Is Multiple Personality Disorder Real? One woman's storyWatch the video See the video and lesson plan
TEXT ON SCREEN: November 14, 1976
ARCHIVAL (SYBIL TV MOVE, 11-14-76):
SALLY FIELD: Dr. Wilbur it’s getting worse… who does those drawings?
JOANNE WOODWARD: You do – but you do them as other people, do you understand? You do them as other parts of yourself who are still children.
SALLY FIELD: No, I don’t.
JOANNE WOODWARD: It’s true…
NARRATION: In 1976 millions of Americans watched “Sybil” – a TV movie based on a blockbuster book of the same name.
CHRISTOPHER BARDEN (ATTORNEY, REPRESENTED MPD PATIENTS): Sybil really introduced the country to the notion that someone could have multiple personalities.
NARRATION: Said to have 16 distinct personalities, “Sybil” had a story that was emotional and terrifying.
ARCHIVAL (SYBIL TV MOVE, 11-14-76):
SALLY FIELD: That’s…me?
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):
MAN: How did you figure out that you had this multiple personality disorder?
NARRATION: So, how did a rarely diagnosed psychological disorder turn into a cultural phenomenon?
DR. DAVID SPIEGEL (PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, STANFORD UNIVERSITY): Sometimes the media is the brilliant hysteric in the mix and that can be the problem.
SYBIL: A BRILLIANT HYSTERIC?
NARRATION: In the early 1950’s two doctors stunned the public with a patient they called “Eve.” Eve was a housewife from Georgia who appeared to have three distinct personalities.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, PRIME TIME, 8-19-98):
DOCTOR: Can I speak with Eve Black now?
CHRIS SIZEMORE’S EVE WHITE PERSONALITY: Sure.
DOCTOR: Eve Black?
CHRIS SIZEMORE’S EVE BLACK PERSONALITY: I feel good.
DEBBIE NATHAN (AUTHOR OF “SYBIL EXPOSED”): No psychiatrist in the United States in 1954 was unaware of this case.
NARRATION: Including Dr. Cornelia Wilbur…and a patient she was treating in the fall of 1954 – named Shirley Mason who would later become known as Sybil.
At the time, Mason was a graduate student living in New York. But she had severe emotional problems that had long seemed to be taking over her life. Dr. David Spiegel’s father would see Mason when Dr. Wilbur was on vacation.
DR. DAVID SPIEGEL: What we know is there was something seriously wrong. She didn’t have a normal life despite being so intelligent.
NARRATION: Mason had met Dr. Wilbur nine years earlier in Omaha, Nebraska. Even then, Dr. Wilbur had been interested in multiple personality disorder.
DEBBIE NATHAN: And she even recommended that Shirley read a classic book about Multiple Personality
NARRATION: Then, several months after their therapy began in New York, Mason arrived at Wilbur’s office acting different.
DEBBIE NATHAN: She came in seeming very little girl-ish. And she said something like, “Hi. I’m Peggy.
NARRATION: To explore this further, Wilbur began an aggressive treatment similar to one she had used as a young psychiatrist. Back then, she would delve into the unconscious mind by injecting mentally ill patients with hypnotic drugs or so called truth serums.
Now she used this technique on Mason.
ARCHIVAL (AUDIO, WILBUR/MASON TAPES, JANUARY 1959):
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: Now you look at me, and you begin to get sleepy. One… Two… Three… And you may go to sleep…Something happened last night at ten minutes after ten… What happened?
SHIRLEY MASON: She dialed…
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: Who is she?
SHIRLEY MASON: That, that other girl.
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: What’s her name? You know it.
SHIRLEY MASON: I don’t know her name.
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: Yes, dear, you do.
SHIRLEY MASON: No, Doctor. I don’t know her name. I don’t see her very many times…
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: And, what did she say?
SHIRLEY MASON: She talked to me.
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: And what did she talk about?SHIRLEY MASON: I feel sick.
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: It’s all right, sweetie… What’s your name?
