On September 4, the Daily Mail reported a court battle between the Countess of Caledon and self-styled ‘personal development coach’ Anne Craig.
The Countess alleges that her 27-year-old daughter has become estranged from her mother because Craig induced false memories of child abuse.
The report says that the daughters of ‘a number of prominent families’ have ‘turned their backs on them after coaching sessions with Mrs Craig at her London home.’
The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a criminal case against Anne Craig last year and she denies all allegations.
In May, The Mail on Sunday said that Craig was ‘accused of destroying some of the most prominent families in the country – by isolating previously happy young women from their friends and relatives.’
Then Prime Minister David Cameron and senior UK Cabinet members called for new laws ‘to protect vulnerable adults from predators’, but, as yet, no new bill has been introduced in Parliament.
The Mail reported that three former clients had come forward to ‘condemn’ Craig and speak of her ‘bizarre dream analysis and marathon three-hour sessions which left them shattered.’
The Mail continues: ‘She does not appear to have relevant professional qualifications.’ According to the Mail, Craig charges £100 an hour for these sessions.
A former client told The Mail that Craig (pictured, left) told her that if her dogs were barking ‘it meant there were spirits and bad energy that needed to get out. She explained that this meant things like boyfriends and friends were with you and you needed to let them go … we were asked to cut ourselves off from our family.’
Another former client, a 32-year-old lawyer, said, ‘Her method is that you need to break free of a particular person … My mum took the hit and it affected my relationship with her. She [Craig] seems benign, but that is what traps you.’
Yet another client said that Craig had encouraged her to stop taking her epilepsy medication. Therapist Fiona Smith visited Craig and was ‘horrified’ by her approach and alarmed that she was not an accredited counsellor – in the UK, anyone can claim to be a ‘counsellor’ without any qualification or professional affiliation.
Anne Craig has denied all of the allegations and lodged a complaint with the UK Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) about three articles that appeared in The Mail in May this year. IPSO denied every aspect of Craig’s claim and ruled that The Mail’s reporting was accurate.
In the 1990s, there were many cases in the US and the UK involving adults who accused their parents of abuse during childhood as a consequence of ‘recovered memories’ found during psychotherapy.
Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters explored the subject in the excellent book Making Monsters. Lawrence Wright gave a shocking account of the Paul Ingram case in his Remembering Satan. Ingram admitted to extensive sexual abuse of his children, although he had no memory of any of the hundreds of events they had ‘remembered’.
Professor Ofshe was able to show that Ingram was easily led by showing him a false allegation made by his son. The judge refused Ofshe’s expert opinion, and Ingram served time in prison for abuse that is improbable to the point of impossibility.
Such cases almost split the American Psychological Association down the middle, with therapists on both sides of the debate.
Over the years, I’ve worked with people from many backgrounds who have been persuaded to believe ‘recovered memories’ and it is remarkable just how easily such ‘memories’ can be implanted.
In the 1990s, to refute claims of ‘recovered’ memory, psychologists set up experiments in ‘memory implantation’ and showed just how easy it is to convince most people of a fabricated memory.
Inducing supposed memories of childhood is especially easy. In one study people were shown faked photographs of their own childhoods and convinced that they had taken a ride at the age of 5 in a hot air balloon. Even after learning the truth, one participant said, ‘I still feel in my head that I actually was there; I can sort of see images of it.’
False memory induction and a consequent ostracism of family are commonplaces in totalist relationships – from spousal coercion to gangs and pseudo-religious cults. I’ve studied these parallels for many years and detailed the evidence in my latest book, Opening Minds: the secret world of manipulation, brainwashing and undue influence. By creating false memories, a manipulator gains control over the will. Even strong-minded people can be reduced to servitude by this method.
I have no details of the Countess of Caledon’s action, but I think the new Coercive Control Act may well apply. If linked to the existing law on undue influence, it is possible that a new approach could help thousands of subjects of such induction of false memories and the deliberate ostracism alleged in this case.
There has long been a problem with undue influence laws: they have a before and an after, but no during – so the person who is under the influence cannot make any claim until they have recovered from that influence, by which time the statute of limitations will often have been passed.
A specific law protecting the public from such undue influence would be most welcome. We have to understand that we are all psychologically vulnerable as well as physically vulnerable.
In various states in the US, in the 1970s and 80s, there were attempts to put cult members into the custody of their parents, but these laws evidently questioned the liberty of normal adults. Without an understanding of the thought reform process employed by controlling individuals, it is impossible to protect the public at large from such practices.
The Countess of Caledon’s claim will be heard on Friday, 9 September, in the High Court in London.