Multiple Personalities and Satanic Cults
[This is Chapter 4 from Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations And
Shattered Lives, by Mark Pendergrast (Upper Access Books, 2d edition, 1996).
For complete citations and other chapters, see the book itself, which can be
ordered through Amazon.com or a bookstore, or by calling the publisher
directly at 800-310-8320. You may contact Mark Pendergrast at
Multiple Personalities and Satanic Cults
He . . . said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he begged him not to send them out . . . .
—Gospel of St. Mark 5:8-10
I felt a Cleavage in my Mind—
As if my Brain had split—
I tried to match it—Seam by Seam—
But could not make them fit.
One of the most intriguing and controversial products of hypnotic suggestion is a belief that some people harbor multiple internal personalities—an idea that became popular around the turn of the century. (For the early history of this phenomenon, see Chapter 10). Just as past-life regressions yield “secondary role enactments,” a person with multiple personality disorder (MPD) can perform as an entire ensemble in this life.
But many critics have persuasively argued that the phenomenon of multiple personality is almost invariably an artifact of therapy, produced by the therapist’s expectations and the suggestible, vulnerable, attention-seeking client.*
This does not mean that the therapist intentionally creates the condition, nor does it mean that the client suffering from MPD is consciously acting fraudulently. Because the modern proliferation of multiples is so intimately connected with the hunt for repressed memories of sexual abuse, a brief review of its modern rise is in order.
The diagnosis of multiple personality disorder was extremely infrequent until the cases of Eve White (a pseudonym for Christine Sizemore) and Sybil, both of which spawned best-selling books and movies. These two cases have exerted enormous influence, providing models for thousands of others that have come in their wake.
Psychiatrist Corbett Thigpen, co-author of The Three Faces of Eve (1957) at first found Eve White to be rather boring—a “neat, colorless young woman.” She came to him because of terrible headaches, apparently caused by intolerable tension related to her failing marriage, exacerbated by her unwillingness to raise her daughter Bonnie in her husband’s Catholic faith, because she herself was a Baptist. Mrs. White’s therapy was clearly important to her, since she drove 100 miles to meet with Thigpen. Her husband Ralph characterized her as “too good” but possessing a “little erratic streak.”
After several sessions, Thigpen suggested hypnosis in order to help analyze a dream. Soon afterwards, Mrs. White apparently experienced amnesia following a huge fight with her husband. Thigpen suggested to her that “unacceptable events are sometimes unconsciously repressed from memory or involuntarily dissociated from awareness,” and this seemed to make her feel better. Soon afterwards, during a session, Mrs. White appeared “momentarily dazed,” looked blank, then transformed her entire appearance. “There was a quick reckless smile. In a bright unfamiliar voice that sparkled, the woman said, ‘Hi, there, Doc!’” After some confusing conversation, Thigpen asked “Who are you?” and she answered “Eve Black,” her maiden name.
Eve Black was everything Eve White was not. She was irrepressible, naughty, sensual, spontaneous. In many ways, she was a duplicate of Morton Prince’s “Sally Beauchamp,” the lively alternate personality (known as an “alter”) in that famous 1906 case.* Dr. Thigpen was clearly taken with Eve Black, noting “how attractive those legs were.” Suddenly this boring patient was a lot more interesting. The idea that several entirely separate personalities could co-exist inside one brain or body has always intrigued not only psychiatrists, but the general public. Soon afterwards, a third alter, “Jane,” appeared as a balanced, intelligent mid-point between the two Eves. By the end of the therapy, however, all of the personalities appeared to have integrated, and all was well.
Sybil and Her Traumatized Alters
In September of 1954, a few months after Thigpen and Cleckley published “A Case of Multiple Personality” in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Sybil Dorsett (a pseudonym) moved to New York City and commenced psychotherapy with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur. After three months, Wilbur met Peggy Baldwin, a disturbed child alter, and diagnosed Sybil as a multiple personality. Over the next 11 years, in over 2,300 sessions, Wilbur identified 16 different alters before triumphantly integrating them all. In 1973, Flora Rheta Schreiber, a literature professor, actress, and free-lance writer, published Sybil in a dramatic novelized form. That book, along with the subsequent movie, has provided a template for the modern epidemic of MPD diagnoses, including the idea that grotesque childhood sexual and physical abuse causes “dissociation” of various alters. Sybil’s tortures primarily featured enemas that she was forced to hold while her mother played piano concertos, but the sadistic parent also enjoyed pushing spoons and other items up her child’s vagina, making Sybil watch sexual intercourse, and hoisting her up to hang helplessly from a pulley.*
Recently, however, Dr. Herbert Spiegel, a psychiatrist intimately familiar with Sybil’s case, has come forward to question her MPD diagnosis. Spiegel isn’t just your run-of-the-mill expert. He first identified highly hypnotizable people and has specialized in dissociative disorders.** Schreiber thanked Spiegel in her acknowledgements, noting tersely that he called the patient “a brilliant hysteric.” In a recent phone conversation, Herbert Spiegel told me that Cornelia Wilbur had brought Sybil to him for consultation early in her therapy. He had diagnosed her as highly hypnotizable. Whenever Wilbur had to leave town, Spiegel served as Sybil’s temporary therapist. In addition, Sybil visited his Columbia University classes annually for a hypnotism demonstration, and she participated in his study of age regression.
“When Sybil came to therapy with me,” Spiegel says, “and we were discussing some phase of her life, she asked me, ‘Do you want me to be Peggy, or can I just tell you?’ That took me aback, and I asked her what she meant. ‘Well, when I’m with Dr. Wilbur, she wants me to be Peggy.’ I told her that if it made her more comfortable to be Peggy, that was fine, but otherwise it wasn’t necessary. She seemed relieved and chose not to assume different personalities when she was with me.”
Later, Flora Schreiber approached Spiegel to ask if he would co-author the book, which initially intrigued him. But when he found that they were planning to call her a multiple personality, he objected. Schreiber explained that the publisher was interested only in this sensational approach. When Spiegel told her he wanted no part of such a venture, “she got in a huff and walked out.” At subsequent psychiatric conferences, Wilbur refused to speak to him.
Ralph Allison’s New Frontier
Throughout the 1970s, Cornelia Wilbur was the acknowledged authority on MPD because of her professional publications as well as the popular novel. Throughout the decade, a growing cadre of other psychotherapists became interested in multiple personalities. California psychiatrist Ralph Allison provided an early networking tool through his newsletter, Memos in Multiplicity.
In 1980, Allison published Minds in Many Pieces, the first popular professional book on multiple personalities. His account of how he first “discovered” that a patient named Janette suffered from MPD is extremely revealing.
A 29-year-old housewife, Janette was chronically depressed and unhappily married. Her mother had been “a bossy hypochondriac, always whining about imagined ailments.” Following a suicide attempt by Janette, Allison had her committed to a psychiatric ward, where he asked Katherine, a resident psychologist, to evaluate her. That night, Katherine called Dr. Allison and informed him that Janette was a “classic case” of MPD, “another Three Faces of Eve.”
The following day, after a sleepless night, the nervous Dr. Allison informed Janette that “the psychologist who saw you yesterday says there’s someone else here with you.” Janette looked puzzled. “What I mean is, there’s someone inside your head—someone else sharing your body.” Still no response. “I want to meet the other person. I think I can if you’ll give me a little cooperation.” He asked her to close her eyes and relax. Then, in a “commanding, forceful voice,” Allison intoned: “Now I want to talk to whoever or whatever spoke to the psychologist last night. Come out by the time I count to three. One . . . Two . . . Three!” And with that, Janette opened her eyes and, in a loud, grating voice, said, “Okay, doc, what do you want? And God, it’s good to get rid of that piss-ass Janette.”