SHIRLEY MASON: I’m Shirley.
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: She said her name was Shirley… How old are you? Hmm?
SHIRLEY MASON: Eleven…
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: So there are two Shirleys? The eleven-year-old Shirley and the grown-up Shirley? Right?…What stopped you from growing up sweetie?…Sweetie, Sweetie…
NARRATION: Dr. Wilbur ultimately identified 16 distinct personalities.
DEBBIE NATHAN: There was a little girl who called herself “The Grandmother.” She had a little boy personality named Mike. There was Vicky. And she had another one named Peggy Ann.
NARRATION: And Wilbur had a strong suspicion about what caused Mason’s other selves.
DEBBIE NATHAN: Dr. Wilbur was looking for trauma. She had this idea that something terrible had made Shirley split. She didn’t really know what it was. So, Shirley would be questioned pretty ruthlessly about things that her mother might have done to her, with a lot of specific suggestions by Dr. Wilbur. What she quote, unquote remembered was her mother tying her up, sticking implements up her genitals…all kinds of really terrible things.
NARRATION: Rather than publishing her findings in a scientific journal, Dr. Wilbur approached a journalist friend, Flora Schreiber about the possibility of writing a mass-market book. She agreed, but only if Mason’s personalities had merged. Three years later, Schreiber got a call from Shirley Mason.
DEBBIE NATHAN: She’s had some sort of a fit. She fell down writhing and then jumped up and jumped all over the place. And after that she was integrated. That’s the way it was described by Flora Schreiber. She was integrated.
NARRATION: Their book, “Sybil,” sold more than 6 million copies.
ARCHIVAL (SYBIL TV MOVE, 11-14-76):
SALLY FIELD: Will you call me sweetie?
NARRATION: And the TV movie that followed was a smash hit…turning the story into a sensation.
ARCHIVAL (THE DICK CAVETT SHOW, 5-16-73):
DICK CAVETT: My next two guests have an amazing and frightening story. Will you welcome please, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur and Professor Flora Schreiber. This is just one of the most fascinating cases I guess that’s ever happened in, uh, psychiatric history. Do you have a feeling that there are a lot more of them that never come to light?
CORNELIA WILBUR: Yes, I do, the doctors don’t recognize it.
DICK CAVETT: Has anybody suggested that this is a hoax?
FLORA SCHREIBER: Oh, we’ve had hoax breathing down our necks by various people at various stages of this project. Actually, it isn’t a hoax. Tragically, it isn’t a hoax. It would be much better for Sybil, and possibly for all of us, if it were, because this was dreadful to bear. This is true. It doesn’t sound plausible. It doesn’t sound possible, but true it is.
NARRATION: Before Sybil Multiple Personality Disorder was so rare that only a hundred cases had ever been reported in the medical literature. Less than a decade later in 1980, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized the disorder. And the number of patients diagnosed rose into the thousands.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, 48 HOURS, 2-27-91):
MARSHA: Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha.
DOCTOR: Are you with me?
MARSHA: Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha. No!
ERIN MORIARITY: You really believe these are all distinct personalities … different?
DOCTOR: Oh … without a doubt. You could see it.
ARCHIVAL (THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW):
JERRY SPRINGER: Today we’re talking to people who have been diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder. I’d like you to meet Kim. She says she has at least 15 different personalities in her body.
LEEZA GIBBONS: Today, we’ll meet Ray Lynn. A woman raising four kids while struggling with over 300 personalities inside her mind.
CHRISTOPHER BARDEN: After the public fascination with this, entire hospital units were turned into treatment centers for Multiple Personality Disorder.
NARRATION: Dr. Wilbur too would open her own treatment center.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, EYEWITNESS NEWS, 1980):
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: Let’s talk to Susie. You can begin to grow up.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 20/20, 1981):
DR. CORNELIA WILBUR: These personalities are all perfectly whole, but they’re totally separate people.
JEANETTE BARTHA: I came in for depression, and I left with Multiple Personalities.
