Monday, October 17, 2011

Good intentions and evil results

Before the publication of Sybil [1973] fewer than one hundred cases of multiple personality had been diagnosed in the history of Western medicine. The book's publication, a review at the New York Post notes, had considerable consequence:
Soon, “multiple personality disorder,” or MPD, became an officially recognized diagnosis, and a handful of cases exploded into 40,000 reported sufferers, nearly all of them female. The repressed-memory industry was born. Only in the last decade or so has the psychiatric profession begun to question the validity of Sybilmania.
Along with the diagnosis came accusations of abuse by family members and others—sometimes leading to convictions and prison time—that supposedly led to the creation of alternative personalities ["alters"] created to dissociate from those horrible [and false] memories.

Laura Miller reviews Sybil Exposed about the book Sybil here in “Sybil Exposed: Memory, lies and therapy." "Sybil" was really a woman named Shirley Ardell Mason and her therapist was Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. Sybil was by Flora Rheta Schreiber. From the review:
.... Mason did at one point attempt to jump off Wilbur’s train, writing her doctor a long letter confessing that all the multiple-personality stuff — the lost time, the named “alters” and the grotesque tortures supposedly inflicted on Mason as a child by her supposedly psychotic mother — had all been made up. Wilbur briskly dismissed this as a “major defensive maneuver” designed to derail the “hard work” of therapy lying ahead. The pitiably vulnerable Mason soon caved. ....

Mason, like so many patients diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (now rechristened “dissociative identity disorder,” in part to shake the bad rep of MPD), improved markedly under certain conditions — namely, the absence of her therapist. For several years after her therapy concluded, she lived happily as an art teacher at a community college, even owning her own house. But the publication of Sybil destroyed that life; Schreiber, who had invented so much of her biography, had so thinly disguised other details that many acquaintances recognized her. Too self-conscious to endure this exposure, Mason fled back to Wilbur and lived out the rest of her life as a sort of beloved retainer, cooking her doctor breakfast and dinner every day and nursing her on her deathbed.

Wilbur, on the other hand, thrived, presiding over the explosion of MPD diagnoses as one of the foremost experts on the condition. She played a key role in promoting the belief that conspiracies of fiendish, sadistic adults were secretly perpetrating murder, child rape and mutilation, human sacrifice, and cannibalism across the country and that repressed memories of such atrocities lay at the root of most MPDs. Innocent people were convicted of these crimes on the basis of testimony elicited from highly suggestible small children and hypnotized adults. Families were sundered by therapists who convinced their patients that they’d suffered similar ordeals despite having no conscious memory of it. .... [more]
Revised at 5:00 pm to include the quotation from the New York Post.

“Sybil Exposed”: Memory, lies and therapy - Salon.com, Multiple-personality drama “Sybil” was a fraud, says new book - NYPOST.com