Thrilled, Allison observed that “it was like something out of a movie. It was Joanne Woodward changing from Eve White to Eve Black in The Three Faces of Eve.” Exactly. Although it is likely that Janette, too, had seen the movie, it did not occur to Allison that he had cued his patient into multiplicity. From that humble beginning, he was off and running. Later, through hypnosis, he had Janette “remember” a rape by a schoolyard bully. But that was just the beginning. “We identified traumas through the use of hypnosis and other techniques. Often one memory led to another and we delved deeper and deeper into her past.”
Once Allison learned how to look for multiplicity, he began to find it in more patients, including Carrie—a beautiful, tall redhead with a history of severe depression and mood disorders. “I had an odd feeling that this young woman was going to play a unique role in my life. She would influence my work,” he noted.
Allison introduced Carrie to Janette, and soon his first MPD patient was counseling his second. “Debra,” Carrie’s first alter, called Allison her “Daddy” and Janette “Mommy.”
Dr. Allison discussed the matter with a parapsychology instructor, who sensed that the spirit of an evil deceased drug addict named Bonnie had invaded Carrie’s body. Allison apparently believed this assertion and subsequently carried out a formal exorcism, which he claimed was a success. This didn’t prevent Carrie from developing other alters, however, and it didn’t stop her from committing suicide the day after he visited her in the hospital—she had been brought there in restraints after a new “alter” violently attacked Allison, screaming “GoddamnmotherfuckingbastardIhateyou.” Even her death did not keep Allison from proclaiming his treatment to be successful.* “I don’t always like being a loner,” he wrote in his chapter about Carrie. “It hurts to know that I am ridiculed as a ‘fool’ by people who don’t dispute my successes, but only my methods.”
In Minds in Many Pieces, Allison expressed a belief that he had discovered a new, exciting form of therapy. He likened his probing of the mind’s inner mysteries to the space program and referred to himself as “an explorer of this second ‘frontier.’” Despite appearances that he was creating the very disorder he was supposed to cure, his book has exerted an enormous influence, providing models for the “inner self helper,” a kind of guardian angel alter, and the “dark alters” or demons who need to be exorcised.**
The idea of demonic possession, widely believed until the end of the 17th century, appears to have maintained a fairly strong hold, even in modern times. With the publication of The Exorcist (1971) and its inevitable movie (1973), popular interest in the occult burgeoned. Before that, in the mid-’50s, Thigpen and Cleckley received several suggestions that Eve White might have been possessed by “discarnate spirits.” Other correspondents, claiming personal experience with demonic possession, volunteered to “cast out the indwelling fiend they were sure resided in the body of our patient.”
Although Thigpen made fun of such notions, many post-Allison therapists have taken them seriously. Michelle Remembers, the recovered memories book about satanic abuse (see Chapter 3) appeared in 1980, and since then, Satan has been given his share of blame for the phenomenon of multiplicity. To lend an air of science, however, demons are often called “introjects.” Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who charmed those in search of pop spirituality with The Road Less Traveled (1978), followed it with People of the Lie in 1983, in which he espoused a firm belief in pure evil and the efficacy of exorcism.* “The diagnosis of possession is not an easy one to make,” however, because “the demonic hides within and behind the person. For the exorcism to occur, . . . the demonic must be uncovered and brought into the open.” To accomplish this, an exorcist must make direct contact with the demons. “When the demonic finally spoke clearly in one case,” Peck wrote, “an expression appeared on the patient’s face that could be described only as Satanic.” That proved that the patient was possessed, even to Peck, who considered himself “a hardheaded scientist.”
It isn’t surprising that demonic possession should be identified with multiple-personality disorder. They are different faces of the same essential phenomenon, as Nicholas Spanos, Michael Kenny, and several other observers have noted. In each case, a person is convinced that he or she possesses indwelling alternate personalities, often unaware of one another, each with a distinct name and birth date. In either case, it takes an expert—a priest or a therapist—to identify the disorder, to call out the demons or alters, and to converse with them. Finally, this same expert must “cure” the disorder, often at great personal risk, by dispensing with the demons and restoring the subject to wholeness and health. As one of Scott Peck’s patients commented, “All psychotherapy is a kind of exorcism,” and the reverse is true as well.**
Diagnosing the Elusive Multiple
At the 1977 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Cornelia Wilbur chaired the first organized panel on MPD and invited Ralph Allison to present his views. Allison brought along Henry Hawksworth — a male MPD patient who later wrote his own book — as a surprise guest. Subsequently, Allison was asked to chair the panel the next year.
Soon, however, the California psychiatrist was eased out of power by younger colleagues, including Bennett Braun and Richard Kluft, who were determined to lend an air of scientific credibility to the diagnosis. Allison, with his shamanistic belief in demons, proved to be an embarrassment and was effectively shut out of the movement.
By the mid-’80s, under the influence of Kluft and company, an entire MPD industry had arisen, with its own societies, authorities, specialized journals and newsletters. Because of Eve, Sybil, Ralph Allison, and other interested therapists, multiple personality was included in 1980 in the third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which meant that an MPD diagnosis could draw insurance payments. In the early 1980s, a core group of therapists—Bennett Braun, Richard Kluft, Eugene Bliss, George Greaves, David Caul, Colin Ross, and Frank Putnam—cranked out articles on MPD. Several prestigious psychological journals published special issues devoted to the topic. In 1984, the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality & Dissociation was founded. In the late 1980s, more popular books and professional articles on multiplicity poured forth.
In 1989, psychiatrist Frank Putnam, who works at the National Institute of Mental Health, published Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder, intended as a textbook “for therapists unfamiliar with dissociative disorders.” Putnam asserts that the initial diagnosis is often “difficult and anxiety-provoking for both therapist and patient.” Why this should be so soon becomes clear. Few of those who suffer from MPD realize that they harbor any internal personalities until the therapist seeks them out. To complicate things further, the alters are wily creatures. “The personality system may be actively eluding diagnosis,” Putnam writes.
“The trick,” he continues, “is to recognize and follow up [any] manifestations of MPD.” It is important to “maintain a high index of suspicion regarding the possibility of covert switching occurring during sessions.” Any mood changes, momentary silences, physical shifts, facial tics, or inability to remember past events should be taken as clues to multiplicity. “A clinician will not find MPD if he or she is not willing to look for it.” But one must be also be willing to wait, usually six months or more, before spotting MPD in a particular patient. That way, the therapist establishes trust, rapport and knowledge of the person’s background. During this time, patients should keep diaries in which different handwriting or moods might indicate MPD.
Putnam describes the crucial initial contact with an alter. “My first approach is one of indirect inquiry. I broach the subject gently, often first asking the patient whether he or she has ever felt like more than one person.” He follows up with other inquiries, such as “Do you ever feel as if you are not alone, as if there is someone else or some other part watching you?” Or, “Do you ever feel as if there is some other part of yourself that comes out and does or says things that you would not do or say?” Once the psychiatrist finally gets a positive response, he latches onto it. “In particular, I am looking for either a name or an attribute, function, or description that I can use as a label to elicit this other part directly.” A proper name such as Helen is preferable, but Putnam will accept “the angry one” or “the little girl.”
