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Religious Tolerance logo

The MPD / DID controversy

History and timeline of events

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Please read the overview to MPD / DID before tackling this essay.

History of MPD / DID:

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, author of the book "Making minds and madness: from hysteria to depression," has investigated why various "maladies of the soul" such as hysteria, melancholy, vapors, grande hysteria, neurasthenia, and shell shock became popular at various times, and later virtually disappeared. 1,2 He  concluded that some mental illnesses do not exist naturally, but are cultural artifacts that are created by the interaction of a therapist with a patient. That is, they are iatrogenic.

There have been stories throughout history of people who have behaved strangely, and who later were unable to recall their actions. But the first medical studies of what we now call MPD/DID did not appear until the 1800s. It was regarded as an extremely rare medical curiosity until the mid 1950's. The incidence of MPD/DID exploded after the books "The Three Faces of Eve" and "Sybil" were published and made into movies. Borch-Jacobsen and other sources note:

bullet1944: A 1944 "review of the literature by Taylor and Martin found only 76 documented cases of MPD" worldwide prior to the review. 3
bullet1956: A fictional novel, presented as a documentary and titled "The Three Faces of Eve," described a woman who was believed to have three personalities. 4 This was the first multiple personality book to catch the imagination of the public.
bullet1957: "Eve" was made into a movie. It had a profound effect on the public, convincing many that multiple personalities were both possible and common. Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award and Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Eve.
bullet1968: MPD was defined in the American Psychiatric Association's  "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-II) as a hysterical neuroses.
bullet1973: The book "Sybil" was published. 5 It was a documentary describing a woman's experience with MPD in therapy. She was believed to be possessed by 16 personalities.
bullet1976: "Sybil" was broadcast as a made-for-TV movie. Sally Field won an Emmy for her performance as Sybil. Joanne Woodward played the role of Sybil's mother. The movie made a major contribution to the public's perception and acceptance of MPD.
bullet1979: A study found "... only two hundred cases of MPD in all recorded medical history" up to that time. 6
bulletGeorge Greaves reported 37 cases since 1971.
bulletEugene Bliss said he had personally seen 14 cases.
bulletThe American Psychiatric Association redefined MPD in DSM-III as one of four dissociative disorders. These disorders have in common "a sudden, temporary alteration in the normally integrative functions of consciousness, identity, or motor behavior." MPD is differentiated from other dissociative disorders by the following symptoms:
bulletThe individual switches between two or more distinct personalities
bulletControl of the individual is held by whichever personality is in control at a given time
bullet"Each individual personality is complex and integrated with its own unique behavior patterns and social relationships." 7
bullet1980s: The introduction of Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT) gave therapists a method which appeared to recover images of early childhood abuse. These images often coalesced over time into memories which the therapist and patient believe were the root cause of MPD. Belief in widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) was triggered by the publication of a novel titled "Michelle Remembers" about the same time. This gave a rationale for therapists to expect high levels of MPD in the general population.
bulletMyron Boor reported having seen 79 cases.
bulletRichard Kluft had seen 130 cases of which he had treated 70.
bullet1984: There were 1,000 cases reported.
bullet1989: There were 4,000 cases reported.
bullet1991: Colin Ross said MPD affects 1% of population. This implied that just under 2.5 million Americans either had MPD, or would develop it in the future.
bullet"Some psychiatrists and psychologists specializing in the treatment of MPD ...estimated that twenty to thirty thousand people" suffered from the disorder. 8
bulletMikkel Borch-Jacobsen wrote later that: "from the beginning of the 1990s onwards, 'multiples' were everywhere -- in therapy, in psychiatric hospitals, on television, and in the courts." 9
bullet1994: The American Psychiatric Association renamed MPD as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in DSM-IV.
bullet1995: 40,000 cases of MPD were diagnosed between 1985 and 1995. 10
bullet1998: There were over two dozen clinics in North America which specialize in this disorder. All are now closed down.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. From the Amazon.com review of: Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, "Making minds and madness: from hysteria to depression," Cambridge University Press, (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. FMS Foundation Newsletter, 2009-Summer Vol. 18 #3 at: http://www.FMSFonline.org/currentnewsletter.pdf This is a temporary PDF file
  3. Bennett G. Braun, Ed., "Treatment Of Multiple Personality Disorder" American Psychiatric Press, (1986) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  4. C.H. Thigpen, H.M. Cleckley, "The Three Faces of Eve,"  (1956; Revised 1992) Read reviews or order this book 
  5. F.R. Schreiber, "Sybil: the true story of a woman possesses by sixteen separate personalities," Warner Books, (1973; Reissued 1995). Read reviews or order this book.
  6. R. Ofshe & E. Watters, "Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria," Schribners, New York, NY, (1994), Chapter 10, Pages 205 to 224.
  7. "Possession, multiple-personality disorder", at: http://www.physics.wisc.edu/
  8. Reinder Van Til, "Lost Daughters: Recovered Memory Therapy and the people it hurts," Eerdmand (1997), P. 178 to 182. This book deals mainly with the recovered memory therapy hoax which damaged hundreds of thousands of lives during the 1980s and 1990s. The author briefly discusses the case of Sybil.
  9. Op cit., Borch-Jacobsen, Page 65
  10. Joan Acocella, "Creating Hysteria: Women and the Myth of Multiple Personality Disorder." Jossey-Bass, (1999). Read reviews or order this book.

Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JAN-11

Last updated on 2009-JUL-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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