Sybil Exposed

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The name Sybil brings to mind the 1973 nonfiction book and the TV movie based on it, about a woman named with 16 different personalities. The story became both a pop phenomenon and a revolutionary force in the psychotherapy industry, and now journalist Debbie Nathan looks at the true story behind it. In Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, she reveals how three women created what may have been an elaborate fraud.


Debbie Nathan

Comments [31]

Johan Daniszewski from London

Predictable illustration of the vicious character assassination of Debbie Nathan rolled out by fanatical believers in MPD towards anyone who, even cursorily, challenges their prognosis. Aren't they nasty?

People who question MPD/DID are immediately inferred to be child abusers with a hidden agenda in an attempt to discredit any in-depth look at the busted-flush which is recovered memory therapy.

In the touchy-feely world of post-rad-feminist 21st century therapy MPD can provide excuses for the tragic lives of those hundreds of thousands of women misfits whose immaturity always made relations difficult and who basically didn't try hard enough when they were younger. In the old days they use to hysterectimise them to stop their carping, now the 'you-are-not-at-fault' therapy industry, cultivates their hysteria and invents a couple of dozen 'identities' to take the blame for their mis-spent lives.

Those women with many regrets about life can hide their prior mistakes of judgement behind a victimhood specially tailored to obviate them from responsibility for their own actions, project the cause of the sum total of their life on one imagined instance of sexual abuse; and be welcomed into a sea of cloying oozing therapy-dependent- sypmathy which, under the pretence of 'treatment' robs them of their own volition to actually change the course of their life for the better. It's a form of religious conversion creating emotional dependency, that is all.

The absurdity of recovering traumatic memories which have supposedly been sublimated because of their emotional impact is clearly seen as preposterous when compared with those, say, who suffered in Nazi concentration camps who are tortured by NOT being able to forget the minutest detail of their trauma which in horror far outweigh those of the 'i was abused when a child' variety.

It is ironic that those who try to bully Debbie Nathan on this page fail to realise that a belief in MPD/DID is actually a curse on their lives which robs them of any chance of joining healthy mainstream society again. Thus their lives are destroyed by their own emotional stupidity because that is what brought them to this impasse in the first place. They instead aught to thank Nathan for her lifetime committment to the truth which might in some way avoid others from treading the false path to the imaginery world of MPD as they did.

Sep. 14 2014 04:16 AM
Harriet F. from Brooklyn, NY

The concern is that this book was written as an attack on the existence of DID as trauma based. The author herself has called DID a "cultural construct." Evidence shows it is created by severe, repeated abuse and exists in many parts of the world.

Nathan has written about ritual abuse, so this is connected. The FBI never stated they found no evidence. A member of the FBI wrote a paper on this topic based largely on conjecture, and originally stated he did not interview any victims of ritual abuse. Other law enforcement agencies have found evidence of these crimes. The recent Batley - Kidwelly case is an example of this. But there are many others.

Psychiatrists familiar with the actual research around DID or those that have directly worked with DID sufferers know that DID is not "induced by therapy." There are no studies showing that it is possible to induce DID and its symptoms in therapeutic treatment.

Research has shown that DID is not rare. Dissociative disorders have a prevalence rate of 10% in the general population. DID has a prevalence rates of .01 to 1% in the general population in varying studies.

Dec. 26 2011 02:41 AM
Jim Grossmann from Lacey, WA

The existence of DID doesn't militate against the possibility that the "Sybil" story was fraudulent. A mental disorder doesn't have to be non-existent to be faked or induced by a therapist.

Nathan's book isn't about the alleged pandemic of Satanic Ritual abuse, for which the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have found no evidence.

Modern psychiatrists generally fall into two camps when it comes to DID: they either think it's iatrogenic (i.e. induced by therapy), or extremely rare. The idea, popular in the '80's, that DID is widespread has no empirical basis.

Questioning the prevalence of DID is not the same as questioning the prevalence of child abuse, the latter being widespread.

If you don't believe the above statements, please research them.

--Jim G.

