“Sybil Exposed”: Not An Argument Against Multiplicity Itself

A newly released book by journalist Debbie Nathan, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, is currently getting a lot of attention in the press, as well it should if it is accurate in its depiction of highly fraudulent practices on the part of three individuals—the therapist, the author of the original book about Sybil (1973), and the patient herself—who allegedly conspired to make this woman’s condition and treatment into something that it wasn’t, turning her into “Sybil Inc.,” an immensely popular and lucrative enterprise.

On the positive side of this mess, the products generated by Sybil Inc. have served to popularize multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), and have given many people hope that their complex conditions could become better understood and treated.

On the negative side, the doubters—including some mental health professionals who don’t believe the condition actually exists in anyone—may now seize the chance to use Sybil Exposed to add fuel to that particular fire. See? Dissociative identity disorder is a crock, some are likely (illogically) to maintain.

I have neither read Nathan’s book nor can I weigh in on whether our Sybil of yore does represent one big fat lie, but I have witnessed and do strongly believe that there are those who do live with DID and that they represent one major truth: it is possible, it is indeed highly creative, when faced with severe childhood trauma, for one’s personality to become divided in order to withstand the torturous pain.

Do an online search for DID and you’ll find many up-to-date books that can serve to offset any indications, however shocking and upsetting, that this one particular patient/therapist/writer team may have fabricated multiplicity. (Clarification/ update, 6/10/12: In other words, there are still many experts who cite other case examples and histories; there are still many who believe that DID exists.) Two highly recommended books are The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook by Deborah Haddock and Multiple Personality Disorder From the Inside Out, edited by Cohen, Giller, and Lynn W.

With so many written and oral testimonies by those who’ve experienced DID firsthand, I confess that it’s beyond my ability to comprehend how anyone in my field could be a disbeliever. I contend that the therapists who disbelieve are either uninformed or unexposed or that they are so closed off to the possibility that they are unable or unwilling to see or accept it in their clients.

Moreover, clients may be unable or unwilling to reveal themselves fully in therapy if they sense any of the above characteristics in their shrinks.

For anyone who counters with, If they can hide it, it must not be so, consider your own personality. Do you routinely, for various reasons, keep parts of yourself in check? Please don’t say no. Because if you don’t, the rest of society may ask you to get some help learning how.

3 thoughts on ““Sybil Exposed”: Not An Argument Against Multiplicity Itself

  1. Ms. Johnson,

    I am glad you confessed that you have not read Sybil Exposed. You may not realize it, but you did weigh in just the same.

    I am one who says “multiple personalities don’t exist”. You are welcome to visit my blog by the same name where you will find many people who discuss MPD/DID from another angle.

    I’ve been in this therapy and had an MPD diagnosis confirmed by Dr. Richard Kluft. I know the inside of MPD intimately.

    I would expect psychotherapists to be interested in what the archives of this case present especially since you support the diagnosis. I am disappointed at how many therapists are uninterested. Regards.

  2. Thanks for your feedback. Having read your comment, I now realize that one particular statement I wrote may sound misleading:
    “Do an online search for DID and you’ll find many up-to-date books that can serve to offset any indications, however shocking and upsetting, that this one particular patient/therapist/writer team may have fabricated multiplicity.”
    I didn’t mean to say that Nathan’s account of Sybil’s story may not be accurate in exposing one fabricated case. What I meant to say was that I still believe there are many others who do experience DID.

  3. Thank you to the professionals who believe patients brave enough to expose their truths. My child had started cutting at age 12. The cutting was extreme. Many trips to ER and even inpatient hospitalization a few times. My child now 13 claimed to hear voices, headaches, etc…. I started a journal of research for myself to keep track of all mental illness signs to better help doctors when asked questions. Never did I pay attention to DID. It was way crazy to me. My child just had a three hour conversation with me a night ago in another personality. My child for the first time ever was able to express issues causing him pain. This other personality was calm and could actually take criticism , and never once got angry. The personality had a different accent. My child has such high anxiety that even the smallest comment from me would have set him off. I am a believer now in something that sounded so make believe just a week ago. I was thinking my son might eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia or something else just due to the obvious of his mental illness battle. DID is very real.

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