. Trying so hard to remember if something had happened. And I couldn't remember, and I'd try to think even more.

And anyway, reading this material, reading these books, I began to dream a lot. So part of our therapy sessions then would be, I would go in and tell her what I had dreamed. Well, then I was told, no Beth, those aren't dreams. They are flashbacks of what happened.

Alix Spiegel

This idea, that dreams were not simply dreams, but could actually represent accurate memories, was an article of faith in repressed memory therapy. Now therapists are cautioned against it, but at the time it was one of a series of beliefs and techniques used to interpret and access buried trauma. A series of beliefs and techniques which hinged on a single psychiatric idea. Namely, that it was possible to experience profound trauma-- rape, sodomy, forced cannibalism-- and to erase all memory of those events from the conscious mind.

When I called the American Psychological Association to ask for an expert who could explain how psychologists viewed the recovered memory movement today, I was referred to Michael Yapko, a practicing clinician who wrote a book about recovered memory therapy. He describes what went wrong this way.

Michael Yapko

What this whole repressed memory controversy was fueled by were those clinicians who would have a client come to them in some form of distress. And it was the therapist who presupposed a history of abuse, and would literally say to the patient, I believe that you've been abused as a child and that's what explains your symptoms. Then the patient would say, well, that never happened to me. And then the therapist would nod his or her head and smile knowingly and say, well, you know, that's how repression works. You're obviously repressing those memories of abuse. We need to use these techniques, like guided imagery, hypnosis, whatever, to get at those memories and bring them forth. And that's the only way that you will recover.

Alix Spiegel

The problem with these techniques, Yapko says, is that they didn't bring back accurate memories. Memory is vulnerable to suggestion. And not only could benign questions from a therapist contaminate the memories, the simple act of telling someone to try to remember could lead them to create details which simply weren't real.

But these techniques were taught anyway in schools of psychiatry and psychology, in continuing education programs. There was massage to unleash body memories, hypnosis, and also guided imagery where patients like Beth were told to relax, to imagine themselves as a child.

Beth Rutherford

I can remember, I'd kind of bend my head down a little bit. And I'm thinking and she'd talk to me. OK, now, think about where you were as a child. OK, think about sitting on your bed. So I'm thinking, thinking. OK, now what are you wearing? So I'm thinking, thinking. What's an outfit I can remember wearing as a child?

And then you just build on that, and build on it. And what did that feel like. You know, it's kind of like you have a little half teaspoon of memory, so to speak. That little half teaspoon turns into a whole three tiered cake.

Alix Spiegel

It was during these guided imagery sessions that Beth began to blank out. To lose conscious memory of portions of her therapy sessions. Concentrating so hard on the images she was conjuring that she worked herself into a kind of hypnotic state.

Beth Rutherford

I remember the first time it happened, it scared me to death, because I kind of looked up to her. And she said to me, do you know what just happened? I said, no, what? And she said, you just recounted for me a story of what had happened to. What your dad had done. And she has a piece of paper. And she's told me she wrote down everything I said. And then she started, and she began to read back to me.

I can hardly describe the horror, to sit there and listen to that.

She's saying I said it. She's reading it to me, as I described an event where my dad had brought me to my mom and his bedroom and laid down next to me. She's describing, and it was so horrifying. I can't hardly describe for somebody what it's like to believe that you have been loved as a child, and you grew up in a wonderful home. And to sit there and listen.

And it's literally like the foundation of your life is coming apart.

Linda Ross

I became a therapist because I wanted to help people.

Alix Spiegel

Linda Ross graduated with a master's in counseling in 1986, but most of her training in recovered memory therapy took place after that, in the continuing education seminars she took to keep current. These classes provided long list of possible symptoms. Gave tutorials in guided imagery, in dreams, body memories. All the modern thinking. Because Linda felt she was in a field of study that was scientifically based, she assumed these ideas had been properly researched and tested. That her responsibility was simply to follow them faithfully, which Linda did.

After graduation, she began working for an agency near her home. She dealt with a variety of issues, but developed a sub-specialty in sexual abuse. And soon she was fielding referrals from half a dozen churches and social service centers in her area.

The vast majority of these patients were women who remembered their abuse. But in the early 90s, Linda had a series of clients who uncovered repressed memories. Some of these memories were deeply troubling. There were stories of child pornography rings and satanic rituals. And then there was a woman whose guided imagery session revealed that she had witnessed a murder.

