Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case

Debbie Nathan. Free Press, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-439-16827-1
Journalist Nathan (Satan’s Silence) has spent much of her career writing about child sex abuse panics and debunking “recovered memory syndromes,” in which adults—aided by over-zealous therapists—suddenly “recalled” episodes of childhood abuse. Here, she tackles one of the most famous of these cases: that of the multiple-personality sufferer known to the world as “Sybil”—the subject of the 1970s bestseller and a TV special starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward (who starred in Three Faces of Eve, an earlier film of multiple personality). In this startling exposé, she examines the records author Flora Rheta Schreiber left with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, detailing Schreiber’s research into the unusual case of the frail, troubled Shirley Mason—the real Sybil. The extensive therapy transcripts reveal that Mason’s psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, may have cued “memories” of horrific childhood abuse during marathon hypnotherapy and electroshock sessions supplemented with mind-altering drugs. Nathan traces the paths of the three women—the patient, the doctor, and the author who publicized the case—who formed “Sybil Incorporated.” Along the way, she reasons that the concept of the multiplicity of selves—and the subsequent popularity of the diagnosis—may have become the perfect idiom of distress for a generation of women who, rocked by the feminist revolution, felt confusion at their new and conflicting roles. Leveling a steady eye on her oft-sensationalized subject, Nathan serves up a tale just as shocking as the famed original. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
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