A leading child abuse activist linked to the $500 million child abuse royal commission has hit back at claims by her family that her psychological treatment triggered "false memories" of abuse at the hands of her father as she comes under fire over her role advising on a compensation scheme for victims.
Cathy Kezelman, a former GP who heads the influential Blue Knot Foundation representing adult victims of childhood trauma, helped co-write national counselling guidelines for sexual abuse victims and was appointed last year to a panel advising the Turnbull government on the rollout of a $4 billion redress scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse.
But in an article published in the Weekend Australian Magazine on Saturday, Dr Kezelman's brother and emergency doctor Claude Imhoff said he "utterly refute[d]" his sister's claims that she suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her father and a group of paedophiles led by her paternal grandmother.
"I can categorically state that those events never happened," Dr Imhoff said.
He said his sister had "simply ignored the professional guidelines and not mentioned anything about the dangers of false memories" being created in counselling sessions and he was speaking out to prevent a wave of false accusations against alleged perpetrators.
Dr Kezelman told Fairfax Media it was "completely false" to suggest her own memories of childhood trauma were triggered by her psychological treatment.
"Traumatic memory is implicit, and mainly unconscious; it manifests in the body and via behavioural re-enactments rather than words," she said.
"My initial series of flashbacks did not occur in therapy at all, but at home with my husband witnessing them. They were terrifying and it took me some time before I could even mention them to my therapist."
Dr Kezelman said it was "totally inaccurate" to suggest the counselling guidelines recommended "in any way that counsellors should help patients retrieve implicit memories" that were hidden from consciousness.
"What they do say is that all therapists working with survivors need to know about the nature of memory and how to work with implicit traumatic memories," she said.
Dr Kezelman said the guidelines were highly ethical, "based on extensive current research and the recommendations of key clinicians into complex trauma", and did not advocate any specific "therapy techniques".
Senior Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, QC, who spoke at the launch of Dr Kezelman's memoir Innocence Revisited in 2010, said "experience over many years has shown that there are many victims of serious sexual assault who have had recovered memories of their abuse, just as experience has shown that soldiers who have suffered traumatic experiences in wartime have repressed and then recovered memories".
"The mind has this capacity to shut out the memory to protect the individual," said Mr Tedeschi, who is on long service leave as the state's top prosecutor.
Mr Tedeschi said he had seen "numerous cases" in the courts system of children making partial disclosures of abuse to adults to gauge their reaction and whether it was safe to reveal more.
The head of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, NSW Supreme Court Justice Peter McClellan, has described Dr Kezelman as an "old friend" of the commission.
He delivered a speech in Sydney on Saturday which pointed to the difficulties in adopting "common sense" views about human memory built on "casual observation" rather than scientific research.
"Some adult survivors cannot recall the abuse they experienced as children in detail, or even at all," Justice McClellan told the Australia and New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy 30th anniversary conference.
He said the impacts of child sexual abuse "do not necessarily develop immediately" and "problems may emerge at later stages in life, and be triggered by significant life events".
The $500 million inquiry is Australia's longest royal commission, starting in 2013 and due to finish with a final report to the federal government in December.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.