Regardless of the label, at this point the therapist should inquire, “Can this other part come out and talk with me?” Quite often, Putnam cautions, “the alter does not pop out the first time the therapist asks. It is often necessary to repeat the request several times.” Hypnotism or sodium Amytal are often useful. “Even if the patient is showing evidence of significant distress with this request, I would urge persistence.” Some patients, when repeatedly pushed to produce a balky alter, report “feeling smothered, having a sense of terrible internal pressure.” These are signs “highly suggestive of dissociative pathology,” Putnam asserts. Sometimes, in order to elicit an alter, an extended interview lasting three hours or longer is useful. “It may be necessary to spend a large part of the day with some highly secretive MPD patients,” he cautions. “During this interview, which is exhausting and stressful for both parties, it is important to continue to probe aggressively.”*
By this time, I hope that the reader is as appalled as I am. No wonder the patients feel smothered! Here is Dr. Putnam—or any zealous therapist like him—acting like an interrogator during the Spanish Inquisition. He will not take “No” for an answer. Even relatively normal people would probably buckle under such pressure and produce alters. How much more likely that a vulnerable patient, who has approached a therapist in hopes of understanding his or her unhappiness, would succumb?**
Putnam would prefer to elicit alters without resorting to hypnosis, but often he finds it necessary. He begins by producing a “benign trance experience,” which turns out to be the creation of the by-now-familiar “safe and pleasant place.” From there, he age-regresses patients, hoping to find traumas and the alters they produced. “It is important to identify a ‘target’ beforehand and to direct the age regression back to that point in time.” Once there, “the act of remembering will produce a florid abreaction that can cause considerable distress for both patient and therapist. Revivification, the experience of vividly reliving an event, is in some ways more traumatic than the original experience.”
Like Ellen Bass and Renee Fredrickson, Putnam encourages his hypnotic patients to visualize their past abuse on a mental movie screen. “Events seen on this screen can be slowed down, speeded up, reversed, or frozen by suggestion as needed . . . . The patient can also be instructed to zoom in on details, or zoom back and pan for a larger perspective.” Having gotten the hang of this internal movie-making, most MPD candidates really take to the process. “Once uncovering work has begun to open the closed doors,” Putnam writes, “the patient will have increased difficulty in keeping painful material out of conscious awareness. This process seems to gather a momentum of its own.”*
Indeed, with practice, most MPD patients no longer require hypnotic inductions. Therapists can simply say, “I’d like to talk to Sherry now,” and she will instantly appear. Specialist Richard Kluft uses an economy of style when he wishes to make a particularly important announcement. “Everybody listen!” he demands. His audience is likely to include some standard types: a few traumatized inner children, a suicidal depressive, a protector, a prostitute, and perhaps a demon or two. “The alters are typically stock characters, with bizarre but completely unimaginative character traits, each one a stereotype,” writes philosopher Ian Hacking. “Persona-switching now happens much more suddenly and instantaneously than in the past. There is no need for a trance or sleep period between alters. The model is ‘zapping,’ of switching channels on television.”
In order to maintain their therapists’ attention, some MPDs have gone overboard with their alters. George Ganaway, an Atlanta psychiatrist who is among the few skeptical specialists in dissociative disorders, writes that he personally has encountered “demons, angels, sages, lobsters, chickens, tigers, a gorilla, a unicorn, and ‘God’,” to name only a few. “The inscapes in which they exist,” he adds, “have ranged from labyrinthine tunnels and mazes to castles in enchanted forests, high-rise office buildings, and even a separate galaxy.”
Once diagnosed, most MPD patients are encouraged to attend group sessions with their fellow multiples. At various in-patient units around the country, they have no choice. Here, the group process works its wonders, with an ever-escalating level of alter-switching, trauma-reliving, attention-seeking one-upmanship. Ganaway facetiously calls such dramatic displays status abreacticus, as the patient “‘relives’ for the therapist’s fascination and approval an increasingly expansive repertoire of what both grow to believe are factual trauma memories.” Paul McHugh, head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, believes that getting MPD patients away from contagious group settings should be an important part of any cure; he suggests “isolation [and] counter suggestion.”
Of course, suggesting to identified patients that they are not multiples would be abhorrent to Frank Putnam. At some point, he warns, patients will “deny that the MPD is active or even that it ever existed. They may seek to disprove that they are or ever were multiples, and even say that they faked it or made it up.” The therapist must accept none of these excuses, he states. This follows the model of Dr. Wilbur, who ignored Sybil when her patient wrote: “I am not going to tell you there isn’t anything wrong. We both know there is. But it is not what I have led you to believe. I do not have any multiple personalities. I don’t even have a ‘double’ to help me out. I am all of them.”
Usually, it doesn’t take all the pressure Putnam exerts to produce a multiple personality case, as psychologist Nicholas Spanos has shown in a series of experiments. Spanos became intrigued with the case of Kenneth Bianchi, the “Hillside Strangler,” who was diagnosed in 1979 as a multiple personality by therapist John Watkins. It wasn’t Bianchi who had murdered all those women; it was his vicious alter, Steve Walker, according to Watkins. Ralph Allison, who was called in as a consultant, agreed.* Spanos read a transcript of Watkins’ interview with a hypnotized Bianchi. “I’ve talked a bit to Ken but I think that perhaps there might be another part of Ken that I haven’t talked to.” He paused. “Part, would you come and lift Ken’s hand to indicate to me that you are here.” The hand lifted.* “Would you talk to me, Part, by saying, ‘I’m here.’” Bianchi obliged him.
Having summoned this Part, Watkins then engaged in the following dialogue:
Part, are you the same as Ken or are you different in any way?
I’m not him.
You’re not him. Who are you? Do you have a name?
I’m not Ken.
You’re not him? Okay. Who are you? Tell me about yourself. Do you have a name I can call you by?
Steve. You can call me Steve.
After the hypnotic session, Bianchi could not remember anything about Steve.
In 1985, Spanos decided to replicate this conversation as nearly as possible with a test group of college students, each of whom was asked to play the role of an accused murderer under hypnosis. The students were not told anything about multiple personalities. Yet 81 percent of the participants adopted different names and referred to their primary identities in the third person, and 63 percent displayed spontaneous amnesia for the hypnotic session after it was finished. Spanos concluded that the amnesia and MPD were an unconscious fraud, a “strategic enactment” to fulfill a role. “The displays of forgetting exhibited by these patients are selective and context dependent.” Finally, he concluded, “these findings indicate that the multiple personality role was viewed by subjects as a credible vehicle for negotiating a difficult personal dilemma.”
The following year, Spanos replicated his experiment, adding an age-regression component based on the Bianchi interviews. Not surprisingly, those treated like Bianchi “recalled” traumatic early childhoods that caused them to split off their alters. “My parents hate me,” one subject reported. “Sometimes they start slapping me around.” The subjects seemed to realize instinctively that this traumatic background would “explain” why they were multiples. Their psychopathology provided a means of “disavowing responsibility for past difficulties and for anticipated failures.” Spanos concluded that “people who adopt this role often become convinced by their own enactments and by the legitimation they receive from significant others. In this manner such individuals come to believe sincerely that they possess secondary identities that periodically ‘take over.’”
