Monday, January 21, 2013

Is Multiple Personality Disorder Real? - The Response

In April 2011, I wrote a post called "Is Multiple Personality Disorder Real?"   It is the third most popular post I've written here and certainly generates the most polarized comments / emails.   While I encourage you to read the original if you're interested in the following response, the gist is that Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) - which was once called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) -  could potentially be Borderline Personality Disorder peppered with some delusional qualities. 

One very interesting & thought-provoking comment from 9/25/2012 inspired me to write this (belated) response.

This blog post reads like it was written by someone who's never read a book or an article on DID, who's never worked with people with DID, who's just making wild assumptions. There are people dx'ed with both DID and BPD. There are also people dx'ed with BPD who don't have BPD at all, but have DID. You also make no mention of PTSD which all DID patients have, but not all BPD patients have. Look at somewhere that actually treats DID and PTSD specifically like the trauma Ward at Sheppard Pratt. But your theories seem a little half cocked.

This is my response:
Fair enough - I've admittedly not had much experience with DID - however; allow me a belated response (apologies for the delay).

First, I was generally very impressed when visiting Sheppard Pratt in May 2012.  My impression was that they offer top-of-the-line treatment.

As for DID though, I have read a bit about it.  For a summary, I would see Prof. Rich McNally's book "What is Mental Illness?" from 2011, copyright, President and Fellows at Harvard College.

In short, the book explains right after the book Sybil was published, "from near-nonexistence, MPD spread throughout North America, with the number of diagnosed cases soaring to 50,0000."  And then the "epidemic of MPD ended abruptly" because a study showing that asking leading questions is more likely to "create false memories than to recover them" (Ceci & Loftus, 1994).

The book also reads "MPD therapists inadvertently undermined the credibility of their own field when they began helping patients recall alleged memories of satanic ritual abuse" (McNally, Remembering Trauma). And that the FBI failed to uncover any physical evidence of these types of abuses (Lanning, 1992).

Interestingly enough, stories about abuse and trauma Sybil herself endured were also unfounded.  What seems to be the (even more disturbing) truth is that Sybil sought treatment with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, who appears to have implanted false memories with the (unwitting) use of leading questions and social positive reinforcement.  When treatment tapes of the sessions between Wilbur and Sybil were researched, convincing evidence of this was revealed.  The book also states "indeed, Sybil admitted in writing to Wilbur that she had manufactured her MPD symptoms."

As such, while the symptoms of DID are in the DSM-IV, this does not mean that the disorder is not socially constructed, at least for the vast majority of cases.

[By the way, I'm not saying that there was never an organic (non-socially constructed) case of DID out there.  Saying that 100% of DID cases are socially constructed is a bit like meeting 50,000 Elvis impersonators in the year 2013 and then concluding Elvis Presley never existed. It stands though, that the ratio of hypothetical Elvis impersonators to Elvis Presley himself is still 50,000:1.] 

If someone presents with a case of DID, undoubtedly the situation is severe; however, I would argue that give the citations provided above, the idea  that the etiology (or cause) of the disorder is organic seems dubious at best.  Of course, understanding etiology is extremely important for treatment - especially if the treatment itself is indicated as a possible cause of the disorder, as was in the case of Dr. Cornelia Wilbur and Sybil.

For the cases that are not organic, but socially-constructed - which the evidence seems to suggest is most of them - perhaps a BPD identity disturbance / delusional quality may be present.  That's all.

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