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The Case of Sybil in the Teaching of Psychology

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What do psychology professors today typically tell their students about the case of Sybil (F. R. Schreiber, 1973)--once considered the classic case of multiple personality disorder (MPD), until gradually revealed to be a fraud by new evidence (R. W. Rieber, 1998)? A 14-item survey was completed by a national sample of 125 college psychology teachers. It was found that a sizable minority of teachers discuss MPD (35%) or Sybil (23%) in their classes, 40% continue to regard Sybil as a classic case of MPD, and 83% report being only slightly or not at all familiar with new revelations about the Sybil case. Psychology teachers are offered 5 guidelines for accurately teaching about Sybil today.
... Of the 24 articles (Anderson, Yasenik, & Ross, 1993;Becker-Lausen, Sanders, & Chinsky, 1995;Benjamin, Benjamin, & Rind, 1996;Classen, Field, Atkinson, & Spiegel, 1998;DiTomasso & Routh, 1993;Egeland & Susman-Stillman, 1996;Giancarlo, 1991;Hartocollis, 1998;Haugaard, 2004;Irwin, 1996;Kluft, 1987;Leavitt, 1994;Lev-Wiesel, 2008;Macfie, Cicchetti, & Toth, 2001;Madden & Parody, 1997;McElroy, 1992;Putnam, 1993;Putnam, Helmers, Horowitz, & Trickett, 1995;Putnam, Helmers, & Trickett, 1993;Rieber, Takooshian, & Iglesias, 2002;Sacco & Farber, 1999;Seeley, Perosa, & Perosa, 2004;Young, 1992), only five articles (i.e., Article 3, 10, 11, 23, 24) included at least some insights or implications for working with trauma and dissociation survivors in terms of the social aspects of treatment. For example, Macfie et al. (2001) mentioned that certain social interventions would be necessary when working with trauma survivors with dissociation, such as stopping maltreatment, and ensuring proper caregiving, and Benjamin et al. (1996) discussed how to work with mothers with complex DD. ...
... None of the authors discussed the potential role of social workers in the assessment or management of complex DD. Although Rieber et al. (2002) implicitly held doubts about the diagnosis of MPD, none of the reviewed articles explicitly endorsed the sociocognitive model of complex DD, which has been disproven by empirical studies (see Brand et al., 2016). The key information in the articles is summarized in Table 1. ...
... 4. Rieber et al. (2002) The authors argued that new evidence suggested Sybil should not be considered the classic case of MPD (now known as DID) and they studied what psychology professors typically told their students about the case of Sybil. They also suggested five guidelines for teaching about Sybil in classroom. ...
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Social workers are major mental health service providers in many countries and regions. This paper presents five reasons to explain why complex dissociative disorders (complex DD) should receive more attention from social workers. We conducted a preliminary review of complex DD in the social work literature. In March 2018, we searched all articles related to complex DD in academic journals classified under the “Social Work” research area in two Web of Science databases. Twenty-four articles were identified and reviewed. Most articles did not even have insights/implications for working with trauma and dissociation survivors regarding the social aspects of their care. None of the articles discussed the potential role of social workers in the assessment or management of complex DD. The body of knowledge regarding complex DD remains seriously limited in the social work field. Several knowledge gaps are discussed. We highlight some issues that social workers should consider when working with individuals with complex DD. Keywords: Complex dissociative disorders; Pathological dissociation; Trauma; Mental health; Social work
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This bibliography is a continuation of those previously published in Teaching of Psychology (e.g., Berry & Daniel, 1984; Fulkerson & Wise, 1987; Johnson & Schroder, 1997; Wise & Fulkerson, 1996). We maintained similar search methods and criteria for inclusion that were used in previous bibliographies. We also continued the cumulative numbering of the items. To help the reader locate relevant articles, we arranged items into a small number of subject categories. Generally, if fewer than three items fell into a specific subject category they were relegated to a category labeled miscellaneous.
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Is there a core set of key concepts that defines a common language for introductory psychology? A content analysis of the glossaries of 10 major introductory psychology textbooks identified 2,505 different terms and concepts. Only 64 items (< 3%) were common to all glossaries; approximately half (49%) appeared in only I glossary. Ratings of item importance by a national sample of 191 instructors indicated moderate agreement nt between instructors and authors as to what constitutes a key concept. These results, and those of previous studies, pose a serious dilemma for those who wish to follow the prescription that "less is more" in content coverage in the introductory course. Just what should that "less" be?
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Discusses the psychoanalytically informed treatment of adults, severely traumatized in childhood, who employ defensive altered states of consciousness, termed dissociative identity disorder. The author draws on drive theory, ego psychology, objects relations theory, self psychology, and intersubjectivity to explain the complexities of the subject. The author presents clinical material in each chapter, from vignettes and composites to extensive case histories. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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"Multiple Identities and False Memories" presents a . . . critique of the assumed connection between multiple personality disorder (MPD), now classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) as dissociative identity disorder, and the recovery of repressed memories of childhood physical and sexual abuse. Spanos argues that MPD is not a naturally occurring mental disorder but rather a social construct that exists in a particular cultural and historical framework. Spanos contends in this volume that current concepts of MPD are tied to inaccurate "altered state" theories of hypnosis. He provides a critical exploration of the nature of memory and defines the relationships among MPD, hypnosis, and childhood memory repression and recovery. This book examines the complex issues surrounding the reported recovery of memories of abuse during therapy, as well as the role of the therapist in the generation and maintenance of MPD. Spanos also posits that parallels can be drawn between MPD and a number of historical and sociocultural phenomena such as demonic possession, witchcraft, glossolalia, and hysteria. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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This paper presents a discussion of the relationship between hypnosis, false memory, and multiple personality. Since Morton Prince's classic case of multiple personality (Prince 1906), only two other cases rival Prince's original work (Thigpen and Cleckley 1957, Schreiber 1973) in popularity. This paper illustrates startling new material regarding the third most famous of multiple personality cases, that of Sybil. Tape recordings recently discovered document the fraudulent construction of multiple personality. The importance of the role of hypnosis is discussed in this presentation. The author of this paper knew the author of Sybil, Flora Schreiber, through many years before her death, and therefore is able to present first-hand information about the author and her work. '... to suggest during a trance the appearance of a secondary personage with a certain temperament and that secondary personage will usually give itself a name. One has therefore to be on one's guard in this matter against confounding naturally double persons and persons who are simply temporarily endowed with the belief that they must play the part of being double.' Prince, 1890 (William James comments upon Morton Prince's paper) 'After all', as Miss Beauchamp used to say, referring to her different dissociated personalities, B1, B3, and B4 - the saint, the devil and the woman, 'they are all myself.' And perhaps after all, Miss Beauchamp was not so very much unlike the rest of us. Morton Prince, 28 April 1915 (Rieber 1997)
How do psychology textbooks report the Sybil case and multiple personality? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association
  • E R Harrington
  • R W Rieber
  • H Takooshian
The teaching of MPD in introductory and abnormal textbooks. Paper presented at the 28th Hunter College Psychology Convention
  • H Iglesias
New doubts on famous "multiple personality
  • M Ritter
The dissociation of personality. London: Longmans, Green, & Co
  • M Prince
Introductory textbooks and psychology’s core concepts
  • J S Zeichmeister
  • E B Zeichmeister