A newly released book by journalist Debbie Nathan, Sybil Exposed: The ExtraordinaryStory Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, is currently getting a lot of attention in the press, as well it should if it is accurate. It depicts 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.