Nov. 24 2011 01:00 AM
Multiple53 from Texas

I "woke up" in the middle of a busy street with a car screeching to a halt and inches from hitting me. When my doctor told me I was DID I called him a liar. Then he showed me the things I did and were happening to me in the DSMV V. I was in denial for a long time. But I kept "waking up" in places, cities, beds and having no idea how I got there or what I was doing there. I have one alter that can see 20/20 and I have worn glasses for 38 years. Another cannot see out of her left eye and doesn't hear too well. I have lived through some very harrowing times because of my 12 alters. I suffered severe long term abuse growing up. I am a college graduate in Mathematics and Physics. This condition ended my career in science. But I have learned my alters protected me and helped me to stay alive. I am grateful for them. They took my pain and allowed me to remain sane.

Nov. 16 2011 06:03 PM
Jeremy D.

How can we be sure that the book "Sybil Exposed" is accurate? Readers are finding factual errors in the book. The book's conclusions are not backed up by all of the factual evidence in the Sybil story.
The book leaves out much of the research on MPD, including that showing it is created by severe trauma and is found worldwide. In the original Sybil book, Sybil's father verified the abuse.

Nov. 11 2011 01:18 AM

Please explain how any of "Sybil" could be remotely true if there is absolutely no proof or corroboration of the child abuse or any of the conduct in which the girl's mother is supposed to have engaged.

Nov. 03 2011 04:36 PM
Petrea from West Coast

some of us have multiple personalities and find Ms Nathan's work objectionable. We are a college graduate, have read the book Sybil, and are convinced it is true. Many of Sybil's experiences overlap our own.
We did not choose to become multiple nor did any therapist make us this way.

Oct. 25 2011 04:58 PM
kathryn johnson

one of the points made in the book Sybil is that multiple personalities were an established, if rare, illness.
The illness has been found to be much less rare since the publication of Sybil and it is a difficult psychiatric condition to treat.
It has been established since prior to the early 1950's when Sybil was written.
Nathan is attempting to undo the work of many psychologists and psychiatrists and discredit many people with an established illness by writing this.
People do not get this illness for personal gain, nor do therapists "put" memories into people who come to them.

Oct. 25 2011 04:25 PM
Sybil and MPD

Sybil and MPD

Accuracy of Debbie Nathan 's Sybil book questioned.

Evidence original Sybil book is true.

Oct. 23 2011 03:57 AM
Sybil and MPD

Sybil and MPD

Accuracy of Debbie Nathan 's Sybil book questioned.

Evidence original Sybil book is true.

Oct. 23 2011 03:56 AM

hmm, really? And.....

Oct. 22 2011 10:52 PM

The fraud is admitted in the correspondence of Schreiber, Wilbur and Mason. Nathan has compiled an enormous amount of additional information corroborating their confessions. The discussion focus on how to be more skeptical of such hoaxes in the future, rather than debating over facts which are not even remotely disputed.

Oct. 22 2011 10:12 PM

Yes! Exactly, it is not unusual for someone with DID to deny their multiplicity or even to believe that they are not multiple throughout their treatment. Mason did state that the book was accurate. Sybil's story was real - I have no doubt.

Oct. 20 2011 11:38 PM
Helen G. from Bronx, NY

The question is, did Nathan accurately use the library notes, or does she have an agenda?

From her past articles (like the one in Playboy) and books, it appears she does have an agenda.

If Sybil once denied she had MPD during treatment, but then later repeatedly stated she had MPD, it is a misrepresentation to state that the entire story is a fake?

Her having MPD was later confirmed by several experts. Sybil herself stated later in life that the entire book was accurate.

This would lead one to believe that Nathan's book is not accurate. Sybil's story was real.

Oct. 20 2011 11:31 PM

Does this affect the Golden Globe the movie won?

Oct. 20 2011 09:17 PM

I got the book and was a bit disappointed.
I was hoping she would have something new to bring to the table. She hadn't.

The first half was a bit of a reminder of the original book and mostly boring. I thought she would tie it all together in the end but it felt like she just kept rambling on and on jumping all over the place.

I still remember bits and pieces of the old book and felt she ignored a bit too many parts of the old book.

A good excuse for me to read the old book again... ;-)

Oct. 20 2011 07:24 PM

Well.. I certainly am skeptical now? SATAN'S SILENCE? Where did that come from? Slow down a bit here - let me catch up.

