The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (first published in 1988, with three subsequent editions, the last being a 20th anniversary edition in 2008) is a self-help book by poet Ellen Bass and Laura Davis that focuses on recovery from child sexual abuse and has been called "controversial and polarizing". The intent of the book is to provide a healing experience by means of explanations, practical suggestions, descriptions and first hand accounts from women who have experienced sexual abuse. The authors say that individuals (mainly women) with a general set of symptoms may have been abused, but the memories of which have been repressed. They propose a variety of techniques to overcome their symptoms, including confronting their alleged abusers, adopting an identity as a "survivor", overcoming the associated trauma and in cases where there is no memory of any abuse, recovering the memories. The book was a bestseller in North America and Europe. The 20th Anniversary Edition came out in 2008 and included an updated resource guide, additional stories and research. The book has been criticized for being used primarily by incompetent therapists, for creating in children false memories of abuse, as well as for its authors' lack of qualifications for creating an industry which has isolated and separated family members despite having no positive proof the abuse occurred, and for destructively replacing individual identities with that of a "survivor". Bass and Davis have also been criticized for leaping to unwarranted, implausible conclusions with significant consequences and for scientific errors found in the first edition that were not corrected in subsequent reprintings. Bass and Davis responded to the controversy surrounding the book by writing "Honoring the Truth: A Response to the Backlash", a new chapter included the 1994 edition to respond to and rebut criticisms of the book, though this was removed from the 20th anniversary edition. Since its second edition, the book has contained a case study of an individual who was allegedly a victim of satanic ritual abuse, now considered a moral panic.
1 Authors 2 Summary 3 Reception 4 See also 5 References
Authors The Courage to Heal is written by Ellen Bass, a poet and creative writing teacher and her student Laura Davis, an author and incest survivor. Bass worked as a counselor and group facilitator with survivors of child sexual abuse. Bass is the wife of a survivor of child sexual abuse and Davis was sexually abused as a child and participated in one of Bass' creative writing workshops. Bass and Davis attributed efforts to confront incest and child sexual abuse to the women's liberation movement. While working with students, Bass and Davis came to believe that the stories of some students were trying to convey painful memories of incest. From this idea, the two developed methods to assist students in recovering memories of abuse in childhood. Neither Bass nor Davis have any training in psychotherapy or science, and they state that nothing in the book is based on any psychological theories. They have defended their lack of training, saying that a PhD is not necessary "to listen carefully and compassionately to another human being". Bass and Davis still define themselves as healers and experts in the area of child sexual abuse, due to leading workshops with victims. Summary The 2008 edition is divided into six sections:
Taking Stock The Healing Process Changing Patterns For Supporters of Survivors Courageous Women Resource Guide
The book includes in-depth interviews, writing exercises and a
The third edition featured an afterword called "Honoring the Truth: A
Response to the Backlash", which was added to respond to and rebut
negative reactions to the book. The section has been characterized as
an effort to dismiss all research contradicting the book as being part
of a backlash against victims of incest. The chapter was removed
from the 20th anniversary edition.
The book was written as a response to the authors' frequent encounters
with women who were the victims of sexual abuse during their childhood
and adolescence, and is predicated on the belief that extreme
childhood trauma, of which sexual abuse is one, is spontaneously
repressed. The authors suggest that people experiencing dysfunction in
their lives (including a wide-ranging set of problems such as
depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, dysfunctional
relationships, dissociative identity disorder, self-injury and
suicidal thoughts) or feel there was something traumatic in their
childhood should investigate these feelings; Bass and Davis also
present what they believe is a path to healing from the trauma of
alleged childhood abuse. The latest edition features language more
inclusive of male sexual abuse victims.
The original edition of the book contained an influential chapter
discussing satanic ritual abuse (though satanic ritual abuse is now
considered a moral panic, the case specifically discussed in The
Courage to Heal is that of Judith Spencer, which has since been
discredited) and the discredited autobiography Michelle Remembers
- citing the latter approvingly along with other alleged survivor
stories of satanic ritual abuse. Subsequent editions renamed the
phenomenon "sadistic ritual abuse".
The Courage to Heal was part of
the vision that childhood sexual abuse could be discovered with no
corroborating evidence beyond a vague set of symptoms.
Psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson state that basic errors
regarding the science of memory have never been corrected between
editions; in the third edition, the book stated that for a small
number of women their symptoms may have originated in emotional rather
than sexual abuse.