Her father had taken his preteen daughter to the woods, where he slaughtered a man and his son in cold blood while his daughter looked on.

Alix Spiegel

As she was taking you through this scene, what were you thinking?

Linda Ross

I was thinking how horrible. What an awful thing for a little girl to have to go through. You know, I had no doubt in my mind that this had happened.

Alix Spiegel

Partially, Linda believed because she's been trained to believe. Had been told that in these delicate matters, the therapist was not supposed to question. This above all was an unbreachable rule.

Linda Ross

And of course it's completely reinforced by the depth of her pain. It's completely reinforced by the sharpness and acuity of her memory. Even if I had a doubt, I wasn't going to doubt, because her memory was so sharp, her emotions were so genuine. And so, she reinforced my idea in the belief of it. And then, of course, I responded by being horrified and comforting. Which reinforced her idea that I believed it. And so I didn't see how we were a feedback loop. I didn't get that.

Alix Spiegel

But it was more than that. Linda believed not only because she'd been trained to believe, but because on some deep level it appealed to a romantic ideal. This notion she had, that she was a healer.

Linda Ross

This part of me that wants to be the hero, felt like, I'm going to believe you, and I'm going to be here for you, and I'm going to be on your side, and I'm going to help you heal. It really was appealing to sort of the best in me.

Alix Spiegel

As time went on, Beth Rutherford's memories got more and more bizarre. She remembered curling irons and steak forks. And a pregnancy which her father tried to abort with a coat hanger. Years later, she went to a doctor who confirmed, after a 15-minute examination, that Beth was actually a virgin. That none of this could be true. But at the time these memories were so vivid that Beth could recall the most intimate details. The feel of the curling iron. The rope around her ankles.

And like many patients who faced memories of this kind, Beth began to deteriorate. The psychological strain taking a physical toll. She stopped eating and dropped to 80 pounds. And had trouble sleeping through the night. She began to take pills. Rather than interpret Beth's sickness as a sign that the therapy wasn't working, her therapist saw the deterioration as evidence that they simply needed to work harder.

In other words, the failure of recovered memory therapy to restore Beth's mental health led her therapist to pressure Beth for more memories, which undermined Beth's health further, and led to the creation of even more.

Beth Rutherford

It basically became this thing that, well, you're deteriorating because you haven't been bringing up any more memories. Because there's still something there and it's bothering you. And until you get it all out, and we get to the bottom of this, you're never going to get better. You are always going to be like this until you get to the bottom.

Alix Spiegel

Like most therapists trained in recovered memory, Linda Ross had been taught to expect deterioration. But then several of Linda's patients seemed to go into free fall. It was around this time that Linda first heard of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, an organization founded in 1992, which had become a resource for accused parents who thought that their children had been led into false beliefs through therapy.

The parents of one of Linda's patients had come across the organization after their daughter's memories led to a police investigation. And they sent Linda some brochures.

Linda Ross

I said thank you very much. I took the information. And I said, you know, this is a place for people who have perpetrated these horrible crimes to just now hideout and pretend like these things didn't really happen. And when I when I look at my culpability in all of this, I really count that as the place where-- you know, prior to that I had really been acting on good faith out of ignorance. But really based on what I thought was sound counseling from the people that had trained me. But I had a moment there to begin to just say, well, let me look at it from another angle. And I very willfully chose not to.

Alix Spiegel

Why do you think you chose not to?

Linda Ross

Because if I chose to believe something different then it was going to mean that I had been doing something very wrong to a number of families, and I was going to have to face myself.

Alix Spiegel

In fact, during the early 90s, therapists found themselves believing all kinds of stories. Stories which, on their face, now seem outrageous. Well-appointed, middle-class women would walk into suburban offices, close their eyes for guided imagery, and talk about being forced to watch dozens of people sacrificed in satanic rituals. Or being sodomized by whole police departments. And the therapists, trained clinicians, would nod their heads in sympathy and horror.

As Michael Yapko points out, therapists were laboring under the assumption that if something truly horrible had happened, it would be repressed. And so their acceptance of these stories makes a certain sense.

Michael Yapko

And here's where a little bit of history helps. Literally up until the late 1970s, the viewpoint that predominated the field was that when somebody came in and reported a history of sexual abuse as a child, that this was dismissed as a psychological fantasy. And that started with Freud and it continued all the way, literally, up until the 1970s. And then finally, in the 1970s, riding the wave of feminism, researchers came in and said, you know, all these women say that they were abused as children, and everybody's discounting it. Before we discount it, how about if we find out whether it's really true or not.