A quote:

Amazon's most helpful review of Satan's Silence:

"Remarkable how much US propaganda energy is put into discrediting child abuse, and in particular, child sexual abuse. This book is a result of that campaign. Once we hear about a child talking about strange events with, say, masks, we go "ooh, masks! that little kid must be making stuff up! It can't be true! It's just too weird!"

Remember the oh-so-prominent teacher from Phillips Exeter Academy? The one who used a pumpkin mask when he sexually propositioned his young, retarded victims? Who would believe retarded children talking about being victimized by a pumpkin man? The perfect cover!

Luckily, someone did, and he went to jail for it.

The person who wrote this biased book would have you believe poor mr. pumpkin was the victim, not his victims.

Dead wrong. Couldn't be wrong-er. "

Guess Debbie Nathan's track record is thus far, not that great.

I do want to comment on yours' (the part that was somewhat on topic) when I get beyond just finishing reading about Satan.

*taking a break*

Oct. 20 2011 06:51 PM

Nathan claims that this book is written to show us that we should not take DID seriously and that Sybil was a hoax and just thought up by a needy therapist, patient, and writer. As I look at it, what is she going to do now, go and claim that tons of mental illnesses are a sham. That would make sense...even bi-polar disorder was hardly given as a diagnosis because nobody understood what it meant. It took years for mental health field to properly diagnosis individuals that suffered with BPD. Yet it is world wide spread now, tons of people are being diagnosed with it everyday. Well the same goes for DID. Symptoms that are associated with the disorder were not known then, but now they are. So if must, go back and attack all mental health disorders as you will find they all came about the same way.

Oct. 20 2011 06:16 PM
miriam lerner from rochester, ny

I find it interesting that some of the comments insist on using the book as proof that the book is accurate ! If you actually read the book, and also pay attention to Ms. Nathan's comments in interviews, she is not saying that MPD does not exist, or that the souls who suffer from it are not in pain and in need of treatment. She is saying that in this very dramatic and sensational situation, it was not separate personalities that emerged without provocation from an outside source. Does this mean that a person who says they have many personalities are not experiencing a schism of some sort ? No. Does it mean that it isn't helpful to plumb the depths of whatever this person is disclosing, under the guise of another person or as themselves ? No. If you talk to a person who believes in reincarnation and truly thinks that they have lived several lives and then they undergo hypnosis and attempt to recreate those past lives and personalities, you may or may not "buy" it, but it is still illuminating to find out whatever the person will say, regardless of where those " manifestations' come from. It could still be a therapeutic tool, and it wouldn't really matter if you thought they had really been Cleopatra or John the Baptist in a previous life. The problem with the Sybil story, and I believe this is what the author is getting at, is not that there was unethical behavior occurring between a psychiatrist and patient, that an intelligent yet vulnerable and sick woman was being "groomed" as a star patient, and that a journalist with a sensationalist agenda got hold of the story and embellished it at great length.
To say everything in the book is true just because one thinks it endangers the dx of MDP ( DID) is to denigrate those who might truly be suffering from symptoms that have NOT been elicited by a therapist. Have you looked at Nathan's previous work, including SATAN'S SILENCE about the witch-hunt trials during the 80's and 90's that tried and often convicted innocent child care workers of ritual sex abuse of children ? If you read the transcripts of how the children were coerced and influenced by those who interviewed them, you would realize how easily it is to find a story in a mere kernel of a phrase.
One must be skeptical....

Oct. 20 2011 05:59 PM

Perhaps, we 'have' read both this book and the original 'Sybil' (a good idea for everyone). I think she made it clear DID is in the DSMIV. She is awar.

We have to remember when reading Nathan's book that child protective laws were nil during that time. Children were considered chattel. Children and/or adult survivors didn't dare report child abuse to anyone. They were either punished or called liars. The idea that a person could 'tell' someone, especially privately, was brought to life in 'Sybil'. Dr. Wilbur listened and believed. It wasn't just therapists who were suddenly hearing stories of child abuse. Friends I had known my whole life read the book and told me their 'secrets'. They had been being sexually abused. It 'was' a social epidemic - the silence was broken. And child protective laws were finally being made.

