Shirley A. Mason--Sybil
Was Sybil's
Story For Real?
Note: Take Spiegel and Sybil's other detractors with a large grain of salt. We do run articles which detract Sybil's authenticity simply for information; we believe she was multiple. In fact, a number of deep background sources have told us they know for a fact that she was. Don't base your view of multiples on Sybil; her case was unusual; but keep in mind that the men who wish to discredit her and Dr. Cornelia Wilbur have a control agenda.

New "evidence" has been found suggesting that Dr. Cornelia Wilbur took something out of context and "made" Sybil a multiple when she was not. But is this new information on the level, or just another psychiatric gloryhound trying to make a few fast bucks from the current anti-multiplicity craze? Why wasn't this information revealed when Shirley was still around to answer the charges? See for yourself.

Psychologist says new evidence
shows 'Sybil' story bogus

Case led to book, movie about multiple personality disorder

August 16, 1998
Web posted at: 10:14 p.m. EDT (0214 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A psychologist says tape recordings that lay forgotten in his desk for 25 years show the popular story of Sybil, the woman with 16 personalities, is bogus.

In a best-selling 1973 book, later made into a movie, Sybil was portrayed as developing alternate personalities who did things without her knowledge. The account blames the problem on abuse Sybil suffered as a child and says she overcame it with therapy.

The newfound tapes suggest these personalities were actually created during therapy, through suggestions to a highly pliable young woman, says psychologist Robert Rieber of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Rieber said the tapes of conversations between Sybil's psychiatrist and the book's author show they were "not totally unaware" that the story they told was wrong.

"Yet at the same time they wished to believe it, no matter what," Rieber said. "I would prefer to believe that there was as much self-deception as deception of others. They were not malicious people."

An expert on multiple personalities said although he doesn't know whether Sybil's personalities were created in therapy, Rieber's written report sheds no light on the question.

Dr. Richard Gottlieb, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, also said the report fails to show the book was a conscious misrepresentation.

Sybil's psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, died in 1992, and the book's author, Flora Rheta Schreiber, died in 1988.

Rieber spoke in an interview before presenting his conclusions Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. He said he got the tapes in 1972 from Schreiber, then a colleague at John Jay College, but forgot about them until a con versation about Sybil in 1997.

One excerpt in his report quotes Wilbur telling Schreiber, "And I said, 'Well, there's a personality who calls herself Peggy.' And uh, I said, 'She is pretty assertive. ... She can do things you can't,' and she (Sybil) was very, uh, obviously perturbed by this. ... And I said ... 'She wouldn't do anything you wouldn't approve of. She might do something that you wouldn't think of doing.'"

The excerpt also lists three other personalities.

That shows Wilbur was "carving out the characters" for Sybil to absorb, Rieber said. Gottlieb, however, said Wilbur may merely have been describing what she'd observed in therapy.

The tapes also show Schreiber improperly dismissing a letter Sybil wrote to Wilbur in which she denies having multiple personalities, Rieber said. The letter is reproduced in Schreiber's book.

Rieber's conclusions fall in line with previously published opinions by Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychiatrist who used Sybil in hypnotism research and says he was her surrogate therapist when Wilbur was out of town.

Spiegel also concluded that Sybil's so-called personalities actually arose from Wilbur's therapeutic technique of giving names to various emotional states Sybil experienced. The problem was that Wilbur mistakenly came to believe that they really were dist inct personalities, Spiegel said.

He said Sybil told him one day that Wilbur wanted her "to be Helen" when talking about a particular event in Sybil's past.

Spiegel suggested talking about the event just as Sybil.

"Then she discovered she didn't have to act like Helen in order to talk about it. ... It became clear Wilbur was coaching her to be these different people. It was a very dramatic way of carrying out therapy," Spiegel said.

He also said he told Schreiber that Sybil didn't have multiple personalities, and "Schreiber said, 'If we don't call it multiple personality, the publisher won't want it, it won't sell.'"