Reception of the book was "polarizing".
The book was a bestseller in North America and Europe, and has been
described as "the bible of the 'survivors' movement".
Discussing the book in relation to narratives of incest, professors of
English Janice Doane and Devon Hodges believe the book's popularity is
due to it offering "an enormously enabling fantasy that by the same
token refuses a complex analysis of the very means of recovery,
writing, that it so confidently touts" and for promising to completely
make sense of the reader's lives through the simple process of
writing. A large number of therapists who used the book lacked
training in research and awareness of the confirmation bias failed to
appreciate the risks of seeing incest behind any symptom, or even a
lack of symptoms and did not consider that other factors besides
incest may have caused sexual problems in their clients.
A 1991 review states that "...reading and completing the exercises
[does not] always results in all survivors overcoming all effects of
child sexual abuse. Rather, survivors who have read the book have
reported to me that it was helpful in dealing with the effects of the
abuse." The book has been praised for being the first book for
women to break open the taboo about sexual abuse. The book has
also been praised for encouraging disclosure of abuse.
A 1995 review by psychologist and clinician Susan Contratto states
that the book was perceived as dangerous by the antifeminist backlash
since it legitimized stories of abuse as told by the survivors.
Bass and Davis have no formal training or qualifications in
psychiatry, psychology or any form of treatment for mental
illness. Psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson state
that despite the authors' lack of knowledge about the workings of
memories, the scientific approach or information and lack of
qualifications, neither author has ever acknowledged the errors they
have made in their descriptions of memory and trauma. They accuse the
authors of basic errors regarding the science of memory that they say
have never been corrected between editions; in the third edition, the
book stated that for a small number of women their symptoms may have
originated in emotional rather than sexual abuse. This lack of
qualifications resulted in Bass, Davis and others who adopted their
approach leaping to conclusions that caused considerable harm,
irrespective of their intentions. They have been accused of
creating an industry which has isolated and separated family members
despite having no positive proof the abuse occurred, and for
replacing individual identities with that of a "survivor". Bass and
Davis also never acknowledged criticisms that their description of how
memory works was flawed or incorrect. Paul R. McHugh, professor of
Johns Hopkins University
The Freudian Coverup
^ a b Norcross, John C.; Campbell, Linda F.; Grohol, John M.; John W.
Santrock; Florin Selagea; Robert Sommer (2013-03-01). Self-
Works: Resources to Improve Emotional Health and Strengthen
Relationships. Oxford University Press. pp. 16–.
ISBN 9780199333646. Retrieved 7 June 2014.
^ a b c d Alpert, J. L. (1991). "Review of the courage to heal: A
guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse and the courage to
heal workbook: For women and men survivors of child sexual abuse".
Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 28: 188.
^ a b McHugh PR (2008). Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over
Meaning, Memory, and Mind. New York: Dana Press. p. 252.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Aronson E; Tavris C (2007). Mistakes were made
(but not by me): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and
hurtful acts. San Diego: Harcourt. pp. 121; 263n40.
^ a b Gibbs, A. "The reality of recovered memories" (PDF). The
Skeptic. 17 (2): 21–9. Archived from the original (PDF) on
^ a b c "Victoria, Australia Health Services Commissioner: Inquiry
into the Practice of Recovered
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Satanic ritual abuse
List of satanic ritual abuse allegations
Cases and accused
Cleveland child abuse scandal Faith Chapel Church ritual abuse case Fells Acres Day Care Center preschool trial Franklin child prostitution ring allegations Kern County child abuse cases Little Rascals day care sexual abuse trial Martensville satanic sex scandal McMartin preschool trial Oak Hill satanic ritual abuse trial Satanic panic (South Africa) South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal Thurston county ritual abuse case Wee Care Nursery School abuse trial
Gerald Amirault Anne Johnson Davis Mary de Young Paul and Shirley Eberle Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis Stephen A. Kent Kee MacFarlane Liz Mullinar Diana Napolis Debbie Nathan Cathy O'Brien Richard Ofshe Lawrence Pazder Valerie Sinason Ralph Underwager Mike Warnke
Publications and media
Michelle Remembers The Courage to Heal Pace memorandum Indictment: The McMartin Trial Treating Survivors of Satanist Abuse Cult and Ritual Abuse Speak of the Devil No Crueler Tyrannies
Believe the Children
Children's Institute International
Child sexual abuse