Nathan would like us to believe that three woman 'created' a story that would catch public attention. That 'woman' ran to therapists with stories of abuse looking for attention - therapists 'created' personalities, etc. Before falling for this tale she has woven for us, read Sybil again. More likely and based on very solid research, the story of Sybil is true, and it finally gave survivors the strength to tell someone. Child abuse was rampant during that time, DID is a valid diagnosis caused by early childhood trauma, and therapists were doing what they could to help those who were coming forward.

She misstates many of the facts right out of 'Sybil', especially about the medication. It is well-know that Dr. Wilbur did not act unethically. Nathan is not qualified in the area of psychology, but makes assumption based on thin air.

Several years later, I studied the book 'Sybil' in more detail during my graduate studies in psychology. There is so very much 'valid' and documented research out there that makes Nathan's 'interviews', book citations, etc. laughable.

Good reading? No - boring - mostly. The only interest I had was wondering why 'she', or anyone would want to scandalize a piece of work that stands solidly on its own merit - a book that showed survivors that there are people out there who care, and that there is help available. The message is still in the book 'Sybil'. Yes, middle school children will read and know that they 'can' tell and someone will listen. It is okay. I think I will buy 3 more copies of 'Sybil'.

Oct. 20 2011 01:02 PM
kgurski from Chicago, IL

Many of the comments here seem to be quite harshly attacking Ms. Nathan and a perception that she is discounting any and all diagnoses of MPD or DID. Perhaps if these listeners read and critique the book, they will have a better comprehension of what Ms. Nathan is saying.

Oct. 20 2011 12:49 PM
Rebecca W. from Jersey City, NJ

The biggest problem with this interview is that it is apparent that neither person knows very much about MPD or trauma. No evidence is given for Nathan's beliefs and no questions are asked to challenge her beliefs.

It is like asking an auto mechanic about brain surgery. Yet, many people will believe Nathan, even though she appears to lack any real expertise to talk about the subject. She appears to have an agenda to discredit Wilbur. Little if anything is mentioned about Mason's symptomatic improvement over the years.

Curiously, Nathan talks about "Sybil" being a business, yet according to Nathan, Mason and Schreiber both died broke.

Hopefully, the true story about Sybil will come out someday and not an agenda driven one.

Oct. 19 2011 10:36 PM

Unfortunatley, Lopate tossed softball questions at Nathan. Had he done some homework, we all might have learned something from this interview.

Oct. 19 2011 09:49 PM

Nathan states her purpose for writing this book - she always wanted to go into archive - 'it would be fun'. But her career interest was..ritual and child abuse in day-cares? repressed memories. even multiple personalities?

She rambles through a kind of re-telling of the story of 'Sybil' - recreating characters: "Connie", "Shirley", and "Flora" -stripping them of their full names titles - discrediting them here, as she does in the book - what is the point?

As if these three women got together and decided to make a bunch of money by drugging this poor girl, hypnotizing her, making her believe she had many personalities, and then, writing this book - perfectly timing its release so the dumb women of America who were just 'finding' their way out of the kitchen and into the workplace would be enticed by the sexual stories and new found attention of therapists would buy billions of copies.

Nathan is not only unqualified but also, ignorant to make anything more than personal opinion on medical or psychological practices or diagnoses.

For a moment, she seems to show empathy toward poor Sybil, but uses the word 'believes' when it comes to DID today. And then, compares it to possession and Satanism?

I am glad that she was smart enough to acknowledge that DID is a valid diagnosis today and recognized in the DSMIV. She also mentions the ISST-D - but, not by name. So, I am assuming that she is aware of the vast amount of research backing the diagnosis.

But, Sybil (according to Nathan) did not have multiple personalities at all - but 'pernicious anemia' - surprise! Well, if you don't buy that - her true point -

People who are diagnosed with DID who report child - especially ritual type abuse are liars, encouraged by incompetent therapists and trauma hospitals - who should be sued and removed from practice. The survivor is the perpetrator and the abuser the victim - today - and in her 're-telling' of Sybil. 'We' need to stop this trend - (her passion).

Had she been asked about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which she does mention in her book, we would get a better idea, I think - of why Sybil? (A shared passion)?

Kill Sybil - kill the research, the funding, the education, the chance for people who need good mental health care.

How can we know for sure if every time we learn more about multiple personalities and how the brain processes trauma, public attention is drawn to mock those who need care? If good trauma centers are getting closed? Survivors scared or mocked - silenced and embarrassed.

