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Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story…

Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple… (edition 2011)

by Debbie Nathan

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2902057,692 (3.92)10
Title:Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case
Authors:Debbie Nathan
Info:Free Press (2011), Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Books I've Read

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


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Fascinating! A very smart book. I read "Sybil" this past winter, and was skeptical at best... I recommend this little book to all readers of "Sybil." ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
Debbie Nathan grew her reputation by reporting on the ritual-abuse witch hunts of the 1980s and early 90s. Like her work then, this book is clear-eyed, rational, and very well researched. Anyone who read the shocking story of the woman with 16 personalities and thought it couldn't possibly be true can be congratulated. Of course it wasn't. It is a tale of bad science, professional ambition and outright fraud.

Shirley Mason, the real name of the afflicted woman, was not so much treated as manipulated by psychoanalyst Cornelia Wilbur, who clearly created false memories of horrific abuse and created "alternate personalities" through hypnosis and drugs. These false memories and manufactured personalities were further distorted when Flora Schreiber was commissioned to write the famous book. Nathan shows us many instances of Schreiber blatantly fictionalizing aspects of Shirley's story for the sake of reader appeal and sensation.

Near the end of the book, Nathan suggests that Shirley's neurotic symptoms had an organic cause which could have been easily addressed if her doctor had been more interested in helping than exploiting her. It is a very sad story of a human life sacrificed to a big lie. ( )
  CasualFriday | May 20, 2016 |
At first, I was very turned off by this book, because it seemed like the author was condemning the entire history of psychiatry, especially hysteria diagnoses, by today’s standards – of course these beliefs seem insane - people used to believe the world was flat also (which, granted, probably didn’t harm anyone).

But, as the meat of the book was addressed, the author won me over with her chronology of events in the life of Shirley Mason, the real woman behind the famous “Sybil” phenomenon, and her dysfunctional relationship (even by the standards of the day) with her avaricious doctor Connie Wilbur. The publicity surrounding this case influenced the practice of psychiatry for decades, irrevocably changing American society.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
Very interesting read. The writer put a lot of research into writing a succinct, easy to read book about the truth behind Sybil. I used to watch the TV movie EVERY time it came on...I loved it. I believed the basic story to be true. Imagine my disappoint to learn that three women were so soundly able to snow the world. ( )
  CassandraSabo | Dec 5, 2015 |
Though the information was interesting, the presentation was drawn-out and the title misleading. I found very little about this "extraordinary" ( )
  AdorablyBookish | Aug 29, 2015 |
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I felt a clearing in my mind

As if my brain had split;

I tried to match it, seam by seam,

But could not make it fit.

--Emily Dickenson
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Haiku summary
Don't know why you're sick?
Let's try hypnotherapy.
I'll make something up.
Adventists tell you
Everything you want is sin.
You won't recover.
A diagnosis

Of pernicious anemia

Saves phenomena.


Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 143916827X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:47 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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.

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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