And then they started doing research on the prevalence of child abuse, and guess what they discovered? That females were being abused and in very large numbers.

Alix Spiegel

And so, with the best of intentions, the experts came to see abuse everywhere. Even in people who hadn't been abused. And their conviction, their sense of righteousness, helped convince patients like Beth Rutherford. And this is one of the most disturbing aspects of these cases. That in the hands of even the most mild-mannered experts, people like Beth, normal people with normal relationships with their parents, could come to believe horrible things about the people they loved most.

Beth Rutherford

I didn't want to believe that that had happened to me. It's something that came from the therapy and it was-- and I was told I had to do this or I was never going to get better. If I didn't do this, I was going to do it to my own children. And I remember her, so to speak, complimenting me and congratulating me on being the person that's breaking this cycle in my family.

Alix Spiegel

After two and a half years of breaking the cycle, Beth's therapist began to pressure Beth to go public. To formally accuse her father, who was then working as an administrator at the Assembly of God headquarters, the same church where Beth's therapist worked as a counselor.

For weeks, Beth resisted. She'd never confronted her parents, had simply emotionally withdrawn from the family. But Beth's therapist wouldn't give up. And so one Wednesday in October, three years after her therapy began, Beth arrived at her session and was presented with a document and a choice. She could either sign a formal accusation of her father, which would be submitted to the denominational authority, or all the files in Beth's case would be given to the local district attorney, a man who would prosecute her father to the full extent of the law.

Given these options, Beth signed the paper. And several weeks later, her dad lost his job, and was ordered to appear at a church hearing.

Tom Rutherford

And we sit down. And they greet us. We greet them. And probably three minutes passed, and he is reading a statement to me.

Alix Spiegel

This is Tom Rutherford, Beth's father.

Tom Rutherford

"Tom, it has been brought to our attention"-- I have a copy of it-- "that one of your daughters is alleging that she has been sexually molested as a child growing up in your home."

Alix Spiegel

There's actually a long and sad story to tell about these proceedings and the meetings which followed. It's a story of public humiliation and pain, the kind of narrative most likely familiar to anyone who's followed the coverage of false memory incidents over the last 10 years. In this case, Tom and his wife Joyce were subjected to a series of hearings. Hearings which tried to determine whether or not they were pedophiles.

Tom Rutherford

They didn't know who believe. So they asked Joyce and I to submit ourselves to going to a professional clinic, of their choosing, to be psychologically and emotionally and all evaluated to see if we could be child molesters.

And asking me to go to be psychologically evaluated would be no different to me than asking me to go to the hospital to have a hysterectomy. That is as much sense as that meant to me. By the end, this thing had gone public. It went public in this community, it went public everywhere. We even went to the mall, and there were good friends that would see us coming and they would raise their hands up, and just shake their head and turn and go the other way.

Alix Spiegel

After the story went public, Tom couldn't find work. He was turned away by over 100 potential employers. He and Joyce were forbidden to contact Beth, who had moved to Oklahoma City, and were cautioned not to contact their other daughters as well. Tom had lost his family, his position, his name. Quite understandably, he struggled with thoughts of suicide, an act he believed was a sin.

Tom Rutherford

There were times when my head hit the pillow at night-- I pleaded that God would be more merciful to me if he would just allow me not to awaken in the morning. And there were times when I would be home, and I'm unemployed, and I'd turn on music. And I played music-- tapes and records and things-- and I played it so loud so I couldn't hear myself think. Just to save my sanity. And try to make it another 24 hours.

Alix Spiegel

Again, Linda Ross, the therapist in Arizona.

Linda Ross

So finally this client comes to me and she tells me that she has a memory of a woman in the neighborhood had miscarried, and her mother had been there helping this neighbor. And her mother took the fetus, brought it home, heated up some oil, boiled the fetus in oil and made her eat the arm of the fried baby. And it was at that point that I said, you know what? I don't think this happened. I don't believe that.

I was in a panic. Because the thing that I had been trained-- you do not disbelieve your clients. If you do, you're Satan. And I didn't believe her.

Alix Spiegel

After several sleepless nights, Linda decided to confront her patient directly.