Some critics feel that all MPD involves role-enactment, which is an extreme position. Yet consider the fact that multiple personalities are almost entirely a product of a small cadre of North American therapists. The phenomenon does not exist at all in many cultures, although belief in demon possession is certainly widespread. This observation led British psychologist Ray Aldridge-Morris to call MPD “an exercise in deception” in his comprehensive 1989 book on the subject. “My initial impetus to write this monograph,” he notes, “was the dramatic incidence of multiple personality syndrome in the United States relative to its virtual absence elsewhere in the world. An extensive canvass of psychologists and psychiatrists in Great Britain produced not a single, unequivocal case.”
Similarly, Canadian psychiatrist Harold Merskey, who published an extensive historical review of the syndrome in 1992, concluded: “No case has been found here in which MPD, as now conceived, is proven to have emerged through unconscious processes without any shaping or preparation by external factors such as physicians or the media . . . . It is likely that MPD never occurs as a spontaneous persistent natural event in adults.” Rather, Merskey asserts, “suggestion, social encouragement, preparation by expectation, and the reward of attention can produce and sustain a second personality.”
Anthropologist Michael Kenny echoes Merskey in his book on the subject: “Multiple personality is a socially created artifact, not the natural product of some deterministic psychological process.” It is rather a useful “idiom of distress” for our times. Finally, Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Paul McHugh states flatly: “MPD is an iatrogenic [doctor-induced] behavioral syndrome, promoted by suggestion and maintained by clinical attention, social consequences, and group loyalties.”*
If that is so, how do we account for a case like Eve (Christine Costner Sizemore)? She appears to have taken Dr. Thigpen completely by surprise, and her “split” occurred before the current vogue. Thigpen probably cued his patient without being aware of it. He had read Morton Prince’s description of Christine Beauchamp. Before “Eve Black” appeared, Thigpen had already hypnotized her at least once and had explained the concepts of repression and dissociation. We have only his retrospective account, which is highly colored by his assumption that he did not cue her. It is quite possible that he loaned her his copy of Prince’s Dissociation of a Personality or told her about it, or that she was familiar with the concept of multiple personality in some other way.*
Regardless of how Chris Sizemore initially became a multiple, she thrived on the role and has made it a life-time occupation. At the conclusion of The Three Faces of Eve, we are led to believe that her alters were well-integrated. Far from it. In the ensuing years, at the urging of her new therapist, she developed a total of 22 personalities with names such as Purple Lady, Retrace Lady, and Strawberry Girl. She has published two additional books about her dramatic experiences, in which she name-drops mercilessly, brags about her accomplishments, and laments her inability ever to meet Sybil, her main competition. She has experienced, as she writes in a revealing passage, “a lifetime of continual expectancy.”
Dissociative Disorder Units: Terror in the MPD Mills
Why would a trained professional, whose goal is to help afflicted patients regain mental health, instead push them further toward the brink of complete terror and disintegration?
Sheppard Pratt, a large psychiatric hospital in a northern suburb of Baltimore, provides an example of just how this can happen. Since psychiatrist Richard Loewenstein, an MPD specialist, appeared there in 1987, the number of MPD diagnoses has skyrocketed—not surprising, given Loewenstein’s mindset, as revealed in a 1991 paper. “Dissociation and MPD are primarily hidden phenomena,” he writes. “Patients may deny, minimize, or rationalize their presence.” Experienced diagnosticians must, he asserts, be alert to “subtle facial or body shifts by the dissociating patient during the interview.” He advises clinicians to search for changes from session to session in “style of clothing, hair, makeup, eyeglasses, posture, level of motor activity, jewelry, handedness, taste and habits,” all of which can be “very subtle.”
Psychiatrist Donald Ross, the training director for new residents at Sheppard Pratt, is disturbed by Loewenstein’s influence, which he perceives as producing young “true believers” in the MPD diagnosis. The process begins, Ross posits, when patients with “insecure self-identity and permeable ego boundaries” appear in the hospital ward. “They present us a therapeutic dilemma we find overwhelming. We want to help. We also want to diminish our anxiety.” Up until now, no adequate theory or treatment has appeared to make much difference. “The conceptual framework of trauma theory, with its emphasis on dissociation and the use of . . . hypnosis, offers some promise of helping our patients and reducing our anxiety.” It seems to work. “It gives the patients a dramatic language to express their identity diffusion and their massive internal conflicts or ‘parts.’ Besides, it engages us in a way that is exciting and reinforcing.”
With time, this new approach catches fire, as Ross has seen. “A group knowledge of MPD begins to circulate among the patients and, like a contagion of sorts, it multiplies. We see dissociative phenomena more readily . . . . The therapeutic techniques used—hypnosis, regression, and abreaction—give us a sense that we are doing something and that therapy is moving in an understandable direction.” Over a hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud succumbed to the same kind of temptation, as he later confessed: “There was something positively seductive in working with hypnotism. For the first time there was a sense of having overcome one’s helplessness; and it was highly flattering to enjoy the reputation of being a miracle-worker.”
Unfortunately, the results of such “miracles” at Sheppard Pratt are devastating for people such as Donna Smith and her family, whose story has been recently documented in Esquire and on the television show 20/20. Primed by a therapist, Smith had already retrieved extensive “repressed memories” of paternal incest by the time she was committed to Sheppard Pratt just short of her 18th birthday. The in-take psychologist spotted six alters during the initial interview. During her 19-month hospital stay, Smith was heavily drugged, frequently held in restraints, hypnotized over 60 times, and attempted suicide twice. In the process, she found 65 new personalities along with memories that her mother had inserted various objects into her vagina before she was eight years old. When other alters claimed that Smith’s parents had also abused her two younger brothers, the police came to their home and hauled the terrified boys away in handcuffs to “protect” them.*
Another former Sheppard Pratt patient, who prefers to remain anonymous, never completely fell for the MPD diagnosis, although he says that his therapist at Sheppard Pratt certainly tried her best to turn him into a multiple. “I was harangued by her for not having names for emotional aspects that she felt were alters,” he told me. “I kept telling her I was uncomfortable with the whole context of ‘alters’ and naming them, and she stated that in order for us to have a working relationship, we needed alters with names. At times I found myself desperate to have them just to please her.”
Sheppard Pratt is, unfortunately, not an isolated example. Bennett Braun’s dissociative disorders unit at Rush Presbyterian in Chicago is also apparently fertile ground for MPD contagion. Another alarming example in Texas was revealed in a recent article by Sally McDonald in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing. Psychiatric nurse McDonald discusses how MPD specialist Judith Peterson, called “Dr. M.” in the article, came to Houston’s Spring Shadows Glen Hospital in 1990 to head the new dissociative disorders unit. McDonald’s article makes startling assertions. Completely supported by new medical director Dr. Richard Seward, and by the hospital administration—because her patients brought in $15,600 a day—Peterson instituted a virtual reign of terror on the ward, according to McDonald. Peterson subscribed to Bennett Braun’s methodology, hypnotizing patients and convincing them to relive supposedly forgotten traumas. She believed that virtually every patient harbored multiple personalities formed during satanic cult abuse. “One young patient was placed in nine-point mechanical restraints for three days,” McDonald writes, “not because he was a threat to himself or others . . . but because those three days coincided with some satanic event.”*
Twelve nurses fled the unit within a year and a half, but no one dared confront Dr. ******** directly until she diagnosed a “bright, articulate, preadolescent” girl, an honors student, as having been involved in a satanic cult. Confined to one room, the girl was denied access to her parents. In weekly staff meetings, nurses begged for a less restrictive environment, asking that the child be given “freedom of movement, peer interaction, fresh air, exercise, and a bed to sleep in,” but ******** refused. The girl became pale, thin, and dispirited. “These nurses knew they were the only advocates this young girl had,” McDonald writes. “Alone she was unable to object to what her doctor and therapist thought ‘best’ for her.”
