Sybil's "Multiple" Personalities Honed in Therapy, Evidence Suggests

Robert Rieber, of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, listened to audiotapes that had been in his desk for a quarter of a century, and concluded that the well-known case of "Sybil," a woman who supposedly had 16 personalities, was untrue.

The tapes were of conversations between Dr. Cornelia Wilbur and the author of the book Sybil (1973), Flora Rheta Schreiber, who have both since died. The recordings were made to help in the writing of the book, and were later given to Rieber by onetime colleague Schreiber. Their contents suggest that "Sybil's" various personalities were created in therapy, and show both that the doctor and the author were "not totally unaware" of the invalidity of the story they were telling and that they wanted to believe the tale "no matter what," according to Rieber. Rieber felt that the two deceived themselves as much as they did others.

Rieber presented his case on August 16, 1998 at the yearly meeting of the American Psychological Association.

However, to Dr. Richard Gottlieb, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the conversations suggest that Wilbur could merely have described what she had seen in therapy.

But Dr. Herbert Spiegel, who had treated "Sybil" when Wilbur was out of town, had previously published his belief that Sybil's alleged personalities came from Wilbur having given names to Sybil's emotional states -- and that Wilbur came to think in error that they were separate personalities. Spiegel, during his differing treatment of "Sybil," found that he could get her to talk about a certain important event as Sybil, rather than as the "separate" personality from whom Wilbur would have wanted to hear.

Though Spiegel clarified this for Schreiber, the latter maintained that if the problem was not called multiple personality, then the publisher would not want the book.

Source: Houston Chronicle, 8/17/98