Shirley A. Mason--Sybil
Bifurcation of the Self
A book by Robert Rieber
Reviewed by Mark Lawrence

This article by Mark Lawrence refutes debunking assertions by Robert Rieber about Sybil
and multiple personality.
We have read Rieber's book, and we concur with everything Dr. Lawrence says.

Dr. Lawrence writes for the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis,
and you can contact him there.

 

Note: Take Spiegel and Sybil's other detractors with a large grain of salt. We run articles which detract Sybil's authenticity simply for information; we believe she was multiple. In fact, a number of deep background sources have told us they know for a fact that she was. Don't base your view of multiples on Sybil; her case was unusual; but keep in mind that the men who wish to discredit her and Dr. Cornelia Wilbur have a control agenda.

Rieber, R. (2006). The bifurcation of the self: The history and theory of dissociation and its disorders. New York: Springer.

Reviewed by Mark Lawrence
American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, Jan 2008

Robert Rieber is a research professor of psychology at Fordham University and emeritus professor at City University of New York. Although he is not a clinical hypnotherapist, he has had a long-standing relationship with Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a prominent hypnosis researcher and clinician, whose authority he cites at a critical juncture in the book. Rieber has also published Manufacturing Social Distress, a theme which he returns to in this book.

This book has three major components: 1) a brief history of multiplicity, dissociation, and prominent cases of multiplicity; 2) a detailed review and analysis of the case of Sybil, treated by Cornelia Wilbur, M.D., and described in the book Sybil, by Flora Schreiber; and 3) an analysis of the "myth of MPD/DID" and a proposed alternate hypothesis.

Rieber is at his best with regard to the first component which is dealt with in two major sections of the book. His early history appears to be objective and comprehensive. The history of the theory of dissociation and multiplicity is primarily that of the late 18th and 19th Centuries. Although he briefly reviews several contemporary theorists with regard to MPD/DID, there is no clear movement to the discussion, and I was left unsatisfied. He also nicely summarizes 14 seminal cases of multiplicity, in addition to Sybil.

Rieber has a special interest in the case of Sybil. He presents a clear and thorough summary of the case as presented in the book and in the movie, but Rieber also has had a personal connection with both Schreiber who gave him two audiotapes of her discussions with Wilbur made during the preparation of the book and one audiotape of Sybil's therapy session with Wilbur, and with Herbert Spiegel, who had evaluated Sybil for Wilbur on several occasions. Rieber appears very eager to drop a "bomb" on the mental health community by using information from these personal connections to demonstrate that "the Sybil case ...was a conscious misrepresentation of the facts," and that Sybil was not truly a case of MPD/DID.

He points out that Schreiber failed to corroborate that Sybil was in fact abused and that Wilbur often crossed professional boundaries (not abusively) in response to her own affection for Sybil. He has a 95-page appendix, which includes transcripts of the audiotapes, in which he attempts to demonstrate deliberate fabrications of physical abuse and exposure to the "primal scene" by Schreiber and Wilbur to make the book more interesting. But my reading of this material, as David Spiegel, M.D. says in the forward to the book, is that "these questions are thoughtfully raised but not answered." In fact, from my perspective, it is Rieber who has distorted the evidence to establish his case. For example, the appendix includes a long letter which includes a short section in which Sybil refers to having written something to the effect that she had made up everything about being a multiple personality, but this was presented in her letter in the context of trying to find a way of not needing Dr. Wilbur. Rieber calls this a "letter of denial" of MPD/DID. There are many more instances in which Rieber misrepresents the material in the appendix to support his case.

But the biggest short-coming in Rieber's attempt to discredit Schreiber and Wilbur is in what he leaves out of his discussion. In a couple of brief paragraphs, he cites Herbert Spiegel as his primary authority for challenging the diagnosis of MPD/DID, implying that Spiegel diagnosed Sybil as a hysteric and that he found no evidence of Sybil having been sexually abused by her mother or father. I wanted to know so much more of what Spiegel, Rieber's long-time colleague, thought of the case: How did he account for the lost time and other dissociative phenomena? What was his understanding of how the alters came to manifest themselves during the sessions with Wilbur? To have a detailed discussion of this case by an expert such as Herbert Spiegel would have added so much to our understanding of the MPD/DID phenomenon. Instead, I was left with more questions than answers.

Rieber needs to discredit Sybil to support his own thesis in the third component of the book. He labels MPD/DID as a "myth," and he attributes the huge increase in interest in, and the diagnosis of, MPD/DID to the publication of the book and movie about Sybil. He feels that this increase in diagnostic interest does not reflect true psychopathological phenomena as much as a societally driven search for identity, stemming from social distress originating in the 1960's. Although Rieber is correct in stating that hypnosis has often been misused to create false memories and that societal fads can result in over-diagnosing certain conditions, such as MPD/DID, he does not convincingly make the opposite case that most of the increase in MPD/DID and sexual abuse reports of the past 2 decades are not legitimate reflections of psychopathology, but rather faddish phenomena derived from social distress. Moreover, Rieber does not even consider alternative explanations for the increase in MPD/ DID and sexual abuse reports, such as the increased number of mental health professionals who have been trained in hypnosis and other trauma treatment modalities. But, perhaps Rieber himself is not convinced because he ends this discussion ambiguously saying, "multiples will always be with us, serving as a perpetual reminder of the duality of human existence." Notwithstanding the ambiguities and the short-comings of the book, I found the history informative and the theoretical issues provocative.

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