In mid 2008, Pamela Freyd, Executive Director of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation,
August Piper, Jr., author of "Hoax and Reality: The Bizarre World of
Multiple Personality Disorder" and Robert W. Rieber, author of "The
Bifurcation of the Self" issued a news release:
On Saturday June 7, 2008 CBS will air its remake of the movie SYBIL,
(based on the 1973 book with the same name) about an early, alleged case
of "multiple-personality disorder" (MPD).
SYBIL was the first major book/movie to tie "MPD" to child abuse. Before
SYBIL was published, there were fewer than 50 reported cases of MPD
worldwide. By 1994, over 40,000 cases had been reported.
SYBIL, however, is well known to be a hoax. See, for example, "The New
York Review of Books, 44(7)_, April 24, 1997, 'Sybil-The Making of a
Disease: An Interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel,' by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen." 1
Dr. Spiegel (Faculty, Columbia Medical School) reported that statements
from the real "Sybil" convinced him that her "memories" were the result
of suggestion by Dr. Cornelia B. Wilbur. He reports that Wilbur engaged
author Flora Rheta Schreiber to write "Sybil's" case for a popular
audience only after professional journals refused to publish it. He
refused to lend his name and credentials to co-author the work when
asked to do so by Wilbur and Schreiber.
The 2006 book "The Bifurcation of the Self: The History and Theory of
Dissociation and Its Disorder" (Springer) by Professor Robert Rieber
(Fordham University) documents how the hoax was perpetrated. Rieber had
access to the original Schreiber/Wilbur interview tapes made when Sybil
was being written. We learn that the "memories were a result of
prolonged hypnosis and, to quote Dr. Wilbur: "Uh, the first time we got
any memories back was when I gave her Pentothal ..." (Rieber,
page 217) 2
Wilbur's treatment of Sybil required eleven years and a total of 2,254
In a letter to Dr. Wilbur, (reprinted in Rieber page 91) Schreiber
reports that she had visited "Sybil's" hometown but was unable to find
anyone to corroborate the awful things that supposedly happened to
"Sybil" there. Schreiber was also unable to find the "woods" where many
incidents allegedly occurred.
Will the CBS remake of SYBIL include the information documenting Sybil's
MPD as a hoax? Does it matter? Yes! Bitter experience shows that when
the media give credence to psychological anomalies, they spread wildly.
SYBIL played a substantial role in a cultural and psychiatric tsunami,
later known as the "false" or "recovered" memory debate. In spite of
professional skepticism about MPD and multi-million dollar malpractice
suits by former MPD patients, there is danger of unleashing another
tsunami unless the truth is told.
Does anyone care? Yes! As Oprah Winfrey's recent experience over the
fraudulent James Frey memoir "A Million Little Pieces" shows, the public
really does care to know whether the material served them by the media
is fact or fiction.