In the whole history of the world less than 200 cases were reported. Beginning about 1980, however, a skyrocketing epidemic of multiple personality disorder occurred amounting to tens of thousands of cases. Psychologists such as Greaves (1980) and Bliss (1980) estimated as many as 10% of Americans were suffering from the disorder (newly named Dissociative Identity Disorder). The literature swelled with articles, for example, "Multiple Personalities: A report of 14 Cases with Implications for Schizophrenia and Hysteria" by Eugene L. Bliss (1980) in which he stated that when he started to seek "candidates" (people with MPD) he discovered "that these problems are not uncommon -- I had simply missed them in the past. In the last year, I have seen and studied 14 cases, and they continue to appear with remarkable frequency" (p. 1388).
In another article, "Multiple Personality 165 Years after Mary Reynolds" by George B. Greaves (1980), Greaves states, "...the alter selves in multiple personality first arise as dissociative defenses against trauma, under specific circumstances, followed by repression of the trauma. Following such dissociation(s), the individual is left to cope with his or her environment in an impaired way" (p. 583). A very lucrative and burgeoning industry built up around the illness. Treatment for it is lengthy and often involves long hospitalizations costing more than a million dollars sometimes (if the patient has good enough insurance).
In an article titled "Multiple Personality Disorder: Witchcraft Survives in the Twentieth Century," August Piper Jr. blows a whistle, so to speak. He points out some troubling questions. For example, early reports discussed the presence of one or two alternate personalities, while recent reports talk about hundreds (even thousands) of "alters." The alters of early cases were ordinary human beings, but in recent cases alters include animals, demons, Mr. Spock, and Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles. Some clinicians believe the increased number of cases is due to improved assessment and diagnosis, but Piper (1998) believes...
Piper reasons that clinicians looking for multiple personalities are producing it through suggestive questioning ("Is there a side of you I haven't seen yet?"), prompting and hypnosis. Some practitioners, for example, hold "board meetings" under hypnosis, to which all the alters are invited to come and discuss the patient's problems.
Perhaps most compelling is the fact that patients don't present with symptoms of the disorder. Symptoms don't appear until after treatment begins. This points to an iatrogenic illness; that is, brought about by the treatment. This doesn't make it less real, but it does suggest that the epidemic has been created rather than discovered. Piper points out there is no consensus or definition of an "alter personality." MPD enthusiasts find multiple personalities in people whose closest relatives have never seen any evidence of it. They find them in patients who come for other psychiatric problems and have "no overt signs" of MPD. Piper also challenges the belief that MPD is caused by childhood abuse. Frequently the reports of abuse are highly improbable and unverified -- such as a patient who claimed to have seen a baby "barbecued alive at a family picnic in a city park" (p. 54) Another patient claimed repeated sexual assaults by "a lion, a baboon, and other zoo animals in her parents' back yard -- in broad daylight. (it should be mentioned that both therapists in these cases are prominent MPD adherents and neither appeared to have any difficulty believing these allegations)" (Piper, 1998, p. 54).
Something that seems to support Piper's argument is the fact that Mary Reynolds, who was not treated for her disorder, got better -- the happier, more witty, outgoing "second state" became her permanent self. How many "alters" might a modern psychotherapist have found? And would the outcome have been as good?
Bliss, E.L. (1980). Multiple personalities: A report of 14 cases with implications for schizophrenia and hysteria. Archives of General Psychiatry, 37, 1 388-1398.
Greaves, G.B. (1980). Multiple personality 165 years after Mary Reynolds. The Journal of Nervous and Mental…
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