When insurance companies began to question why it was only ******** and Seward who ever recorded “altered states” or “violent behavior” on the patients’ charts, the nurses were pressured to write up such behavior, McDonald asserts, even though they had never observed it. Nurses were intimidated, constantly written up for non-existent violations. ******** “threatened lawsuits so frequently that the nurses were afraid to counter her demands; they spoke in whispers in hallways because she taped their conversations.” When the nurse manager sat in on “abreactive sessions,” she was horrified by the “coercive, leading nature of these therapy sessions.”
Mothers who had hypnotic memories of cult involvement were coerced into getting divorced and giving up their children, McDonald writes. “Nurses advised these distraught couples to seek legal counsel, especially before signing divorce papers, but the patients were too fragile to pursue outside opinions, and too frightened of incurring the wrath of their therapist, Dr. M. They believed [as she told them in sessions under hypnosis] that she was the expert, and only she could successfully cure them.”
In a 1993 Houston Chronicle article, journalist Mark Smith quoted several former patients who are suing Judith ********. Lucy Abney, 45, who sought treatment for depression, spent nearly a year (and over $300,000) at Spring Shadows Glen and came out with more than 100 alters and vivid memories of ritual abuse. Her two daughters are in state custody. As an example of the paranoia rampant on the hospital ward, Abney described how her husband was turned away when he tried to give her a carnation. Patients were warned that items such as flowers could trigger alter personalities.
According to several former patients and nurses, Judith ******** specialized in convincing mothers that they had abused their children, who were also supposedly cult members. Then the children would also be admitted to the hospital. In an anonymous interview, a former nurse on the dissociative disorders unit told me that five families entered the hospital in this manner. Of those, three mothers ended up divorced and losing all contact with their children.
Kathryn Schwiderski and her three children were all patients of Judith Peterson at another Houston hospital and came to believe that their entire family had taken part in a satanic cult. Their collective therapy and hospitalization cost over $2 million. In a 1990 presentation at a national MPD conference, Peterson described a family suspiciously similar to the Schwiderski’s (without using their real names), including details about “human sacrifice, cannibalism, black hole, shock to create alters (other personalities), marriage to Satan, buried alive, birth of Satan’s child, internal booby traps, forced impregnation, and sacrifice of own child.” While most of the family members no longer believe in these “memories,” 22-year-old Kelly Schwiderski remains convinced that she killed three babies in a “fetus factory” in Colorado.
I interviewed one of Judith ********’s former patients, who verified much of what McDonald and Smith wrote. Since she insisted on anonymity—out of fear that ******** will sue her—I will call her Angela. During her private sessions with ********, Angela found her “charming, even bewitching. She had an air about her of insight and caring. In my first session, she was all ears and supportive emotion. It felt good to have someone who was so attentive to every word that I spoke, every movement that I made.” Soon ******** convinced Angela that she should enter the hospital, where she could see her more often.
Once admitted, Angela says she couldn’t get out. ******** became “a monster—harsh, hostile, interrogating, guilt-imputing, accusatory,” according to Angela. The therapist and her staff tried to convince Angela that she harbored multiple personalities and had been in a satanic cult. She was heavily drugged. “Dr. ******** told me my anger came from a cult alter trying to come out, and that physical problems I was having were body memories.” ********’s patients weren’t allowed to use the telephone unmonitored, Angela told me. Their mail was censored. Only approved visitors were allowed, and those few were closely watched. “If we weren’t cooperative—revealing new alters, talking about Satanism—or were resistant to what we were told about ourselves or our families, we weren’t considered `safe’ and often were restricted to the central lobby.”
Angela likened the treatment to attempts to break prisoners of war. “They had a board with all the patients’ names,” she told me, “and every one had an ‘S’ after it for suicide precaution—not because we were really going to kill ourselves, but because that kept our insurance payments flowing.” Finally, Angela escaped when her insurance ran out. “At first, Dr. ******** was like my angel from heaven, but instead she took me to hell, and I’ve been struggling to get out ever since.”
Another former patient, Mary Shanley (her real name), echoes much of Angela’s experience. As a 39-year-old first grade teacher, she entered an in-patient unit under Bennett Braun’s supervision in the Chicago area, early in 1990. She disliked Braun intensely. “He thinks that he’s God,” she told me, “and you’d better think so too.” But Shanley admired Roberta Sachs, her psychologist. Under Sachs’s tutelage, Shanley came to believe that her mother had been the high priestess in a satanic cult, and that she, Mary, was being groomed for the position. “I remembered going to rituals and witnessing sacrifices. I had a baby at age 13, supposedly, and that child was sacrificed. I totally believed all of this. I would have spontaneous abreactions, partly because I was so heavily medicated. I was on Inderal, Xanax, Prozac, Klonopin, Haldol, and several other drugs, all at once. No wonder I was dissociating.”
After eleven months, Shanley finally got out of the hospital for three months. Then Roberta Sachs called her and asked if she would consult with psychologist Corydon Hammond, who was coming to town to give a workshop. After a hypnotic session during which Hammond tried to get Shanley to name Greek letters and identify a Dr. Green, he announced that she was so highly programed and resistant that she was not treatable. Her nine year old son, however, might still be saved if he was treated in time. Otherwise, the cult would kill him. Shanley’s husband believed Hammond, and Mary Shanley was whisked to the airport, not knowing her destination.
She arrived in Houston in May of 1991 to enter Spring Shadows Glen under the care of Judith Peterson. “When I first met Dr. Peterson, I thought she had this beautiful smile, and she spoke so softly and gently. She’s tall and thin, sort of like a China doll, with a porcelain complexion and bright red hair. She’s very striking.” Once inside the hospital, however, Shanley found ******** to be precisely the opposite of her first impression. “She was known on the ward as the red-headed bitch,” Shanley told me. “She did not like me at all and made no bones about it.” After Shanley called a mental health advocacy hotline to complain, she found herself accompanied “one-on-one” for 24 hours a day by a technician. “I was locked out of my room and kept in the central lobby. I wasn’t allowed to use the telephone or to go outside. That’s when I took up smoking, so that I could at least go outside briefly. I slept on the floor or on a couch. After I hurt my back in abreactive sessions, they let me drag my mattress out.”
Part of Shanley’s problem was her honesty. Even though she believed that she had been in a cult and possessed internal alters, she would not make them up on cue to please Dr. ********. When she would not perform properly during an abreactive session, she would be kept in restraints for up to nine hours until she told ******** what she wanted to hear. “A lot of the times, the tech and I would discuss what answer she might want.” Sometimes, the psychodramatist and another psychologist would sit on either side of Shanley during sessions. “If Dr. ******** asked a question and I couldn’t answer, they would talk back and forth, representing my alters, literally talking over my head.”
Most of ********’s efforts concentrated on eliciting information regarding Shanley’s son, who was going through a similar abreactive process back in Chicago with Roberta Sachs. ******** would FAX new information to her colleague in Illinois. “It would work the other way, too,” Shanley says. “Dr. ******** told me how my son acted out how he could cut a human heart out of a living body. I thought, there’s no way he could imagine that. And I thought, he doesn’t lie, I know he’s not a liar. So I believed it all.”
