In 1990, a Wisconsin woman with multiple personalities brought rape charges against a man who had conned one of her naive selves into having sex. On the day the story broke, WBBM's "Newsline" interviewed Dr. Nancy Perry, a psychologist who works with multiples. The following is a transcription of that interview, featuring the usual standard explanation of multiple personality and integration.
[...] indicates long distance AM radio fade, sorry.
Newsline: The Dave Baum Show
Interview with Dr. Nancy Perry
June 27, 1990
DAVE: Welcome in throughout the 43 states and five provinces of Canada. This is Newsline. I'm Dave Baum from Chicago, as we take a look once again at some of the top news stories of the day between now and midnight and invite you in at 591-7878. It's 27 minutes before 10 in Chicago on Wednesday night.
When one thinks of multiple personalities, the name that usually comes to mind is Sybil. We're not going to be talking about Sybil tonight, or maybe we will be: but it's a rather interesting and really hard pressing story that we bring you tonight in conversation about those people who have more than one personality. I guess that's the only way to describe it.
Within the last week or two, police in Wisconsin, in Oshkosh, questioned an alleged rape victim and got replies from six of the woman's eighteen various personalities. Police up there said that the woman's therapist told investigators that her patient had a multiple personality disorder. And the police say [...] something like this. 26-year-old Melissa came back and talked. Police used her therapist during interviews to piece together an account of the alleged attack. An examination in a hospital confirmed that the woman did have sexual intercourse but a contradiction in the woman's personality poses a unique legal challenge to say the least. The case was turned over to police but an animal personality emerged and the woman cowered beneath a cart and growled. Then, during later questioning it was revealed that the woman told police that two of her personalities had been assaulted.
We can go on and on with this particular story but it brings up the matter of the person with a multiple personality. We've asked Milwaukee clinical psychologist Dr. Nancy Perry to join us on the Newsline tonight. Dr. Perry, welcome, nice to have you with us tonight.
DR. PERRY: Thank you.
DAVE: How rare is this?
DR. PERRY: Well, that is fairly controversial, but estimates run from one in 100 people in the population to one in 1000.
DAVE: You read a story like this and it's still being investigated of course, and you wonder how law authorities can deal with something like that. Have you ever come across a case of a similar nature?
DR. PERRY: No. I have been treating multiple personalities for ten years now and have not had a case where this happened, someone in a legal suit was suffering from multiple personalities. But I have worked with perpetrators.
DAVE: There are people who are skeptical to say the least, who among other things say that it can't be; somebody is trying to fake somebody out, an expert like you, that they don't really have multiple personalities but they use some of these so-called multiple personalities to cover some of the flaws or some of the things they've done wrong. Can you comment on that?
DR. PERRY: Well, it is possible. There's the famous case of the Hillside strangler in California, and it was determined that this person did not have multiple personalities and was faking. And certainly this does occur. However, we have ways of determining this now, even physiological methods. I believe I know that this is a true problem, and it is the result of child abuse.
DAVE: It's the result of child abuse, can you comment on that.
DR. PERRY: Certainly. It's important to understand the word "dissociation". Dissociation is something we all do. It's a normal thing. For example, if we go to a boring lecture we tune out, we don't even hear what the person is saying. And most of us have done that. Now, that's a normal thing. However, little children who have been abused or experienced severe trauma use this as a defense mechanism to get away from the trauma, from the pain and the misery and the violence.
DAVE: In other words, they tune out.
DR. PERRY: They tune out and they do it much better than we do, if they do it to an extreme extent or an extreme level it can result in multiple personality disorder.
DAVE: How? How does it--I mean, we all have a tendency to tune out for one reason or another. Now we're talking about the most serious cases of tuning out when as a child, a youngster is abused. As the child is being abused and is in the process of tuning out, what begins to happen?
DR. PERRY: Well, there are actual physiological changes in the brain, in the neurological system, in the hormones and so forth. The individual becomes conditioned--I can't do it, an average person cannot do this, but these children learn to do this as a defense to escape the trauma.
DAVE: What do they do?
DR. PERRY: Well, they block, actually block the pain, they block the memory. They separate, they may develop a single personality who experiences certain things. Like one personality experiences anger, another may experience memory, another may experience pain. Or specific emotions. So these children also may create a fantasy world in which they have a playmate or a friend to comfort them. We do find that people who dissociate are high on the hypnotizability scale, and some people speculate that this is a form of auto-hypnosis.