But Dr. Leah Dickstein of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, who said she was in touch with Sybil for several years after Wilbur's death, recalls Sybil telling her, "'Tell people every word in the book is true.'"

Dickstein, who knew Wilbur, said Wilbur "had no need to make this up."

***

And here's how Reuters News reported it:

WIRE:Aug. 17, 9:13 p.m. [1998]
Tapes raise fresh doubts on "Sybil" case in U.S.

SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 17 [1998] (Reuters) - "Sybil," the young woman whose tale of having 16 personalities once gripped the U.S. imagination, may not have been so complex after all. New evidence suggests she had just one troubled personality.

A study presented at the American Psychological Association meeting this weekend says newly found 25-year-old tape recordings show Sybil's tale may well have been implanted by her own psychiatrist, eager to break new ground in the research of multiple personality disorder.

Psychologist Robert Rieber of New York City's John Jay College of Criminal Justice told the APA meeting he found tape recorded conversations between Sybil's psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, and Flora Schreiber, the author of the best-selling 1973 book Sybil, that document "the fraudulent construction of a multiple personality."

"It was a nice fiction, but let's not misrepresent it as fact," Rieber said in an interview Monday. "In the final analysis Sybil is a phony multiple personality case at best."

There have long been doubts about Sybil's story, which broke 25 years ago and has come to be regarded as the most influential modern narrative of multiple personality disorder.

Sybil was from Wisconsin and was about 30 years old when she began therapy with Wilbur.

Although her true identity is still not known, the woman known as Sybil is credited in part with opening floodgates for tens of thousands of similar diagnoses -- particularly after her case hit the screen in 1977 as a film with Sally Field.

Researchers say that before 1973, there were fewer than 50 known cases. By 1990, more than 20,000 cases had been diagnosed, with estimates of as many as two million more.

Specialists were unsure about Sybil herself from the start.

Herbert Spiegel, another psychiatrist who worked with Sybil, has dismissed her as "a case of hysteria and not multiple personality" and blamed Wilbur for coaching her patient.

Rieber's report appeared to confirm that assessment. A former friend of Flora Schreiber, who died in 1988, Rieber said he was given the tapes by the author in 1972 for a study he was doing on the use of language by the mentally ill.

That project never got off the ground, and the tapes remained in Rieber's desk drawer until 1997, when Spiegel's comments on the Sybil phenomenon jogged his memory. He retrieved about two hours of conversation between Schreiber and Wilbur, and concluded that between the two of them they effectively manufactured Sybil's entire story.

"It is clear from Wilbur's own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be," Rieber said in his report.

During some 11 years of therapy with Wilbur beginning in 1954, Sybil gradually revealed a host of "personalities" to Wilbur -- Peggy Ann, Peggy Lou, Victoria Antoinette Scarleau, Marcia, Mary Lou, two boys named Mike and Sid, Vanessa Gail, Nancy Lou, Sybil Ann, baby Ruthie, Clara, Helen, Marjorie and the Blonde.

Some of them were only faintly drawn, others had more depth. Wilbur attributed Sybil's shattered psyche to childhood sexual trauma.

Rieber says his tapes, however, show how Wilbur led Sybil into the multiple personality diagnosis. In one conversation, Wilbur tells Schreiber that she had to list the names of the "personalities" for her patient in order to prompt the right response from Sybil herself.

Hypnosis, the use of the drug Pentothal as a "truth serum" and other psychological techniques were used to pull ever more details from Sybil about her supposedly shattered psyche, and these details were firmed up and fleshed out by Wilbur and Schreiber as the book took form.

"Unquestionably, Schreiber and Wilbur wanted to make Sybil a multiple personality no matter what," Rieber said. "Once the book became a financial success there was no turning back."

Wilbur died in 1992, and Rieber said he had recently learned that "Sybil" -- who over the years vacillated on whether or not her story was true, had died last December.

 

More on Sybil

Email | Guestbook | FAQ | Multiplicity | Astraea homepage

Religion | Politics | Anti-Psych | Anti-FMSF | Silly

Back to where you were