After over two years in Spring Shadows Glen, Mary Shanley finally got out in 1993. She has lost her husband and child, who still believe in the satanic cults. She has lost her home and her 20-year teaching career. “I have absolutely nothing. I don’t even have enough clothes to wear to my work in a department store.” She can’t teach or hold a federal job because she is on a list of suspected child molesters.
Two lawyers — Zachary Bravos of Wheaton, Illinois, and Skip Simpson of Dallas, Texas — are representing Shanley and several other patients in suits against Judith ********, Roberta Sachs, Bennett Braun, and others. Because of their willingness to take her case, Shanley feels some hope for her future.
By the end of 1992, nurse Sally McDonald had been shifted from the adolescent unit to another department in the hospital because she kept calling ******** unethical, and the head nurse of the dissociative disorders unit had also been forced out of her position for “insubordination.” Morale on the dissociative disorders unit had sunk to an all-time low, according to McDonald. Although nurses repeatedly protested to hospital administrators, nothing happened. Then, in the last week of February, 1993, Medicare officials arrived for a routine hospital inspection. Within hours, they brought in Texas health authorities, and on March 19, the dissociative unit was closed. Two patients walked outside for the first time in two years. Since then, former patients have begun to talk to the media about their experiences, and at least seven are suing. Judith ******** no longer works at Spring Shadows Glen, but she has sued the hospital, McDonald, and another nurse for slander and libel, and she plans countersuits against several patients. She continues to practice as a private therapist. Richard Seward now works with prisoners, but he remains on call at the hospital.*
The charismatic Dr. Peterson has her champions, however. I interviewed 23-year-old Christy Steck, an MPD patient who has been seeing Peterson for four years, and who spent most of 1992 in the dissociative disorders unit at Spring Shadows Glen. Steck has always had stomach problems and other vague physical complaints, which she now blames on her biological mother, since recovering memories of her mother and grandfather abusing her in a satanic cult. Her first flashback to ritual abuse occurred while she was watching the horror movie, Friday the Thirteenth. With her therapist’s help, Steck has been able to identify alters named Tyrant, Tricia, Angela, Whore, and Fucking Bitch. The last two are “real deep parts that answer to whistles, clickers, and metronomes,” Steck told me. They are the ones programed to be sex slaves in pornography and prostitution. She has spots on her body that look like “just birthmarks,” she said, but in reality they are tattoos and scars from electroshock torture.
“Dr. ******** is so sincere and genuine, also strong-willed and dedicated,” Steck told me. “When she first met me, she shook my hand and looked into my eyes. I saw the most caring, genuine person I’ve ever met. She kept holding my hand and said she’d always be there for me, no matter what I said.” ******** confirmed that Steck was not only an MPD, but a special kind. While in the dissociative disorders unit, Steck voluntarily entered restraints during abreactive sessions. “I have violent seizures from remembering electroshock, and I have violent alters programed to kill whoever is hearing this. That’s why they put me in restraints. Otherwise, I would try to hurt myself or Dr. ********.”
Steck calls ******** her “savior” and insists that she has “always given me the freedom to choose my own path.” The therapist often asks her, “OK, do you want to go back to the cult, or do you want to work? If you’re not going to talk, why should I bother to work with you?” Steck calls ******** “tough but caring,” and says that the therapist has never really pressured her. “She gives people a choice of what to believe. She never says, `I believe that’s what happened.’ She says, `It’s up to you to figure out what happened.’”
When Steck’s insurance had almost run out, Bennett Braun flew in from Rush Presbyterian in Chicago to evaluate her. Braun’s 500-page report, which discussed her abuse and suicide attempts in detail, allowed the doctors to declare Steck a “catastrophic case,” so that a special rider on her insurance kicked in to continue to pay for treatment. Later, Richard Loewenstein came from Sheppard Pratt to confirm the diagnosis.
Now, Christy Steck sees Judith ******** two or three times a week. “I’m doing better than I ever have in my whole life,”she told me. “But I can’t be left alone yet. I can’t really work, but I clean a couple of houses for people I know well. They stay there while I work. It’s just a matter of working through this programing to where I’m not accessible to the cult. The more I see that I’ve been programed and brainwashed, the more I can work with it. If I don’t see it, I won’t get well.” She predicts that she will need another four years of “intensive therapy,” after which she will probably need a weekly check-up. “I hope some day I’ll be integrated.”
Finally, I interviewed Judith ********, and I came to understand how both of her patients are probably telling their own versions of the truth. ******** denies McDonald’s accusations. “The lady spelled her own name correctly; almost everything else in that article is a lie,” she told me. She denies that any phone calls were monitored, that patients were held against their will, that they were kept until their insurance ran out. She points out that McDonald never worked on the dissociative disorders unit, but only on the adolescent unit.*
As for the preadolescent girl who concerned McDonald so much, Peterson asserts that she was a “very acute” case of MPD who tried to crash through a plate glass door in order to escape, and who repeatedly attacked Peterson, once with the broken shards of a compact mirror. “Not infrequently, I’ve been knocked across the room by violent alters,” she told me. Yes, some patients had to be restricted to the central lobby near the nursing station, so they could be watched, but that was only to keep them from hurting themselves or others.
******** says that she no longer uses the term “abreactive sessions,” preferring to speak of “memory processing.” Before each session , she asks patients to write down their new memories, which may have come through flashbacks, journaling, artwork, dreams, or body memories. Then, after placing them in a “light hypnotic state,” she encourages them to go through the memory to “deal with the feelings” and perform “cognitive restructuring.”** These sessions clearly get quite intense, with patients purportedly reliving torture and electric shock treatment. “They have pseudo-grand mal seizures,” ******** told me.
She is no longer so sure that her patients were actually involved in satanic ritual abuse cults. Rather, the ritual abuse may have been used “as a screen and creator of terror. Underneath it, in terms of complex alter layers, is organized crime.” In other words, she believes that criminal gangs intentionally terrified her patients, often making them mistakenly believe that murders had taken place. “They have ways of tricking people; they’re given drugs, and they’re terrified and confused.” The crime groups do this in order to produce “synthetic alters” who will act in pornographic films or become prostitutes. Other patients, she thinks, were thus treated by the Ku Klux Klan or the CIA.
Of course, ******** cannot tell for sure whether these memories are accurate. “My patients tell me very bizarre stories.” She simply listens. “I’m a guide, asking `What happened next?’ I don’t lead them.” Yes, she has heard stories of murdered babies. “It doesn’t particularly matter if it’s true or not. I wasn’t there. The dilemma of true or not true is up to them.” Of one thing she is certain, though: “These people don’t make up the terror; that’s pretty hard to do. They also don’t make up the electric shocks. They have body memories of them.” That accounts for the pseudo-seizures.
Judith ********, now 48, seems genuinely outraged that her integrity has been impugned. She has always considered herself an altruistic, idealistic person trying to help the world. She began her career working with migrant workers and Head Start children and parents. She considered going into the Peace Corp. She has only tried to help those who come to her “depressed, anxious, overwhelmed.” In her workshops, she says, she even warns against the dangers of telling patients during an initial session that they must have been sexually abused. “Yet here I am so viciously attacked,” she laments. She explains her former patients’ dissatisfaction by referring to their mental condition. “Basically, these patients are sociopathic. They have their own reasons for targeting me,” she says darkly.
