Do You Have Multiple Personality Disorder?

Years after Sybil, the debate continues

Although Jennifer provided enough online information to identify her father by name as a man responsible for perhaps the worst crime a person can commit, she was upset when the Press tried to contact him, to give him the opportunity to respond to the accusation.

Again, protocol was breached — accusations of child rape and a diagnosis of DID were not automatically accepted. (In a subsequent e-mail, Jennifer explained her concern: "I have known people who have lost careers and the custody of their children because of the DID diagnosis — not because of their actions but because of fear and misunderstanding from employers and the court system. It may be hard to find supporters willing to go public with their belief or even with their own personal history of DID, but that isn't the same as there being no supporters. There is still a strong curtain of silence, shame and fear.").

Actually, it's not just some journalists who have difficulty accepting a multiple personality diagnosis without question. People who believe they have DID will bounce from therapist to therapist. Rachel says she saw a therapist for a year prior to seeing Hodgin. She says that therapist thought she was angry that her parents had divorced, and her father may have done "inappropriate" things. As far as Rachel was concerned, that therapist didn't have a clue.

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 friend referred her to Hodgin, who specializes in DID, and Rachel could tell right away that Hodgin knew what was going on in her head — and why.

Hodgin received his master's degree in clinical psychology from Houston Baptist University in 1987 and became a licensed professional counselor in 2004. Hodgin says that many therapists are ill-equipped to handle such a complex problem.

"DID patients are like Rubik's Cubes," he says, before trying another simile. He says they see the world like a fly, with hundreds of little windows. "The 200 windows are one picture, but it's all scrambled."

He says later, "I don't go into this looking to say there's got to be a satanic cult here. I don't care. I just want to get the person back to a mental sanity that allows them to be okay. If I can do that, I've done wonders for somebody. All I know is all these people have similar patterns, similar things occurring...and there's a language to it that is quite different."

One of the problems in understanding and treating DID, Hodgin says, is that it can't be explained solely through a scientific model.

"Emotions cannot be researched," he says. "Who's going to quantify them? The development of emotions, the value of emotions — there's no research here holding up on all this. And so we have a dilemma. Yet these people are showing up. What are we going to do with them?...We've got to do something — why? Because they're showing up in psych-houses. So something exists. Whether we call it PTSD, whether we call it DID — what does it matter?"

"Okay, [Rachel], why did you come tonight?" Hodgin asks at the end of the interview. Rachel is visibly exhausted from the action of alters popping in and out during the last few hours.

"Because I thought it might help someone else," she says.

Hodgin gets up for the next step, the little ritual they end each session with. He says it's time to "put the tribe back."

He stands in front of Rachel, who's still on the couch, and presses his thumb on a spot on her forehead between her eyes. She exhales and her body goes limp with relaxation. Hodgin says he's eased the tension from her dendrites, which are pain receptors in the brain. (Neurologically speaking, this means that Hodgin's thumb has exerted enough force to permeate Rachel's skull and interfere with the synapses carrying messages between neurons in her brain.)

Rachel rises, and Hodgin hugs her.

As Rachel and her husband make their way to the elevator, Hodgin stays behind to pack up a few things from his office. When asked about the skeptics, about those who believe DID is a phenomenon created by therapists during "treatment," Hodgin brushes it aside. Rachel already had undiagnosed DID when she came to him, he says. It's not a condition he hunts for; it's a condition he recognizes and can treat.

As he says a few days later, "They keep coming and showing up at my office, and they're saying, 'Nobody can help me. Nobody understands.'"

But, thanks to the work carried out at places like the Trauma Institute and the Ross Institute, there are more and more mental health professionals out there who do understand. They understand that DID can be caused by neglect, by severe beatings, by growing up in a "weird" family. They understand that the patient sets her own reality. They don't have to believe what the patient is saying; the important thing is to deal with the unresolved emotions. They know the alters can be integrated and the patient can be healed.

They know that a diagnosis of DID can be true, even if the patient's story is not.

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