NARRATION: In the 1980S, 29 year old, Jeanette Bartha, who had suffered for years with clinical depression, was also diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder by her psychiatrist.
JEANETTE BARTHA: It was probably our first or second session. He asked me who he was talking to and I said, “I just feel like a boy.” I was wearing a boys’ shirt and his response was, “Who am I talking to, what’s your name?” And it was very confusing and I didn’t know what he meant, he just kept saying, “What’s your name, who am I talking to?” So, I gave him the first name that popped into my mind and I said Danny.
NARRATION: Her psychiatrist conducted therapy sessions under hypnotic drugs. Over time, Bartha says she came to believe that she not only had multiple personalities, but that it stemmed from her parents abusing her as members of a satanic cult.
ARCHIVAL (JEANETTER BARTHA COLLECTION OF THERAPY TAPES):
THERAPIST: Was that when you were inducted into the cult?
JEANETTE BARTHA: Yeah, sounds good…
JEANETTE BARTHA: And I would get horribly upset. Thinking that your parents horrifically, you know, abused you is—was very, very difficult. And I’d take more-more medication in order to cope with that.
NARRATION: Bartha would spend six years in and out of mental hospitals. Then, as she started exercising and cutting back on her medication, she says she had a revelation.
JEANETTE BARTHA: All of the sudden, I said, “Oh my God. Wait a minute. This, this didn’t happen. ” I just sunk to the floor, and I said, “What happened, what did I do?
NARRATION: Bartha wasn’t the only one questioning her diagnosis and the trauma she once believed had caused it.
In the 1990’s, lawsuits were filed by other MPD patients – many who had linked their disorders to recovered memories of satanic ritual abuse – when they realized there was little evidence that such abuse had actually occurred.
DEBBIE NATHAN: Many women who went into therapy and developed what are today called “false memories” developed those around treatment for Multiple Personality Disorder.
RICHARD MCNALLY (PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY): The notion of hypnotizing people. The notion of calling them by different names to label different aspects of their personality. The notion of using Sodium Pentothal to get at repressed memories that otherwise would be utterly inaccessible to their conscious mind that has been so debunked, it’s radioactive. Even though at one time that was seen as a necessary way to promote healing.
NARRATION: Today, MPD is not an official diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Association now calls it Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID.
RICHARD MCNALLY: The MPD thing had gotten to be such a lightning rod in the field as we move into the 1990s and late 80s that it probably was better to make – give it a little more boring name perhaps.
NARRATION: Dr. David Spiegel of Stanford University who headed up the committee that pushed for the change, says that part of the reason was to clear up the public misconception that rose from the name.
DR. DAVID SPIEGEL: Multiple Personality carries with it the implication that they really have more than one personality; that’s what the name says. Dissociative Identity Disorder implies that the problem is fragmentation of identity, not that you really are 12 people; that you have not more than one but less than one personality.
NARRATION: He continues to study and treat the disorder.
DR. DAVID SPIEGEL: The way to understand it in everyday life, you know, we’re different people when we’re at a party, hopefully, than we are when we’re at work These individuals have trouble integrating those aspects.
NARRATION: But what about Shirley Mason? Dr. Spiegel remembers that his father doubted she had multiple personalities…and that was nearly 60 years ago.
DR. DAVID SPIEGEL: He referred to her as a brilliant hysteric. He felt that Dr. Wilbur tended topressure her to exaggerate on the dissociation she already had. So, she was capable of it. She was very hypnotizable.
NARRATION: Dr. Wilbur died in 1992 leaving Mason $25,000 in her will. Not long before Mason’s death six years later, she told a friend that, “every word in the book was true.”
DEBBIE NATHAN: I think it’s important to look back at Sybil because it’s important to understand which stories are true and which are false, because in some cases, like this one, they’re not just stories, they actually end up effecting law, affecting mental health, affecting political decisions. And, the stuff that sounds the most dramatic and yet the most credible at the same time, is probably the most dangerous.