******** sent me a revealing article she recently published in Treating Abuse Today, in which she compares her plight with that of her abused patients, coping with “existential crises at a depth I never thought imaginable.” She complains that “those I tried to help sadistically turned on the very person who reached out to help.” This article eloquently expresses ********’s experiences and beliefs:
I’ve spent timeless moments, hours, days and years listening to those with souls that were shattered. I moved from being a therapist who thought incest was the worst thing imaginable, to hearing of abuses so unimaginable that I walked out of therapy sessions stunned….Someitmes I would just cry over the range and extent of human cruelty. There are no words to express what I have felt as I have heard people describe everything from having a broom handle stuffed up their anus to having their teeth electrically shocked. I have listened to a mother describe how she tied her small child to the bars of a crib before putting something in every orifice of the body — a rag already in the mouth to prevent screaming. I’ve listened to descriptions of electroshock on a baby and the baby’s seizures.
Despite ********’s willingness to share the pain of mothers’ “horror of damaging those they love,” however, some of these same mothers have now turned on her. “The shame and guilt were then transferred to me, the therapist. Kill the messenger. Lie. This client relived the trauma by victimizing me. Suddenly, the therapist is the victim.”
******** is stung by allegations that she separates families and encourages Child Protective Services (CPS) to take her patients’ children away. “I’ve found something new in our field,” she told me. “There’s a high degree of mothers who have perpetrated their children.” When she discovers this during therapy sessions, she is mandated by law to inform social services. “It’s almost impossible to persuade CPS to let children stay with their families under such circumstances. The CPS people are, unfortunately, mostly incompetent and overworked.”
I came away from my interview with Judith ******** thinking that she was an intelligent, assertive woman. She does not think that she is not leading her patients. She completely believes that they are inhabited by violent, dangerous internal personalities, that they are a danger to themselves and their families, and that she is striving to heal the wounds of terrible past trauma. She cannot admit the possibility that the terror they are experiencing might be an artifact of her therapy rather than symptoms of past abuse.
Dissociation and the Absent-Minded Professor
While most therapists tell their clients that they harbor repressed memories, MPD specialists rely on the subtler notion of dissociation. The concept of dissociation was invented by Pierre Janet, who, in his old age, warned: “Beware, it is only an idea that I express. It is an hypothesis for your research.” Yet precious little controlled scientific research has followed. Recently, psychiatrist Fred Frankel objected to the broad, indiscriminate use of the term “dissociation,” complaining of the “large number of vague concepts” it appears to cover, and comparing it to the all-inclusive “hysteria” of the last century.
According to one definition of dissociation, it is “a psychophysiological process whereby information—incoming, stored, or outgoing—is actively deflected from integration with its usual or expected associations.” That’s a windy way of explaining the process of daydreaming, spacing out, and losing track of normal consciousness.
If that’s what dissociation is, most of us experience it at times. “Highway hypnosis” is one widespread type of dissociation, in which a driver on a familiar stretch of road or an interstate suddenly snaps to, arriving at a destination or landmark without remembering the drive at all. This is the sort of “lost time” experience that MPDs are supposed to experience frequently. There’s no question that the phenomenon exists. I have even been able to time it. I often listen to books-on-tape while taking long trips. My thoughts sometimes drift onto other matters, and I suddenly realize that I’ve been listening without hearing. I can rewind the tape and find the exact point where my mind took off.
But is it necessary to use this concept of “dissociation,” with its assumption of a solitary, normal mind from which something splits? I don’t think so. We can often think consciously about several things at once, but there is a limit. When we concentrate on one particular strand of thought, we aren’t necessarily splitting from anything. We are simply paying more attention to one thing than the other. Rather than dissociation, I would coin the term “kaleidoscope thinking.” In our constantly churning minds, different thoughts roll into view, coalesce, then disappear. Some of us are better than others at blocking out everything except what we’re thinking about. That’s the very definition of the absent-minded professor.
While taking a morning shower, I sometimes become so preoccupied with planning my day that I forget whether I already shampooed or not. I’m sure that I’ve washed my hair twice plenty of times. But it isn’t this normal type of dissociation that concerns trauma therapists. Rather, it is what they believe to be a capacity to “space out,” to numb our feelings, to enter a self-induced trance state, to split off one portion of the mind from another in order to endure otherwise unendurable abuse. Again, there is experiential validation for this phenomenon on a limited basis. We do tend to go numb or experience a feeling of unreality when we are threatened, frightened, or wounded. In extreme cases, people sometimes go into physical and psychological shock. They wander aimlessly in a “fugue state” and sometimes present themselves as having amnesia immediately afterwards.
As I mentioned in Chapter 4, some authorities question whether true psychological amnesia actually exists. But in any event, there is no scientific proof of massive “dissociation” in the sense that it is used by some trauma therapists. It is a hypothesis that has been taken for granted, but, as with repression, we are left in the realm of belief rather than proof.
Certainly, people have the capacity to “take their minds away” from a horrible event, but that does not mean that they can “dissociate” memory of the event completely. If a father is raping his daughter, she might very well concentrate on a crack in the ceiling, numb her feelings, or try to think about her favorite cartoon. It might help her to endure the event. She might even separate her role as victim from the rest of her self-image. But she would not forget what was happening. And it seems far-fetched to assume that she would invent a cast of internal personalities that rival a Tolstoy novel in their complexity.
How, then, can we account for the fact that many people truly experience multiple personalities? In a sense, we are all MPDs. Each of us acts different roles every day, assuming radically different personalities as we do so. With a boss, we are the employee—outwardly respectful, perhaps, but sometimes frustrated. With a spouse, we might be romantic one moment, the exasperated mate the next. With a child, we may be a nurturing or frustrated authority figure. “A person might see herself or himself as authoritative in the role of employer, submissive in the role of daughter or son, companionable in the role of wife or husband,” writes psychologist Peter Gray. Through it all, each of us maintains a unique sense of identity, but that is often simply a social construct, an illusion.
At times of crisis in our lives, many of us become uncertain of ourselves and our identities. “There are unavoidable transitions in any life in which the content of selfhood is in flux,” writes anthropologist Michael Kenny, such as “becoming an adult, finding a place in the world, marriage, having children, facing death.” Most societies offer formal rites of passage to ease these transitions, but in modern America, our roles and identities are more amorphous, and the transitions are more difficult. We suffer “identity crises” during which we are much more vulnerable to manipulation because we don’t really know who we are, and we desperately desire a firm identity, an explanation for our predicament. It is just at such a crucial crossroad that the therapist comes along with his MPD diagnosis, calling out “parts” of us and labeling them.
Rather than helping a person to develop a better self-concept, the MPD specialist does the opposite. There can be no “self”-esteem without a unitary self. These therapists encourage—indeed, command—their patients to shatter psychically. “When the organization of the self-concept is threatened,” one psychologist wrote in 1973, “the individual experiences anxiety, and attempts to defend himself against the threat. If the defense is unsuccessful, stress mounts and is followed ultimately by total disorganization.”
Grade Fives, Temporal Lobe Spikes, and Personality
Because of media saturation, the MPD role is as well-known today as the demoniacs’ behavior was in 1600. “People can learn the components of the multiple personality role from a variety of quite different sources (e.g., movies, books, gossip),” Nicholas Spanos noted in 1986. Since then, the MPD myth has spread even more widely. By 1991, MPD specialist Richard Kluft could write that “many MPD patients have informed themselves about their condition from the broadcast media and lay and professional literature.” He added that a “significant minority” are such voracious readers and researchers that they develop a “broader knowledge base” than their therapists!