Linda Ross

That was one of the hardest, scariest moments in my life. And at that point it wasn't like I've had this moment of clarity. You know, I need to tell you and I-- you have to understand, I had never heard that there was any possibility that repressed memories could be false. I'd never heard that thought. I had no context other than my own self which said, I don't believe this. So I felt like a failure. I felt like I was failing this client. I was failing myself. But I could not overcome my own doubt. And so I, you know, I just told her, I have a hard time believing this particular memory. And you have a right to be in therapy with someone who's going to believe you.

And to my discredit, I sent her on to someone who was a specialist in working with satanic ritual abuse and multiple personalities. And then she got much worse.

Alix Spiegel

Beth Rutherford was living in Oklahoma City with her sister, Lynette, who dropped out of college after her father's disgrace. It was a terrible time. They're completely alone, they had no jobs, no acquaintances, and very little money. Beth spent nights on the bathroom floor crying. But then Beth stopped talking to her therapist. And, miraculously, she began to feel better. She got a job, put on weight. Things seemed to be returning to normal.

And then came the bombing at the Federal Building, and the tearful message on the answering machine from Beth's mother, who called, despite warnings from the church authorities that she and her husband could be prosecuted for harassment, simply to say that she loved Beth, she missed Beth, and she wanted to know if Beth was OK. This call was followed by another, and then another. Beth says it wasn't a certain moment, it was a series of moments. A collection of calls and gentle suggestions from her sisters, from family members, which finally produced the meetings.

First with her mother, a shopping trip at a local mall. And then later, her father, whom she saw for the first time in the kitchen of her aunt's house in Tulsa. At that point she still believed and had only reluctantly agreed to stand in the same room as her father at all. And so this meeting took her by surprise.

Beth Rutherford

I come down the stairs and I come into the kitchen, and I am scared to death.

Tom Rutherford

In walks Beth to go over to get a cup of coffee.

Beth Rutherford

And out of the corner of my eye, I see my dad walking across the kitchen. I thought, he's coming over here to hit me.

Tom Rutherford

And here she was, and I didn't know what to say, what I should do, what would be proper? How do you break the ice? All I knew was to go over there.

Beth Rutherford

And I see him walk across the kitchen, and he comes over and he stands right next to me and he just started crying.

Tom Rutherford

And I didn't know what to say. And she starts to cry. And I said, if it's all right with you, can I say your name? She kind of nodded her head. And I said, Beth. I love you, Beth.

Beth Rutherford

I remember thinking, in my mind, as I'm driving, this does not line up. That man that was just in the kitchen does not match who I have in my head of who he is.

Alix Spiegel

As for Linda Ross, the breaking point came shortly after a confrontation with a client. Came in the form of a letter, sent by one of her old patients, a woman who'd come to believe that the memory she'd recovered in therapy with Linda had been false. This letter included an invitation. The woman wanted Linda to attend an event sponsored by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. A meeting for parents who had felt they'd been falsely accused.

Linda Ross

So I walk into this room with all these parents. Now, you know, I had been dealing with the daughters of-- not these particular folks-- but these folks, so to speak. And I really hadn't seen this from what this is like on their side. You know, what this looks like. And I walk in, and here are these sad, depressed, anxious parents who have been accused of horrible things. Horrible. Just so ridiculous.

And when you have it isolated, you have one little client sitting in front of you and they're making this accusation, it feels like, OK, well this is possible. This could happen. But then when you multiply it with the hundreds and thousands and thousands of people in therapy, and the number of people who have been murdered, and the number of people who've been sacrificed, and the number of people who've eaten the pizza boy, and the number of people who have been locked in basements. You know, you just begin to realize the magnitude of what I had been a little tiny microcosm.

Alix Spiegel

Shortly after this, the former patient invited Linda to yet another meeting. This one with the patient's parents, a sweet suburban couple who had had their home dismantled by a crew of local police officers, eager to uncover evidence of the dead bodies their daughter had remembered through therapy.

Linda Ross

So we're all sitting together in this room, and she's beginning to tell them about how she came to believe this and all of this. And here I am, you know, I've played a part in this. So I had a chance to tell them the part that I played. And to tell them that I completely understood that they would find it difficult, for the rest of their lives, to be able to find a place to forgive me. But that I was certainly aware that I was in need of their forgiveness.

And do you know what they did?

Alix Spiegel

What did they do?

Linda Ross

They forgave me.

And it's because of them, I told them at that point that if I could ever speak up and talk about this issue in a way that would prevent other families from going through this, that I would. And I'm talking to you because of that promise that I made to them.

