I’m of the wrong era to have been obsessed with Sybil and her multiple personalities, and have never read the book or seen the movies, but I always have an interest in reading books about mental health, and this one was recommended highly to me.
I think we all know the basic premise of Sybil: a young woman, while under psychiatric care, manifests some 16 personalities, ranging from Ruthie (a baby) to Peggy Lou (assertive and angry) to The Blonde (an optimistic teen.) The book was released in 1973 and helped popularize the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (then called multiple personality disorder.)
Author Debbie Nathan re-examines the famous case under a new lens, and posits that not only was the diagnosis a hoax but that Sybil’s psychoanalyst, Dr. Connie Wilbur, had been searching for a patient with multiple personalities to make her famous. Shirley Ardell Mason (referred to as Sybil in the resulting book and movie in order to protect her identity) was in her 20s when she began seeing Dr. Wilbur, and her condition quickly declined. Although Mason had always had some amount of psychological issues, the 16 personalities that developed over time came about only while under psychological supervision.
Nathan’s research into Mason’s story is extensive, and, although Dr. Wilbur’s case files are sealed, documents from the archives and library of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice are used to support Nathan’s theory. The resulting book tells an alternate history of the still famous story and discredits aspects of the field of psychology, especially as relating to multiple personality disorder. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and now have plans to go back and read the original book Sybil and then watch the 1976 version of the movie starring Sally Fields.