Sunday, October 16, 2011

Debbie Nathan - A Girl Not Named Sybil

There is a very good article in the New York Times this morning about the case of Sybil, the world's first well-known and "documented" case of multiple personality disorder - now known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). The problem is, as has been known for many years now, the case was not exactly as it was presented. It may have been little more than an impressionable client being compliant with a psychiatrist who was intent on finding what she was looking for in her patient.

Shirley A. Mason--Sybil

Wikipedia offers this: Multiple Personality Controversies: Links to many articles about the real Sybil, Shirley Mason - for those who would like to see other perspectives.

The reality is that we are all multiple in many ways, but that these "parts" are generally mild and not completely shut off from awareness - with a little work we can learn to see our parts act out when they are triggered. But this is a whole other than DID - in DID the dissociation is so extreme that people may have whole separate lives, and be known to other people only as that "alter." In fact, some people with DID have been known to be vision impaired in one alter and 20/20 in their real self. Likewise, there have been anecdotal reports of different eye colors in different alters.

However, there are currently fewer than 100 verified cases of DID known in the literature. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an explosion in this diagnosis, but nearly 90% of the diagnoses were made by a handful of therapists - a fact that makes the diagnosis questionable whenever it comes up.

Debbie Nathan is the author of new book about the Sybil case, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, to be released on October 18, 2011.

A Girl Not Named Sybil

Published: October 14, 2011
“What about Mama?” the psychiatrist asks her patient. “What’s Mama been doing to you, dear? . . . I know she gave you the enemas. And I know she filled your bladder up with cold water, and I know she used the flashlight on you, and I know she stuck the washcloth in your mouth, cotton in your nose so you couldn’t breathe. . . . What else did she do to you? It’s all right to talk about it now. . . . ”

The Mankato Free Press/Associated Press
An undated photo of Shirley Mason, best known by the pseudonym Sybil Dorsett, given to her by Flora Schreiber in the book “Sybil.”
Gabrielle Plucknette/The New York Times
“Sybil,” published in 1973, would go on to sell more than six million copies.
“My mommy,” the patient says.
“My mommy said that I was a bad little girl, and . . . she slapped me . . . with her knuckles. . . .”
“Mommy isn’t going to ever hurt you again,” the psychiatrist says at the close of the session. “Do you want to know something, Sweetie? I’m stronger than Mother.”
The transcript of this conversation is stored at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City, among the papers of Flora Schreiber, author of “Sybil,” the blockbuster book about a woman with 16 personalities. “Sybil” was published in 1973; within four years it had sold more than six million copies in the United States and hundreds of thousands abroad. A television adaptation broadcast in 1976 was seen by a fifth of all Americans. But Sybil’s story was not just gripping reading; it was instrumental in creating a new psychiatric diagnosis: multiple-personality disorder, or M.P.D., known today as dissociative-identity disorder.
Schreiber collaborated on the book with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, the psychiatrist who asks, “What about Mama?” — and with Wilbur’s patient, whose name Schreiber changed to Sybil Dorsett. Schreiber worked from records of Sybil’s therapy, including thousands of pages of patient diaries and transcripts of tape-recorded therapy sessions. Before she died in the late 1980s, Schreiber stipulated that the material be archived at a library. For a decade after Schreiber’s death, Sybil’s identity remained unknown. To protect her privacy, librarians sealed her records. In 1998, two researchers discovered that her real name was Shirley Mason. In trying to track her down, they learned that she was dead, and the librarians at John Jay decided to unseal the Schreiber papers.
The same year that her identity was revealed, Robert Rieber, a psychologist at John Jay, presented a paper at the American Psychological Association in which he accused Mason’s doctor of a “fraudulent construction of a multiple personality,” based on tape-recordings that Schreiber had given him. “It is clear from Wilbur’s own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be,” Rieber wrote.
It wasn’t the first indication that there might be problems with Mason’s diagnosis. As far back as 1994, Herbert Spiegel, an acclaimed psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, began telling reporters that he occasionally treated Shirley Mason when her regular psychiatrist went out of town. During those sessions, Spiegel recalled, Mason asked him if he wanted her to switch to other personalities. When he questioned her about where she got that idea, she told him that her regular doctor wanted her to exhibit alter selves.
And yet, in the popular imagination, Sybil and her fractured self remained powerfully tied to the idea of M.P.D. and the childhood traumas it was said to stem from. “Mamma was a bad mamma,” Wilbur declares in the transcripts. “I can help you remember.” But countless other records suggest that the outrages Sybil recalled never happened. If Sybil wasn’t really remembering, then what exactly was Wilbur helping her to do?
Read the whole interesting article.


No Blood for Hubris said...

This is not a "very good" article. It is an article that is dead wrong. It is a shameless piece of pro-pedophile propaganda, a sensationalized smear to make a buck and make a joke of severe and sustained child abuse. Feh.

WH said...

I think you are wrong. No one is denying the impact of severe and sustained child abuse - but they are questioning how this one therapist manipulated a client for personal gain.

DID is real, and it does occur - but very very rarely.

But complex PTSD is very common in those who suffer repeated abuse - I, for one, would never suggest otherwise.