Alix Spiegel

It was after this meeting that Linda decided to contact the rest of her patients. She wanted to apologize, and also to explain. To meet face-to-face and tell them the memories they'd recovered together might not be real. It was a painful process. A few of her patients had had explosive confrontations with their parents, and flat out rejected the idea that their members could be false. Some were angry, others simply devastated.

The Sunday after Beth Rutherford met her father, she went to see the pastor of her church. She told this man what she'd been going through, and asked if she could spend some time alone in the chapel. She said she needed to think. Her pastor agreed. And after the evening service, cleared everyone out, locking the doors of the chapel from the outside. Beth stayed alone in the building for hours.

Beth Rutherford

And it's like things came into my thinking and I'm thinking, you know, I didn't have any of this before I went into therapy. I didn't have any of these memories, nothing was there. I believed I had a wonderful childhood. And by the time I left that night-- and I can't really explain, because it wasn't a certain minute, but it was like a process in those couple hours. By the time I left, I'd come to the point that I believed, OK, I don't think any of this happened to me.

Alix Spiegel

Today, the consensus among mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists is that it is possible to experience great trauma and repress to it so deeply that you can't remember it. But that this kind of massive repression is rare. It's also generally agreed that therapists can inadvertently lead patients to create false memories with techniques like hypnosis and guided meditation. They need to be very cautious.

Of course, there are still therapists who use these techniques improperly. And there's no real way to police them. One psychologist in Philadelphia was sued by dozens of patients who came to remember satanic abuse under her care, but continues to practice today. She lost her psychology license. She calls herself a psychotherapist, which in many states is entirely legal.

I went to college in the early 90s, at the height of the recovered memory movement. And, like most people my age, I can name, off the top of my head, three or four people who recovered memories. Who came to believe that they'd been horribly violated by those closest to them. Unlike Beth Rutherford, none of the people I know broke off contact with their families. There were no public hearings, no newspaper articles, no million dollar settlements. Their parents didn't write anguished letters to the False Memory Foundation. Nothing so spectacular.

Instead, quietly, painfully, this idea that they were victims was simply integrated into their notion of themselves, and then they moved on, and carried this idea, real or false, with them.

According to a recent study, a survey of over 1,000 families whose children recovered memories during the early 90s, almost 50% of the men and women who recovered memories during that time have returned to their families, after a long period of estrangement, and are now attempting some kind of reconciliation. Many continue to believe that they were victimized by their families, and only a small portion, 10% or 12% have retracted and now believe that their memories were false.

On the other hand, there are almost no people like Linda Ross, practicing therapists, who have come forward to talk publicly about their experience. To admit culpability or try to figure out how this happened. The experts for once are strangely quiet.

Ira Glass

Alix Spiegel, in New York.

Coming up, it's one thing to do a little improv in front of your acting class. It's another to do it in front of Marlon Brando. The scariest acting class in the world, in a minute, from Public Radio International and Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two. Not Stella Adler, Just Stellllaaah.

Ira Glass

It's This America Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, we choose some theme. Bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, "Ask an expert." Stories about experts giving terrible, terrible advice. We've arrived at act two of our show. Act two, "Not Stella Adler, just still Stellllaaah."

I don't know if it's true that those who can't do teach-- you know that saying. I want to know more about those who can do. Can they teach? Recently, one of the greatest actors of the last century, somebody who is reclusive, and who doesn't usually speak about his own work in public, decided to make a set of instructional videos about acting. The actor is Marlon Brando. His instructional videos are called Lying for a Living. They aren't on the market just yet. Jod Kaftan visited Brando's compound in Beverly Hills while they were being put together.

Jod Kaftan

The scariest thing about Marlon Brando is his phone. I ask if I can call New York from his office. But I'm warned by his staff that someone may listen in. I'm foolishly curious and call anyway. Indeed, in the middle of my conversation, I faintly detect a third party's breathing, and a receiver fumbling in someone's hands. I say, hello? More breathing. I hear what sounds like the crunch of a potato chip. I end the call and hang up.

The office at Brando's estate is shrouded in a bamboo thicket off the driveway. Any minute he could beep on the phone, to indicate that he'd like to walk over and see the first footage from his new project on acting called Lying for a Living. The staff seems anxious. Someone is feverishly collecting empty soda cans. Another usually chatty staffer is suddenly mute and typing dutifully.

Immediately I scan the office for strange cuckoo clocks, or oil paintings with roving eyes. Beep. Everyone stops and looks at the phone.

