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Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Caseby Debbie Nathan
Synopses & Reviews
SYBIL: A name that conjures up enduring fascination for legions of obsessed fans who followed the nonfiction blockbuster from 1973 and the TV movie based on it—starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward—about a woman named Sybil with sixteen different personalities. Sybil became both a pop phenomenon and a revolutionary force in the psychotherapy industry. The book rocketed multiple personality disorder (MPD) into public consciousness and played a major role in having the diagnosis added to the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
But what do we really know about how Sybil came to be? In her news-breaking book Sybil Exposed, journalist Debbie Nathan gives proof that the allegedly true story was largely fabricated. The actual identity of Sybil (Shirley Mason) has been available for some years, as has the idea that the book might have been exaggerated. But in Sybil Exposed, Nathan reveals what really powered the legend: a trio of women—the willing patient, her ambitious shrink, and the imaginative journalist who spun their story into bestseller gold.
From horrendously irresponsible therapeutic practices to calculated business decisions, the story Nathan unfurls is full of over-the-top behavior. Sybil's psychiatrist, driven by undisciplined idealism and galloping professional ambition, subjected the young woman to years of antipsychotics, psychedelics, uppers, and downers, including an untold number of injections with Pentothal, once known as "truth serum" but now widely recognized to provoke fantasies. It was during these "treatments" that Sybil produced the rambling, garbled, and probably "false memory"-based narratives of the hideous child abuse that her psychiatrist said caused her MPD.
Sybil Exposed uses investigative journalism to tell a fascinating tale that reads like fiction but is fact. Nathan has followed an enormous trail of papers, records, photos, and tapes to unearth the lives and passions of these three women. The Sybil archive became available to the public only recently, and Nathan is the first person to have examined all of it and to provide proof that the story was an elaborate fraud—albeit one that the perpetrators may have half-believed.
Before Sybil was published, there had been fewer than 200 known cases of MPD; within just a few years after, more than 40,000 people would be diagnosed with it. Set across the twentieth century and rooted in a time when few professional roles were available to women, this is a story of corrosive sexism, unchecked ambition, and shaky theories of psychoanalysis exuberantly and drastically practiced. It is the story of how one modest young woman's life turned psychiatry on its head and radically changed the course of therapy, and our culture, as well.
Journalist Debbie Nathan reveals the true story behind the famous case of Sybil, the woman with sixteen different personalities.
About the Author
Debbie Nathan is an award-winning journalist, editor, and translator who specializes in writing about immigration, the United States-Mexico border, and sexual politics and sex panics, particularly in relation to women and children. She is the author or coauthor of four books, including Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Debbie now lives in New York City with her husband. Marguerite Gavin has recorded over three hundred audiobooks in nearly every genre. A nominee for the prestigious Audie Award, she was won both AudioFile Earphones and Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Awards. AudioFile magazine says "Marguerite Gavin is an accomplished storyteller . . . with a sonorous voice, rich and full of emotion, she easily delivers wry humor and moves smoothly from accent to accent, recalling multiple characters perfectly." Marguerite divides her time as an actress between the sound studio and classical theater. She lives with her family in the Washington, D.C., area.
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