Iatrogenesis – Sybil Exposed

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There is a body of psychiatrists who believe that DID is actually manufactured, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by the therapist. This phenomenon, known as iatrogenesis, sheds considerable doubt upon the existence of DID. It is speculated that some very famous cases of MPD/DID have been created by therapists. Debbie Nathan’s work, Sybil Exposed, explored the likelihood that Shirley Ardell Mason’s psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, had induced false memories in Mason in order to create a best-selling “non-fiction” about multiple personality disorder, as it was then known.

Shirley Ardell Mason (Sybil)
Sally Fields made Mason (Sybil) a household name when she starred in the 1978 mini-series “Sybil.” Her portrayal of the many different alters that supposedly shared one body, as well as the supposedly non-fiction publication entitled “Sybil” became the “bible” for people who believed they suffered from MPD. Fields displayed a range of colorful characters including an infant, a child whose role was to accept physical and sexual abuse, a religious alter, an alter who replaced Sybil’s grandmother upon her death and numerous others. Patients who believed they possessed MPD diligently mimicked Fields and displayed extremely unique alters.

Dr Connie Wilbur, Mason’s psychiatrist has been accused of manufacturing not only Mason’s personas, but also her childhood trauma at her mother’s hands. Wilbur informed Mason she had no interest in treating Mason unless she possessed the disorder. Accordingly Mason informed the good doctor she did indeed possess several personalities, all of which were the result of childhood abuse.

Debbie Nathan, author of Sybil Exposed, strongly believes Wilbur and Mason invented the account, although their motives were very different: Sybil wished to retain Wilbur’s services and Wilbur was on a shirleyquest to become the first recognized American psychiatrist in psychiatric publications to treat a full-blown multiple. Wilbur encouraged her client to read about MPD. Moreover, Wilbur fed Mason with drugs that were prescribed for women during that era: tranquilizers for the sexually frustrated housewife. Dexenol, also known as speed, was another common prescribed medication.Wilbur used the drugs so Mason could “remember” her childhood trauma.

Flora Schreiber, the author of Sybil, had her own agenda. She was previously published with a number of non-fiction and fictions works but she hadn’t experienced financial success. Schreiber was in need of a literary breakthrough, one that would put her name on the map and earn her an income. It has been documented that Schreiber was unhappy about editing the book. She doubted Wilbur’s motives. At times Schreiber advised Wilbur that embellishing Mason’s childhood and changing stories wasn’t ethical. Wilbur’s response was that she would replace Shreiber if she refused to edit the account. Schreiber felt she had no choice but to acquiesce.

Wilbur went so far as to administer ECT, electro-convulsive therapy on Mason. Added to this, Wilbur gave Mason pentathol, an old drug from WWII that was used to help soldiers recover from shell-shock. At the time it was believed that pentathol was a type of truth serum that forced people to tell the truth but in reality the drug enables the user to experience fanasies.

Around this time Wilbur adopted the role of mother to Mason: she paid her rent, bought her clothes and made it clear she disliked Mattie Mason, Sybil’s maligned mother. Mason’s writings included a passage that stated: I idealize and idolize you. I believe whatever you say must be right. Wilbur and Mason decided to write a non-fiction book about Mason’s experiences. The author, Flora Schreiber suggested the book would be more interesting if the multitude of child alters Mason possessed were adults, so many child alters became adults in the book.

The Women’s Movement
In the 1970s, the women’s movement was at its peak. Many women wrote to Schreiber stating they had also experienced sexual and emotional abuse as children. Most women stated it was males in their histories, not a puzzling fact, considering the backlash against the predominantly patriarchal society. The diagnosis of MPD sky-rockted. women with eating disorders or anxiety disorders were now diagnosed as multiples. The ridiculous phenomenon of supposed Satanic cults abusing children became popular. In particular daycare centres became popular targets and innocent daycare workers spent time in jail for crimes they had never committed. This type of phenomenon is the result of what Nathan calls “junk science.”

Satanic Cults and Child Abuse
Finally too many women accused their elderly parents of Satanic abuse and the social tides began to turn away from the unlikely accusations. Along with the cynicism towards Satanic cults came a healthy skepticism toward the plethora of MPD diagnoses. The condition is still included in the DSM-5 but it is now listed as DID. The significant difference between the two is the belief that DID isn’t comprised of alters but rather the client is a victim of iatrogonesis who needs to be taught healthy ways to handle stress and trauma rather than relying upon the false belief that alters are needed to perform this function..The client isn’t a fake; rather is the result of unhealthy hypnosis. Quite like what happened to Shirley Ardell Mason.

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Sexual Abuse and DID – Judith Machree

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Many therapists believe that extreme sexual abuse is the cause of DID in children and teenagers. There may be some truth to this judiththeory but many psychiatrists are skeptical about this claim. There is no scientific proof that sex abuse causes DID. There are no longitudinal studies on DID that could answer many questions about this profound disorder, including its causes. Reliving memories and experiencing the emotional responses, known as abreaction, doesn’t seem to heal the patient. This would suggest that sexual abuse may not be the cause since the therapeutic procedure isn’t healing the patient’s memories or history. Without a cure, it is very difficult to pinpoint the cause.

Author Judith Machree,(pictured left), herself an alleged former multiple and victim of childhood sexual abuse, claims otherwise. She cites a number of examples that alerted her to the fact that she was a multiple. These are some examples:

  1. After Machree married a supportive man she claims kept her on “an even keel”, she became more aware of her confusion and breaks with reality. She offers an odd example “I could park my car and go into the mall and not be able to find my car at all. I had no idea where I parked it.” If that’s a legitimate example of DID then I might have reason to worry: I forget where I have parked my car on a regular basis. I have spent up to a minute or two searching for it. I don’t see that as a sign of trauma.
  2. Machree cited a major depressive episode she had after her 17-year-old son left to join the military as a symptom of her DID. I doubt that claim. Many people have major depressive episodes, including when a family member leaves for an extended time period. It seems extreme, but as Machree explained, she was very close to her son and was quite dependent on him.
  3.  Her therapist suspected she had been abused because she had several gaps in her memory about her father. I don’t know what she refers to as gaps. Does this mean she cannot remember years of interacting with her parent? Neither can most people. I have a general idea of my relationship with my parents over the years and some specific memories associated with them, but I certainly cannot recall in detail most of my interactions with them.
  4.  As with most DID stories, Machree claims “the things that happened to me happened at such an early age.” Actually, those who believe in the phenomenon of DID claim that DID can occur at all ages in life, from early childhood to adulthood. Some people even claim that DID can be inherited. Ergo, children may be born with the disorder and it isn’t the result of childhood trauma.

Was Machree a victim of childhood sexual abuse? Who knows? Many women are, so that is entirely possible. Did she develop the extremely rare phenomenon known as dissociative identity disorder as a result? I find that hard to believe. Her story is so familiar it is practically an echo of all the published documentation of people’s experiences with DID. I have only read about one woman who claimed she was born with the condition. I have not read yet about people who developed DID in their teen years or in adulthood but this development is now identified in the DSM-5. Now that this information has been published, I expect that many people will suddenly come forward with stories of developing DID in their teens and later years. Trends often develop from suggestions about various disorders that are published in psychiatric manuals and journals.