DAVE: One would think, Dr. Perry, that as one moves from childhood into adulthood, that some of these personalities would disappear. You'd never eliminate the pain, because maybe a lot of these people, or all of these people, have never dealt with it and have just tried to bury it: but wouldn't you assume that as the youngster got older, some of these personalities would be put aside and forgotten?
DR. PERRY: Not if the abuse continues. And also it becomes a coping mechanism. It's a very wonderful way of avoiding pain and avoiding dealing with sorrow, avoiding dealing with stress. So the individual as they get older may use this habitually to avoid dealing with their life's problems.
DAVE: In other words, an individual, the one we're talking about, splits himself or herself up into so many different pieces, each representing a different characteristic--anger, for example.
DR. PERRY: Well, it can be that. Or it can be an animal. Or it can be that the person may have a personality who is artistic, or a personality who speaks French, or a personality with different interests, or a very sexual personality.
DAVE: Do they know that this is happening to them?
DR. PERRY: The host personality, which is the one in charge of the body most of the time, may not know at all. All they may experience is time loss.
DAVE: All they may--ah!, you know, this is really tough to grab onto. But you've been studying multiple personalities for a long time. The host, alright you say the host, I guess that would be like the principal character or the principal role player here--?
DR. PERRY: The one who is in charge of the body most of the time.
DAVE: --alright, usually is not aware of the other personalities?
DR. PERRY: That's right.
DAVE; So when the other personalities emerge at whatever time they're triggered, the host personality has no knowledge of them, and therefore time really escapes and they don't know where the time went.
DR. PERRY: Yes, that is the usual way this occurs.
DAVE: Oh boy, that is--SO it's quite possible, in this particular case that's being investigated, where a woman who has, it appears, multiple personalities, could have been raped, but on the other hand there could have been more than one personality working during the time this alleged act was committed.
DR. PERRY: That's true. It's possible that one personality thought this was a good idea, to get involved with this man, while another personality felt violated. So, I guess--You know, I'm not going to get into the legal aspects of this, but it does certainly create a problem.
DAVE: Eighteen minutes before 10 with Milwaukee Clinical Psychologist Dr. Nancy Perry at 591-7878 as we take a look at multiple personalities stemming from a very unusual case that's being investigated, and I assume will eventually be tried in Wisconsin. A rape case, in which the woman, who told police she had been raped, said that two of her personalities had been assaulted, one of them, 20 years old, described as fun and promiscuous, and a 6-year-old personality.
CALLER: Hi. I have a question for Dr. Perry [...] whether or not multiple personality is based in physiological malfunctions within the cell structure? Similar to what they're finding out about alcoholism and some forms of depression.
DR. PERRY: No, there does not appear to be any physiological problem. But while we're talking about physiology, I want to mention that the different personalities have different brain waves, different blood pressure, vital signs, different allergies, different blood reactions; some of them are left-handed and some of them are right-handed. So we are able to use these as diagnostic clues. However there isn't any indication that this is hereditary or a disease process. It appears to be the result of child abuse, only that or early trauma.
DAVE: Okay. How do we know that?
DR. PERRY: Well, part of the treatment involves helping each individual break down the amnestic barrier and remember and accept the trauma [...] perhaps physical methods of determining if the person was indeed abused physically at an early age. Or corroboration with relatives about these different events.
DAVE: It appears, from what you're saying, that the brain has created such absolutely incredible defensive mechanisms here, in more than one personality, you're saying in some cases right-handed, in some cases left- handed, I mean, talking about individuals in and of themselves.
DR. PERRY: That is true. Different eye-glass prescriptions.
DAVE: Different eye-glass prescriptions?!?!?!
DR. PERRY: Yes.
DAVE: Zeriel, you're on BBM, good evening.
CALLER: How ya doin'? I'm a big fan of, like, dreams, okay? And I was wondering, can each separate personality dream its own dream? And if they do, can they dream two or three dreams at the same time? Or do they all dream the same dream?
DR. PERRY: Well, that's a very interesting question, and I don't know the answer to that. They do report dreams, but I've never checked with them to see if they have different dreams. So that's one that I don't know the answer for, and that's a very interesting question.
DAVE: Thanks for asking it, Zeriel, ten minutes before ten o'clock on WBBM. In your dealings with patients who have multiple personalities, how do you find out which ones are dominant and which ones are not?
DR. PERRY: Well, I talk with them. Part of therapy involves getting to know the different personalities and finding out what they're...
DAVE: Do you have to hypnotize the patient in order to bring out the different personalities? [...] How do you get the host to step aside so they can begin coming out?