There's a mumble. A raspy, congested voice says, "Coming down." I'm sitting on the couch with my legs crossed, fighting the urge to look over my shoulder. I know I shouldn't since he once told me that he hates being stared at, especially by men.

Marlon Brando steps through the sliding glass door in a tropical terry cloth robe. Without a word, he drops himself on the couch next to me. Coughs, stretches out his bare, pallid legs and pans the room as if to root out anything unfamiliar. I can feel his eyes stop at me.

The editor asked Brando if he's ready to view the tapes. "What do you think?" asked Brando. The tapes start rolling with a closeup of Brando's still-handsome 77-year-old profile. I'm nervous that he hasn't yet acknowledged my presence. While still watching the tape, he sticks out his arm and extends a pinkie. It's a special Brando handshake. I respond and our pinkies entwine.

The first time he offered this handshake, I thought he was afraid I had germs. But I soon learned it was a sign of affection. I existed.

I met Brando when I was a teenager. I had dated his daughter Rebecca for about half an hour, but maintained a friendship. We were sitting in his den watching MTV when she said, "Turn it down, I think my dad's coming." "How do you know?" I asked. "I just do." I did notice that the tropical fish were no longer swimming, but idling.

The door creaked open. He sat down between us, mostly naked in a Japanese robe. I stared. I couldn't help it. It was Marlon Brando. After a few minutes of listening to him rip into MTV, he turned to me and said, "You know, you have a very wide antenna, a large antenna. Most people hide their antennas, but yours is very active, very open." What could I say but "thanks."

Only he wasn't through. "I'm not really sure, but my gut feeling is that you're a homosexual. Am I right?" I wasn't. But I found myself answering, "yes." He nodded and left the room.

The second time I met him, almost 10 years later, he offered me a job. He said he thought of me because I didn't seem to be overly neurotic. Thanks, I said. He said, "Now the job could involve things like building a dog house for my mastiff, Tim. Or I might walk up to you and ask you to take apart a radio and put it back together again. The job will have various benefits. Like trips to my house in Tahiti. I might ask you to mount a surveillance on the island. Or to run down to Casa Vega and pick up a dozen tacos."

Things went south after a month when Marlon's porno-watching Argentinian house man cornered me with a violent, pointing finger and said, "Marlon say you work for me now." I'd been demoted. It was an order that could only come from the top. What was once an exquisite paycheck for merely being myself had become a hackneyed, proletariat job of attrition. I was fired after a month when I refused to cut down all the sick, 40-foot high bamboo trees. They were loaded with bugs and I was, let's face it, just a dandy.

Brando's memory runs short. In late 2001, he called me via one of his employees, and asked me if I'd be interested in writing an article about his new project on acting, Lying for a Living. Knowing full well that my last job with Brando was a fiasco, I deliberated. The next day I was laid off and the prospect became interesting. Besides, I was honored that he'd asked me, essentially a nobody. Actually, that's probably why he did ask me.

Over lunch, I ask Brando why he decided to call his project Lying for a Living. He insists that the title isn't meant to be cute. If you can lie, he says, you can act. His intention is to turn out better liars onstage or off. Lying, he explains, is a social lubricant we can't live without.

"I've been lying all my life," he tells me. "Everybody does." I ask him whether he thinks he's a good liar. "Jesus," he says. "I'm fabulous at it."

The classes are a little weird. In the tapes, Brando, the master, sits at the head of the class in a massive leather armchair adorned like a throne. His two bare feet dangling languidly off an ottoman. A lamp with ram's horns flanks his right. A large, tropical plant stands behind him. Throw in the flamboyant pink scarf flung around his neck, and Brando looks like a frightening combination of Liberace and Freud.

The classes are, to say the least, star-studded. With Brando's guest list including the likes of Sean Penn, Jon Voight, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nick Nolte, Edward James Olmos, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and even Michael Jackson, sitting among the dozen or so aspiring actors. It's interesting to see these familiar faces undirected and candid. Only Sean Penn looks bored throughout the tapes, smirking as if there's an inside joke to get. Everyone else, from Jon Voight to Nick Nolte looks utterly studious.

They have good reason. Brando hardly ever discusses his craft, and for the first time in years, he's talking about acting as if it matters. He talks a lot about being willing to make an ass of yourself. With this in mind, on the third day of class, he turns himself into a bosomy English woman. He saunters onto the sound stage wearing lipstick, blush, Chinese silk pajamas, and a cobalt blue scarf knotted coquettishly around his neck. A sultry makeup girls kneels at his feet, applying fire-red nail polish to his hands, while two students labor through an improv.

