It is easy to misinterpret what the article said, but I believe that the article in the Standard Examiner implied that her psychiatrist caused or created the disorder by doing three things with his patient who was already fairly unstable and had suffered from major traumatic episodes:

  • Forcefully insisting on a diagnosis of “multiple personalities”
  • Giving “Sybil” high doses of drugs that caused or enhanced her predisposition to hallucinate.
  • Hypnotizing Sybil and suggesting to her that she had multiple personalities.

Some psychologists have argued that based on recently released information on the Sybil case, that Sybil may not have DID disorder at all.  Instead, some think that Sybil was a case of a doctor who very much wanted his patient to have certain symptoms so that he could define new territory (there was a lack of case reports of people suffering from multiple personalities or DID and an explosion of diagnosed cases after the Sybil case).

There are yet other academics that believe that nearly every case of DID, bipolar disorder, etc are created by incorrect diagnosis and treatment.  These academics believe that many mental health disorders are unintentionally created by physicians or psychologists, primarily through incorrect diagnosis or improper drug therapy.  These effects of “healer created disease” are called “iatrogenic artifacts.”  There are those that believe that the very act of diagnosing a patient with a mental health disorder will actually strengthen the symptoms of the condition and in many cases will create a condition where none existed.

Most research agrees that healthy people tend to reject suggestions that contradict their self concept and deepest held beliefs.  So for example, if you took a healthy person and suggested to him in hypnosis, as Sybil’s psychiatrist did, that this healthy person had multiple personalities, he would simply reject the suggestion–and probably never return for therapy.  Many people feel that because Sybil already was experiencing episodes of dissociation and hallucination, had suffered from major trauma and had her condition perhaps destabilized through high doses of psychiatric drugs that all it took for her to develop DID was an insistent diagnosis from an authority figure, her psychiatrist.

Others believe that Sybil’s case was never a case of DID and that the psychiatrist improperly forged the medical record for the notoriety of the case and the exposure–and perhaps income–that the case afforded him.  I don’t know what the correct interpretation of the events are in the case of Sybil, but it does seem to me that the case of Sybil was much more than a case of “hypnotizing” a patient to develop multiple personalities.

My services are non diagnostic (which seems to be where much of the danger lies in iatrogenesis) and I do not suggest to my clients that they should have multiple personalities.  I think I can safely say that the risk of having a client develop DID as a result of hypnotic sessions in my office is zero.

If a client did present with a case of DID, I would refer that client to a licensed psychologist who specializes in treatment of such disorders.

As an interesting side note, one of the treatments for integrating multiple personalities is a hypnotic procedure involving ego states or parts work, which has been shown to dramatically reduce the time it takes to reintegrate the multiples involved in DID.

William Wood