Child abuse is alive and well. Survivors struggle with many symptoms including multiple personalities. Can we give them a bit of dignity? Have they not been hurt enough? They are the victims, not the perpetrators.

Does Nathan dare to step out and say there are NO child abuse survivors? What exactly is she saying?

I admit - Nathan is a great writer - she uses language well - don't believe everything you read -

Oct. 19 2011 07:15 PM
Hayden from CT

This is really tricky stuff. Childhood trauma forms the way a person engages with his/herself and the world. I cannot speak about what was ultimately true in the case of Shirley and her doctor - there may have been ways in which Shirley was unconsciously creating a persona that would allow her to feel more loved and so on, and it does sound like the lines got blurred between patient and clinician; but I am concerned that the dismissal of MPD/DID as solely some sort of group-think cultural construction is a reckless assumption. Nathan’s statement about how the distinction of multiple selves even in our everyday speak is a source of separation that generates a sort of self-deficiency is a profound insight about how we live (both male and female) with an ongoing perceived lack of wholeness. This of course, is reflected in the culture we live in, one that emphasizes brokenness. However, I fear that she underestimates the impact of early trauma and how an over activated dissociative pathway bleeds into and can dominate one’s adulthood. Whether this is full blown DID or the hyper vigilance one learns to rely on to manage feeling safe in a world in which that was at one time not true - it’s all really just places on the same spectrum. I would have liked to have heard Nathan’s compassion come through, and a recognition that Shirley was not just imaginative, but deeply wounded, and whether that was with MPD, or more of what Nathan suggests - it all indicates a human being who was deeply scarred in her childhood, and I think that in itself deserves more respect.

Oct. 19 2011 02:07 PM
CR from NJ

I felt sorry for dear Lenny during this interview. What an unpleasant woman this Debbie Nathan. Here's hoping she has a few alternate personalities herself.

Oct. 19 2011 01:44 PM

Freudian psycho "therapy" is the problem!!

It has produced and perpetuated most of the nuts in NYC!

Can anyone point to a single case of this form of therapy actually helping anyone???

Oct. 19 2011 01:26 PM
John A. from T3 line

A great book could be written today on how social networking is enabling MPD on a grand scale, with its bullies and ability to create multiple identities for a person.

Oct. 19 2011 12:19 PM

Natalie M. suggests that Nathan's book may be notable for what Nathan didn't tell us.

Nathan’s 2008 book, “Pornography,” was also notable. Maybe because of undocumented statements such as “By the late 1980s, the government was practically the only producer and distributor of child porn in the US." (p. 115).

Nathan claims there wasn't enough child porn available in the 1980s. So the federal government had to produce it to entice people to order it so they could be arrested--by federal officials.

Let's hope Nathan will agree to an interview with someone who has done their homework.

Oct. 19 2011 11:53 AM

i don't know about the veracity of sybil,per se. but, i hope that this does not become a thinly veiled attempt, to dismiss the phenomenon of multilple personality. that would be nonsensical to say the least.

Oct. 19 2011 11:07 AM
Natalie W. from New York

I hope that Ms. Nathan will be asked important questions about her research.

This book is a very one sided article and interpretation of the Sybil case. Wilbur and Mason are unfortunately no longer alive to defend themselves. Wilbur did incredible work helping Sybil. The reality is that Mason's personalties integrated.

Mason may have denied her diagnosis at times during treatment, this occurs in many mental health diagnoses.

The reality is that Mason and Wilbur were offered money, television appearances and media interviews. They never accepted any of these offers and they preserved Shirley's anonymity.

Looking at the book Sybil page 362, it is apparent that she was given Sodium Pentathol to make her feel better, like many psychiatric patients today are given medications to feel better. Once Wilbur realized that Mason was becoming addicted to it, she stopped giving her the drug. This is a quite different interpretation than Nathan gives her treatment.

If you read the book "Sybil" you will realize that Wilbur did NOT encourage Mason to take on different personas, but Mason brought this material into treatment by herself.

Several colleagues of Wilbur have verified the diagnosis that Mason had before Mason died.

The real point is that up until the day she died, Mason stated that every word in the book is true. MPD, now called DID, is a legitimate diagnosis, scientifically proven with many sufferers.

Oct. 18 2011 09:40 PM

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