Do You Have Multiple Personality Disorder?

Years after Sybil, the debate continues

Goodwin earned a medical degree at Harvard and a master's in public health and epidemiology from UCLA. She has researched DID for decades, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals; testifying as an expert witness in trials where trauma and dissociation were key elements; treating DID clients in her private practice; and participating in the Trauma Institute's annual DID ­conferences.

She told the Houston Press that her job isn't to determine the accuracy of a client's story, and that treatment should not depend on whether the supposed cause of the trauma actually occurred.

Here's another scenario:

Rachel claims her grandfather was the leader of a satanic cult.
Illustration by Craig LaRotonda
Rachel claims her grandfather was the leader of a satanic cult.
Jennifer and her husband both claim to have DID.
Illustration by Craig LaRotonda
Jennifer and her husband both claim to have DID.

A patient walks into a therapist's office for the first time. She says she's been traumatized by an attack of a gigantic flying purple dinosaur. Should the therapist accept that as the patient's reality and work toward the goal of making the person well again, or should she explore the possibility that the incident described might not be entirely accurate?

If you're Jean Goodwin, you tell the Houston Press that a therapist might want to explore that story's validity, and how the client came to believe it. The Federal Aviation Administration should not be alerted and SWAT should not be summoned, because gigantic flying purple dinosaurs are not a matter for law enforcement.

So when — if ever — is it appropriate for a therapist to suspect that a story is true and when it might be the confabulation of a disturbed brain? If you're Jean Goodwin, you say that that question will be answered the following day, when you have more time to talk.

Ultimately, Goodwin told the Press she was not comfortable talking about DID alone, without being able to discuss its oft-accompanying mood disorders.

Jon Allen, associate editor of a journal published by the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, the only medical organization in the country devoted exclusively to DID and related traumas, declined to comment entirely. Allen is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. He's also a staff psychologist at Houston's Menninger Clinic, described on its Web site as being among "the leading psychiatric hospitals in U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking of America's best hospitals." Although Allen was not available to discuss DID, a recent Menninger press release touted a new book he co-authored on "mentalizing," which is described as "the ability to 'tune in' to one's own thoughts and feelings and to put oneself in another's shoes."

(Apparently, Allen is available to discuss a $55 book he co-wrote, but unavailable to discuss matters not covered in that book.)

Although Goodwin couldn't discuss DID in detail, her colleague Norman Decker could. Decker, a psychiatrist, is the president of the Trauma Institute and a professor at the Menninger Department of Psychiatry at Baylor. He earned his undergrad and medical degrees at Columbia and is a past president of the Houston Psychiatric Society.

Decker reiterated that it isn't just physical and sexual abuse that can cause DID, but psychological abuse as well.

"Any one of the three can be severe enough to cause DID, and psychological abuse may be the worst," he says. "Or another way of looking at it is...severe neglect is extremely traumatic and may be the worst kind of abuse."

So why don't all neglected children grow up to have DID?

"What's traumatic for person A may not be traumatic for person B. So, people have different potentialities for it."

Fortunately, Texas isn't home to just the Trauma Institute, but also the Ross Institute, just outside Dallas, founded by Colin Ross, a leader in the field of DID. Ross, a psychiatrist, was able to talk about his approach to new patients who present possible symptoms of DID.

Ross earned his medical degree in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the 1980s and, in addition to his DID research, he became interested in cults and conspiracies. He recently wrote a book about CIA mind-control experiments, which included building the kind of perfect human killing machine depicted in The Manchurian Candidate. In his research, Ross has claimed that the CIA funded mind-control experiments on unwitting subjects, including children, in the quest to create the perfect soldier. One study Ross claims to have found involves a joint CIA-prostitute project where hookers lured johns into safehouses, dosed them with LSD and then had sex with them in front of a one-way mirror while secret agents took notes.

In 2001, Ross posted on his Web site a report of an East Texas cult he said was "likely" kidnapping and sexually abusing young girls and that would probably commit mass suicide in 2011. The report contained no references or footnotes indicating where Ross gathered this material. When asked where this information came from, Ross said he heard it fourth- or fifth-hand and never seriously studied the cult. Since the report was seven years old, he said, he couldn't remember anything other than what he had written. It is unclear whether authorities were ever alerted to this criminal ring, or given the address of the compound where girls were "likely" being detained and raped. (In deference to the age of some of his DID research, the Press asked Ross if questions should be limited to studies he conducted after 2001. Ross stated that was not necessary, since, unlike the East Texas cult that will probably kidnap and rape little girls for the next three years, his DID research has continued uninterrupted since the 1980s).

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