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Multiple personality disorder (MPD)

"Sybil" returns in 2008

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In mid 2008, Pamela Freyd, Executive Director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, August Piper, Jr., author of "Hoax and Reality: The Bizarre World of Multiple Personality Disorder" and Robert W. Rieber, author of "The Bifurcation of the Self" issued a news release:

On Saturday June 7, 2008 CBS will air its remake of the movie SYBIL, (based on the 1973 book with the same name) about an early, alleged case of "multiple-personality disorder" (MPD).

SYBIL was the first major book/movie to tie "MPD" to child abuse. Before SYBIL was published, there were fewer than 50 reported cases of MPD worldwide. By 1994, over 40,000 cases had been reported.

SYBIL, however, is well known to be a hoax. See, for example, "The New York Review of Books, 44(7)_, April 24, 1997, 'Sybil-The Making of a Disease: An Interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel,' by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen." 1

Dr. Spiegel (Faculty, Columbia Medical School) reported that statements from the real "Sybil" convinced him that her "memories" were the result of suggestion by Dr. Cornelia B. Wilbur. He reports that Wilbur engaged author Flora Rheta Schreiber to write "Sybil's" case for a popular audience only after professional journals refused to publish it. He refused to lend his name and credentials to co-author the work when asked to do so by Wilbur and Schreiber.

The 2006 book "The Bifurcation of the Self: The History and Theory of Dissociation and Its Disorder" (Springer) by Professor Robert Rieber (Fordham University) documents how the hoax was perpetrated. Rieber had access to the original Schreiber/Wilbur interview tapes made when Sybil was being written. We learn that the "memories were a result of prolonged hypnosis and, to quote Dr. Wilbur: "Uh, the first time we got any memories back was when I gave her Pentothal ..." (Rieber,
page 217) 2

Wilbur's treatment of Sybil required eleven years and a total of 2,254 sessions.

In a letter to Dr. Wilbur, (reprinted in Rieber page 91) Schreiber reports that she had visited "Sybil's" hometown but was unable to find anyone to corroborate the awful things that supposedly happened to "Sybil" there. Schreiber was also unable to find the "woods" where many incidents allegedly occurred.

Will the CBS remake of SYBIL include the information documenting Sybil's MPD as a hoax? Does it matter? Yes! Bitter experience shows that when the media give credence to psychological anomalies, they spread wildly.

Media coverage played a pivotal role in the dissemination of McMartin preschool copycat cases in the mid 1980's, the spread of the "Satanic Panic" and alien abduction sightings in the 1990's, and in widely held beliefs about "repressed" memories of childhood abuse.

SYBIL played a substantial role in a cultural and psychiatric tsunami, later known as the "false" or "recovered" memory debate. In spite of professional skepticism about MPD and multi-million dollar malpractice suits by former MPD patients, there is danger of unleashing another tsunami unless the truth is told.

Does anyone care? Yes! As Oprah Winfrey's recent experience over the fraudulent James Frey memoir "A Million Little Pieces" shows, the public really does care to know whether the material served them by the media is fact or fiction.

For more information: http://www.fmsfonline.org/sybil.html

References:

  1. Available from the FMS Foundation. See also http://www.nybooks.com/
  2. This book contains more than 75 pages of transcripts of conversations between Wilbur and Schreiber.

Posted by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Original posting: 2008-JUN-05
Latest update: 2009-JUL-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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