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

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

Book - 2011
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Baker & Taylor
Documents the stories of the three women behind the famous multiple-personality-disorder case, contending that a large portion of the story was fabricated by a willing patient, her psychiatrist and an ambitious journalist who took advantage of a public that was psychologically primed to believe their claims. By the award-winning author of Pornography. 50,000 first printing.

& Taylor

Documents the stories of the women behind the famous multiple-personality-disorder case, contending that a large portion of the story was fabricated by a willing patient, her psychiatrist, and an ambitious journalist.

Simon and Schuster
Sybil: a name that conjures up enduring fascination for legions of obsessed fans who followed the nonfiction blockbuster from 1973 and the TV movie based on it—starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward—about a woman named Sybil with sixteen different personalities. Sybil became both a pop phenomenon and a revolutionary force in the psychotherapy industry. The book rocketed multiple personality disorder (MPD) into public consciousness and played a major role in having the diagnosis added to the psychiatric bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

But what do we really know about how Sybil came to be? In her news-breaking book Sybil Exposed, journalist Debbie Nathan gives proof that the allegedly true story was largely fabricated. The actual identity of Sybil (Shirley Mason) has been available for some years, as has the idea that the book might have been exaggerated. But in Sybil Exposed, Nathan reveals what really powered the legend: a trio of women—the willing patient, her ambitious shrink, and the imaginative journalist who spun their story into bestseller gold.

From horrendously irresponsible therapeutic practices—Sybil’s psychiatrist often brought an electroshock machine to Sybil’s apartment and climbed into bed with her while administering the treatment— to calculated business decisions (under an entity they named Sybil, Inc., the women signed a contract designating a three-way split of profits from the book and its spin-offs, including board games, tee shirts, and dolls), the story Nathan unfurls is full of over-the-top behavior. Sybil’s psychiatrist, driven by undisciplined idealism and galloping professional ambition, subjected the young woman to years of antipsychotics, psychedelics, uppers, and downers, including an untold number of injections with Pentothal, once known as “truth serum” but now widely recognized to provoke fantasies. It was during these “treatments” that Sybil produced rambling, garbled, and probably “false-memory”–based narratives of the hideous child abuse that her psychiatrist said caused her MPD. Sybil Exposed uses investigative journalism to tell a fascinating tale that reads like fiction but is fact. Nathan has followed an enormous trail of papers, records, photos, and tapes to unearth the lives and passions of these three women. The Sybil archive became available to the public only recently, and Nathan examined all of it and provides proof that the story was an elaborate fraud—albeit one that the perpetrators may have half-believed.

Before Sybil was published, there had been fewer than 200 known cases of MPD; within just a few years after, more than 40,000 people would be diagnosed with it. Set across the twentieth century and rooted in a time when few professional roles were available to women, this is a story of corrosive sexism, unchecked ambition, and shaky theories of psychoanalysis exuberantly and drastically practiced. It is the story of how one modest young woman’s life turned psychiatry on its head and radically changed the course of therapy, and our culture, as well.

Publisher: New York : Free Press, 2011
Edition: 1st Free Press hardcover ed
ISBN: 9781439168271
Branch Call Number: B SYBIL
Characteristics: 297 p
Alternative Title: Exposing Sybil


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Dec 30, 2016

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive!” wrote Walter Scott. Ms. Nathan exposes a very tangled web indeed. ‘Sybil Exposed’ is a meticulously researched and well written book; a stern warning against naiveté and gullibility. How easy it is to believe even the wildest of tales when one WANTS to believe it!
The book’s +/- 600 references back up the author’s assertion of duplicity of everyone involved in the book’s creation. One issue not definitively clear is whether the ‘Sybil’ fraud was premeditated or calculated or whether Shirley, Connie, Flora, et. al. just got caught up in the thing. Maybe, like Topsy, the deception just ‘grow’d’. A first lie generates a second and together they spawn an infestation. “Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” said Dorothy Allison. If true, how did SO many accept the veracity of ‘Sybil’ SO completely for SO long? If the consequences were not so serious the whole affair would be laughable.

KarenE61 Apr 16, 2015

This book is a must for anyone who has ever read "Sybil."

kishkat54 Nov 13, 2014

This is a must read if you believe Sybil as fact. Nathan's research shows us how it all came about. Fascinating book. I recommend it to anyone interested in psychology.

Jun 09, 2014

I always was suspicious of the story of "Sybil", and this book exposes the fraud completely. Basically, the psychiatrist, the patient and the author of the book were liars. Connie Wilbur (the psychiatrist) seemed to be a particularly sadistic women to boot. It's scary what is done in the name of that pseudo-science. The doctors have absolute control over their patients and don't have any idea what they are doing. Great book!

wplclaire May 15, 2012

The last paragraph of the book sums it up neatly: "Psychotheray can do enormous good when it is cautious about delving into the mind, skeptical of anyone offering definitve answers, wary of the overly confident, critical about the political and social milieu in which it operates, and accepting of the enormity of what we do not know. When healers and the public ignore these tenets, however, what emerges--on the couch and in the culture--can be as powerful yet pernicious as Sybil exposed."

Nov 04, 2011

This book exposes the falsehoods behind the famous book "Sybil" and the subsequent movie with Sally Fields. The diagnosis of multiple personality disorder is now considered unreliable but at one point in its popularity, tens of thousands of people (mainly women) were given this diagnosis. The psychiatrist involved in the "Sybil" case was instrumental in the popularization of multiple personality disorder.

The author of this new book proves that the patient was prompted by her psychiatrist, by hypnosis, and the use of drugs to come up with the bizarre abuse fantasies that she presented to her psychiatrist to keep her psychiatrist interested. The psychiatrist was grossly unethical and encouraged an attachment from the patient that led to an incredible dependency lasting the rest of their lives, off and on. The psychiatrist visited the patient at home, loaned her money, went on vacations with her, sold her artwork, etc. Not to mention making money off the very frequent sessions over the many years of therapy.

The patient tries at one point to come clean and admits in a letter that she lied about the multiple personalities because that was the psychiatrist's special interest but the psychiatrist would have none of it; she considered the confession letter to be evidence of resistance and denial.

There's also information about how the author of the book changed things to make the book more sensationalistic so it would sell better. It's all a very sad story about the greed for money and fame.

arllynh Nov 02, 2011

It might be too thin a story to hang an entire book on, but Debbie Nathan's graceful handling of the material makes it an enjoyable, if occasionally monotonous, read.


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