Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sybil Exposed

NPR Radio just broadcast a news program and a Science Friday episode on the new book, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case.

I posted last year that I thought that Sybil had been debunked.

The CS Monitor summarizes:
The book “Sybil” by Flora Rheta Schreiber introduced the idea of multiple personality disorder to America – but a new book is now saying that the entire case may have been fabricated.

In Debbie Nathan’s new book Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Multiple Personality Case, Nathan introduces a letter written by Shirley Mason – the real name of the girl dubbed Sybil – to her therapist Connie Wilbur.

“I am all of them,” Mason wrote of her multiple personalities in the letter presented in the book. “I have essentially been lying… as trying to show you I felt I needed help.”

Mason, who had indeed been abused as a child, Nathan writes, was prescribed multiple drugs by Wilbur, including Pentathol, which is today thought to encourage those who take it to describe experiences that never actually occurred. At the time, however, Pentathol was believed to be the equivalent of a truth serum.

Nathan says that when Mason presented herself as multiple people in one session, Wilbur suggested she become the focus of a book and in exchange, she would cover Mason’s medical school tuition and other expenses.

The two went to Schreiber, who, according to Nathan, told Mason and Wilbur that stories of abuse would interest people. Schreiber had written stories for women’s magazine stories that were billed as real-life accounts and had seen the appeal these held for the public, Nathan writes.

“Quite thrilling,” Mason wrote in her letter to Wilbur of the book. “Got me a lot of attention.”

The authenticity of the book, which was turned into a miniseries starring Sally Field as Sybil in 1976, has been debated for decades. However, because the last surviving member of the group, Mason, died in 1998, no conclusion has ever been reached. Researchers have recently been investigating multiple personality disorder to determine if it is, in fact, a true syndrome.
I always assumed that these sensationalized cases were not taken seriously by professionals. I was wrong. The profession is deeply split over this. You might say that the profession has its own split personality. Some say that the Sybil story is an embarrassing fraud, and others say that she was an extremely influential case study.

I expect that one of my readers will comment that he had a crazy wife, and that diagnostic criteria for conditions like borderline personality disorder are useful for identifying aberrant mental conditions. Maybe so. But I still think that the whole profession is so permeated with frauds and con men that it has no ability to discipline the phonies.


Anonymous said...

that's because psychology doesn't measure up because they don't understand the scientific method.

George said...

That's right. In other fields, the scientific method is used to distinguish effective treatments from quack remedies that don't work. The psychology profession cannot seem to figure out who the charlatans are.

Anonymous said...

I think it's even more fundamental than that, George, they don't even know how to design experiments and then use the proper statistical tools to analyze the data. Problem is that dealing w/human nature is so subjective and complex to begin with, then you have who are essentially D students and hacks in understanding the scientific method. Then you throw in the politics and charlatanisms et voila: a toxic disaster.

Thanks for posting this, George, it's essential people outside of science get the idea of where these guys really stand. People aren't stupid, they know baloney when they see it, just a matter of spelling out the technical details so they get the underpinnings, knowledge is power after all, much as your mechanic tells you in layman's terms what's wrong w/your fuel injection system and why you need to do X,Y or Z.

Anonymous said...

They're not Dr.s. They're not using any sort or science, or even logic. They are criminals, stealing kids, and everything else they can get their hands on.

There's nothing to restrict them. They could bring in a ouija board, charge you $30,000 for some professional to use it in making a determination. Who'd stop them, while they were laughing about it, and ordering you to pay ?

Anonymous said...

at least going to a psychic w/an ouiji board you're sure to have at least a little entertainment for a small amount of money, a psychologist using theirs is unfortunately a lot more expensive and the results catastrophic......

Jeanette said...

I think you are right on both counts: this case is a fraud & it was and remains very influential in spite of this fact.

Nonetheless, in this bloggers opinion, multiple personalities don't exist in the first place.
Jeanette Bartha