DR. PERRY: I give them permission to do this, and then I might ask another part of that person's mind to step forward.
DAVE; And then what happens when you do that? That is really fascinating. What happens when this begins to play out in your office?
DR. PERRY: Well, various things since each person is somewhat different. [...] other part of the mind to step forward, the physiognomy will change a little bit due to different muscle tension in the face.
DAVE: Do you hear different voices and different personality descriptions?
DR. PERRY: That's right. The voice doesn't change dramatically, but there may be different intonations, different pitch, it is different.
DAVE: Is it possible to have a split type of personality in this particular Wisconsin case, where one of the personalities is six years old and the other is twenty?
DR. PERRY: Certainly. There are different ages, different sexes, within the same individual.
DAVE: How do you treat someone who has this problem, when as you say it's a disease of repression, something that you're trying to hide and keep buried.
DR. PERRY: Well, you help the individual system--by the system, I mean all the different parts of that individual--deal with the material that's been represeed, and that involves different therapeutic methods, such as--first, establishing a lot of trust. You know, these people have been hurt, damaged, all their lives, perhaps. So it's imperative that you establish trust, first of all.
DAVE: I understand that, doctor, let's say that somebody has--for purposes of our conversation--six personalities. And that you're treating that individual to deal with the problem that's caused them to be repressed, the problem has been represeed all these years. Do these five other personalities suddenly fade away and the host takes over when it's all said and done?
DR. PERRY: No, they all merge into one. That's called integration, and that's the goal of therapy, it's for the amnesia to break down and for each personality to share their knowledge and feelings with each other so that they all become one.
DAVE: What is it like, can you recall what it was like in your first breakthrough in one of your patients with a multiple personality? I'm talking about success in treating the multiple personality--what was that like and what did you see for the first time that showed you that your treatment had succeeded?
DR. PERRY: It happens gradually. It doesn't happen all at once. So it isn't a big thing that happens all of a sudden. You work for a couple of years to help the persons deal with all the repressed material, and get to know all their personalities and be able to communicate and be able to develop what we call co-consciousness, so that they are all present at the same time. And then they gradually merge together, and this can be done either by themselves or with the aid of hypnosis. And then they need help after this, to adjust to being a single personality.
DAVE: They need help to adjust to being a single personality...
DR. PERRY: Certainly.
DAVE: Because of the melding together of all the personalities into one: that's got to be scary!
DR. PERRY: Certainly, it is. And they experience a lot of changes, for example, if they had different eye-glass prescriptions they might not know what they're going to have.
DAVE: What if they don't like the personalities that are melding into one?
DR. PERRY: That's part of it. They have to become tolerant of each other and value each other and that's part of therapy, too.
DAVE: Well, on an ongoing basis, doc, I'm certainly not trying to be humorous here, because I think it's a very serious thing, but--in the ongoing treatment after there's a successful melding, is there a threat that these personalities will split apart once again?
DR. PERRY: Certainly. The individual has used this as a defense mechanism, and if they have a severe trauma in their life they might tend to want to use this again.
DAVE: What if the personalities don't get along, the ones that are being melded together?
[They're both laughing now]
DR. PERRY: As they work together they become more and more alike so that they don't meld together until they do get along.
DAVE: You don't mind my asking, Dr. Perry, since you've been treating a number of MP cases, how do you manage to keep it together and to keep from laughing, because some of this has to be frankly bizarre, but nonetheless somewhat humorous.
DR. PERRY: Well, to me it really isn't humorous, it's a very, really very serious stuff, and I really guess I want everyone in the radio audience to know that child abuse can cause a great deal of pain, and it really isn't humorous to me. Sometimes my patients and I laugh about something that occurs, but it's a very serious thing, and the misery that these people have suffered is severe.
DAVE: Let me ask you this in conclusion to our conversation. Once you have succeeded in getting the melding of these personalities, is that for all intents and purposes, I know there's ongoing evaluation, but for all intents and purposes has that gotten the job done, is that it?
DR. PERRY: No, I think that's about the midpoint because the individual needs a lot of help in learning how to cope with the world and not use that defense mechanism any further.
DAVE: Well, it should be a very interesting legal case up in Oshkosh on that alleged rape situation, shouldn't it.
DR. PERRY: Yes, it certainly will. And I hope that they can figure it out.
DAVE: Doctor, thank you very much for your time and insight tonight. We appreciate it.
DR. PERRY: You're welcome.
DAVE: Take it easy.
DR. PERRY: Thank you.