Beware of Sybill

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

I received this press release from Pam Freyd:

JUNE 5, 2008

On Saturday June 7, 2008 CBS will air its remake of the movie SYBIL,
(based on the 1973 book with the same name) about an early, alleged
case of “multiple-personality disorder” (MPD).

SYBIL was the first major book/movie to tie “MPD” to child abuse.
Before SYBIL was published, there were fewer than 50 reported cases of
MPD worldwide. By 1994, over 40,000 cases had been reported.

SYBIL, however, is well known to be a hoax. See, for example, _The New
York Review of Books, 44(7)_, April 24, 1997, “Sybil-The Making of a
Disease: An Interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel,” by Mikkel

Dr. Spiegel (Faculty, Columbia Medical School) reported that
statements from the real “Sybil” convinced him that her “memories”
were the result of suggestion by Dr. Cornelia B. Wilbur. He reports
that Wilbur engaged author Flora Rheta Schreiber to write “Sybil’s”
case for a popular audience only after professional journals refused
to publish it. He refused to lend his name and credentials to
co-author the work when asked to do so by Wilbur and Schreiber.

The 2006 book _The Bifurcation of the Self: The History and Theory of
Dissociation and Its Disorder_ (Springer) by Professor Robert Rieber
(Fordham University) documents how the hoax was perpetrated. Rieber
had access to the original Schreiber/Wilbur interview tapes made when
Sybil was being written. We learn that the “memories were a result of
prolonged hypnosis and, to quote Dr. Wilbur: “Uh, the first time we
got any memories back was when I gave her Pentothal …” (Rieber,
page 217)2

Wilbur’s treatment of Sybil required eleven years and a total of 2,254

In a letter to Dr. Wilbur, (reprinted in Rieber page 91) Schreiber
reports that she had visited “Sybil’s” hometown but was unable to find
anyone to corroborate the awful things that supposedly happened to
“Sybil” there. Schreiber was also unable to find the “woods” where
many incidents allegedly occurred.

Will the CBS remake of SYBIL include the information documenting
Sybil’s MPD as a hoax? Does it matter? Yes! Bitter experience shows
that when the media give credence to psychological anomalies, they
spread wildly.

Media coverage played a pivotal role in the dissemination of McMartin
preschool copycat cases in the mid 1980’s, the spread of the “Satanic
Panic” and alien abduction sightings in the 1990’s, and in widely held
beliefs about “repressed” memories of childhood abuse.

SYBIL played a substantial role in a cultural and psychiatric tsunami,
later known as the “false” or “recovered” memory debate. In spite of
professional skepticism about MPD and multi-million dollar malpractice
suits by former MPD patients, there is danger of unleashing another
tsunami unless the truth is told.

Does anyone care? Yes! As Oprah Winfrey’s recent experience over the
fraudulent James Frey memoir A Million Little Pieces shows, the public
really does care to know whether the material served them by the media
is fact or fiction.


Pamela Freyd, Ph.D., Executive Director
False Memory Syndrome Foundation

August Piper, Jr., M.D.
Dr. Piper is the author of Hoax and Reality: The Bizarre World of
Multiple Personality Disorder_. He is a member of the FMSF
Scientific and Professional Advisory Board.

Robert W. Rieber, Ph.D. Fordham University
Graduate School of Social Services
He is the author of _The Bifurcation of the Self_ and
he is not affiliated with the FMS Foundation.

[1] Available from the FMS Foundation.
See also
[2] This book contains more than 75 pages of transcripts of
conversations between Wilbur and Schreiber.