Rant of the Week

You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic*: The Myth of Sybil

"On Being the Proper Multiple By Sara Lambert.  Even if you actually have the psychiatric MPD condition, it is completely unnecessary to behave like Sybil in order to be authentic or believed.  Please don't use the Sybil book or film as a role model, and please do read this article if you have or think you have MPD."  From a website on Sybil, added 2011-12-05.

More unconscious humour:  at one point, the real Sybil (Shirley Mason) wrote a letter to Dr. Wilbur insisting that she did not have multiple personalities.  Some critics have made much of the letter and Wilbur's dismissal of it.  But then again, which personality wrote the letter....  (To her credit, Dr. Wilbur published the letter in "Sybil". )

Multiple Best Seller Disorder

About 25 years ago, I read a book by Flora Rheta Schreiber called "Sybil".  It was about a woman with multiple personality disorder.  The good psychiatrist. Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, was able to identify 16 different personalities within the consciousness of one troubled young woman.    Some of the personalities knew about the other personalities; some did not.  The personalities came into being as Sybil's way of coping with dreadful abuse at the hands of her own mother.  It was an awesome book-- I was fascinated. 

The book created a sensation.  It spawned a television movie starring Sally Field, and host of television talk show episodes.  It was a big factor in the gradual popular acceptance of the idea of multiple personalities and repressed memories, both caused by child abuse, which, indirectly, led to a lot of the ideas about repressed memory syndrome and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1980's.

Some experts in the field have never accepted the idea of repressed memories, and, as more evidence emerges, many more people are beginning to have doubts.  At the very least, most professionals have become cautious about it. 

And now it looks like we should start to question the idea of multiple personalities as well:  it seems that "Sybil" is a fraud. 

First of all, a psychiatrist who worked with the real Sybil, wrote a book questioning the idea that she had multiple personalities.  Now a psychologist, after listening to the tapes of the sessions Dr. Flora Schreiber had with Sybil, has concluded that the "multiple personalities" were actually constructions by the psychiatrist to help Sybil explain why her behaviours seemed so strange to herself.  It seems that patient, doctor, and writer got carried away with the idea, and, hey, it made good television (and lots of bucks), so why not go with it?

It should be noted that Shirley Mason had read "The Three Faces of Eve", one of the first books on multiple personality disorder (or Disassociative Identity Disorder, as the DSM called it for a while) before becoming multiple personalities herself. 

Well, every time you get tempted to think we humans are pretty smart, it helps to think about something like this.  A lot of people, educated and not so educated, were completely fooled by "Sybil", and, to this day, there are a lot of psychologists out there eagerly diagnosing patients as having multiple personality syndrome or as having repressed memories, on the basis of bad science.   And, remarkably, a lot of patients who insist they are MPD-- remember-- an acronym means it's true-- which of course makes ridiculous the claim that they are.... MPD. 


*This title is borrowed from the album by Ian Hunter.

All Contents Copyright Bill Van Dyk
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