"If you're not willing to fall on your face," he says. "If you're not willing to do something that's really stupid, embarrassing, then you're not going to do it." When I ask Brando why he's making the tapes, he says, "One word. Money." But watching him, it's clear that he's making an effort to be a good teacher. He's usually sensitive and positive with his students. Even when their improvs are bad. Like one in which a woman pretends to be a crazy person in a mental institution, talking in a little girl's voice for a good 20 minutes, he's supportive. His trademark comment after most scenes is "good, damn good."

Of course, Brando's eccentricities do show up on the tapes. Like when he declares he wants to sing the actor's national anthem, and then puts his hand over his heart and sings, "Me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. You." Or when he asks a very beautiful female student-- a competitive runner and model, despite having lost her legs-- to come to the front of the class and tell her story of healing and accomplishment. The high point of her story comes when she says she realized that she could run faster if she fashioned her prosthetic limbs after those of a cheetah. Perhaps this wouldn't be so strange if Brando weren't sitting behind her on his throne, totally poker faced, like the facilitator of an AA meeting. After her story, as she returns to her chair, Brando chimes in. "And she looks pretty good going away."

Occasionally the tapes show Brando with a coger's unwitting political naivete. Ironic for a man once known as a staunch activist for Native Americans and other causes. On the first day of class he proudly introduces a man he found rummaging through the dumpsters outside, and recruited to join the class. A special surprise, he calls it. The camera swirls to Jim, a bearded black man looking cleaned up and nervous. "Jim was outside here, monkeying with the trash containers. What do you do, Jim?" Brando ask. "Recycling," he says.

On day 14, Brando has two dwarfs and a giant Samoan do an improv. At one point, the dwarfs start punching each other and the Samoan separates them like two unleashed puppies. At the end of the scene, Brando lavishly praises the performance. "When something's good, it hits you. I get chicken skin when something's really right." There may be a remote chance that someone in the class was engaged with the improv. But to the viewer, the scene comes off as nothing more than a bad bar joke.

Brando wants to be a good teacher, but what the tapes prove is that he simply doesn't have a clue how. I think that acting comes so naturally to him that he doesn't know how he does it. Brando assumes that because everyone lies, everyone can act.

In one of the tapes, he explains how he created the character of Don Corleone for The Godfather. He'd never played an Italian, he says, and he was scared of doing the part with big Italian gestures. So he put some cotton into his cheeks and imitated an Italian he knew, producer Dino De Laurentiis, who, according to Brando, took a shot in the throat and had that raspy, whispery voice. From the voice apparently came the rest of the character.

It's an interesting story. But if you were a young actor wanting to create a personality on screen as complicated and compelling as Brando's character in The Godfather, it wouldn't help you very much. All the things that make his performance great, he doesn't say anything about. I don't think he'd be able to, even if he wanted. Even if you paid him, which he hopes you will.

Two weeks later, we're watching the tapes in Brando's office. "I look like Grandma Moses," jokes Brando. "Can you crop it? Jesus, I look pregnant." The next thing I know, Brando's hand is groping my knee. It's not a sexual advance, but a curious one, as if you were examining a rottweiler for purchase. "You've got big, strong legs," he says. The footage continues, and I feel his hand move on to my humble bicep. "You're solid, man."

At that point, the camera shows DiCaprio improvising on a phone. "He looks like a girl," says Brando. It's possible that none of this footage will ever be released. The videos are supposed to come out in the fall, but a certain amount of chaos has surrounded the whole production from the start. He scrutinizes the screen and then asks, to no one in particular, "Who wants to see a fat, 80-year-old man pontificate?"

Ira Glass

Jod Kaftan. A version of his story appeared in Rolling Stone.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Wendy Dorr and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Jonathan Goldstein, and Starlee Kine. Senior producer, Julie Snyder.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our story on recovered memory was part of a series called The America Project, which gets funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. Funding for our show comes from the listeners of WBEZ Chicago.

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who explained my job to me this way back when I was hired--

Jod Kaftan

Now the job could involve things like building a doghouse for my mastiff, Tim. Or I might walk up to you, and ask you to take apart a radio and put it back together.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Jod Kaftan

Marlon say you work for me now.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.