Not only that, but the role has become more attractive with time. Those who harbor a hundred or more alters now object to their malady being termed a disorder. Rather, it is a distinction, or a miracle. While MPD may have commenced because of overwhelming trauma, it has released entertaining alters to cope with it. They are interesting, creative personae who allow the MPD Survivor to use the royal “we” and to take part in endless internal dramas. “I can’t imagine being a singleton,” one MPD Survivor told me. “How boring that would be!”*
She must have read When Rabbit Howls (1987), written “by the Troops for Truddi Chase.” Chase, a commercial artist, real estate agent and sometime legal secretary in her 40s, “went to sleep” at the age of two, when her stepfather raped her. The “Troops” are her 92 alters, including such personalities as Rabbit, Miss Wonderful, Elvira, Lamb Chop, Ean, Mean Joe Green, Sister Mary Catherine, Nails, the Zombie, and the Interpreter.** Of course, Chase was completely unaware of this menagerie until she entered therapy with Robert A. Phillips, Jr., a PhD clinical psychologist who wrote the introduction and epilogue to her book. Before discovering her multiplicity, Chase “had tried unsuccessfully to discover a medical reason for her temper tantrums, periodic blackouts, and a feeling of continual ‘dizziness,’” Phillips reveals. By book’s end, the Troops and Dr. Phillips come to a mutual decision to “maintain multiplicity.” As a result, “communication among the Troop members has been enhanced, and there is evidence of increased ability to cooperate and work together.”
The MPD role tends to attract extremely creative, suggestible clients with a craving for attention. Most are highly hypnotizable, among the ten percent of the population psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel has called “Grade Fives,” on a scale from one to four. These Fives have an uncanny ability to sense what behavior may intrigue a therapist, and they fulfill all expectations. That does not mean that they are easy patients, however. Rather, they must up the ante in order to maintain dramatic attention. As soon as one alter appears to be integrated, another will pop out. Then, just when a whole system seems to be settled, another whole layer is uncovered, and more alters pour forth from the mental shrubbery.
Consequently, MPD patients rarely get better. They enter a cycle of extended abreaction and misery which sometimes ends in suicide. This may seem a paradox. Didn’t I just say that patients revel in the attention? And isn’t this all just role-playing? Yes and no. The role-playing becomes reality, and the attention-seeking lurches into self-destructive behavior. The syndrome is no longer a game, and the wounded players, expert dramatists, enact tragic parts. On the radio, I recently heard the story of a Latin American soap opera star who became so absorbed in his role that, in real life, he murdered the actress who had jilted him on TV. The same sort of thing happens with MPD Survivors, for whom the acting becomes reality; only in their case, the violence is usually directed at themselves.
Exactly what are the characteristics Spiegel identified in his Grade Five? Curiously, there is a physical symptom, the “high eye-roll” in which someone can look up so far that only the whites of the eyes are showing.* Spiegel also claims that Grade Fives exhibit “readiness to trust; a relative suspension of critical judgment; an ease of affiliation with new experiences; a telescoped time sense; an easy acceptance of logical incongruities.” He thinks that they possess a capacity for intense concentration, “overall tractability [and] role-confusion, [with] a subtle sense of inferiority.” In other words, they are the perfect subjects to become multiple personalities.
Spiegel isn’t sure how to account for the high eye-roll. “Our best hypothesis to date is that the reticular activating system is like a switchboard that coordinates the deep part of the brain with upper and lower parts. Some people are wired in a tight way, others in a loose way, and the majority in between. Those with loose wiring have high eye rolls. If you think about it, it makes sense. The eyes are really a direct extension of the brain.”**
It is possible, though quite hypothetical at this point, that abnormally high electrical activity in the temporal lobe of the brain may have something to do with the high eye-roll as well as the Grade Five syndrome. Experimental psychologist Michael Persinger has published an intriguing series of papers on temporal lobe EEGs (electroencephalographs). He believes that there is a continuum of temporal lobe activity within the population, ranging from very low to those diagnosed as having temporal lobe epilepsy. Regardless of whether they experience real seizures, those with high electrical activity display an interesting set of phenomena, according to Persinger: “visual hallucinations, the sense of a presence, mystical (paranormal) experiences, unusual smells, anomalous voices or sounds, vestibular movements, and anxiety.” Over time, such people often display “stereotyped thinking, a sense of personal destiny or uniqueness, elaborate delusions, and excessive interests in religious or philosophical topics.” Persinger’s studies indicate that about a third of the population displays “temporal lobe signs.” Since nearly ten percent of the population experiences a seizure at least once, these findings aren’t surprising.*
Some authors, including Persinger himself, have concluded that abnormal temporal-lobe activity is responsible for many mystical experiences. While these experiences can produce a feeling of euphoria and unity with the universe, however, they can also result in intense anxiety, terror, and delusions. All of this takes us back to Wilder Penfield’s surgical probing of the temporal lobe. The “memories” he elicited from his patients were, as we have seen in Chapter 4, probably hallucinations, but the implication of the temporal lobe is nevertheless intriguing. During my research for this book, I ran into several cases in which the accusing offspring had been diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. Similarly, Frank Putnam reports “a higher-than-expected apparent incidence of abnormal EEG findings in MPD patients . . . and [a] disproportionately high number of case reports of MPD and concurrent epilepsy.”
Case reports of temporal lobe epileptics often bear a striking resemblance to those of repressed memory incest survivors:
TF, a 29-year-old married woman, presented with a chief complaint of uncontrollable depression for which she could see no precipitating event. Her symptoms included difficulty falling asleep . . . nightmares . . . loss of weight, extreme tenseness, anxiety, and occasional panic attacks. She alternated between global hyposexuality [no interest in sex] and driven promiscuous hypersexuality.
This patient, as well as many others, responded well to carbamazephine (Tegretol), the current drug of choice for temporal-lobe epileptics.
Epileptic researcher David Bear has suggested that a cluster of 18 personality traits identifies temporal lobe epileptics (TLEs); his findings have been replicated by several other researchers.* Among other things, Bear believes that TLEs are frequently irritable, angry, aggressive, depressed, and paranoid, with sudden mood shifts. They are singularly humorless and often believe they have profound personal destinies. They tend to be dependent and “clingy” upon figures of authority. They often feel compelled to write long autobiographical passages. In addition, they commonly complain of “amnestic gaps” before, during, or after seizures, along with other subtler memory disturbances. Their sex drives are often impaired, but sometimes they become oversexed instead. They sometimes experience “conflict regarding sexual preference.” Just before TLE seizures, they routinely get feelings of deja vu, smell something odd, and sense impending doom.
There are, however, positive sides to high temporal lobe electrical activity, including creativity and charisma. An impressive array of famous historical figures were supposedly epileptics of one sort or another, including Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Buddha, Julius Caesar, Dante, Charles Dickens, Feodor Dostoyevsky, Mohammed, Napoleon Bonaparte, Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Pythagoras, Socrates, St. Paul, Ludwig von Beethoven, and Vincent van Gogh.
Because I am fascinated by the possibility of some physiological explanation for those who most readily retrieve repressed memories and play the MPD role, I have dwelt at some length on temporal lobe EEGs, which may or may not really have anything to do with recovered memories. I want to emphasize, however, that I do not think people have to be “Grade Fives” or exhibit high temporal lobe activity in order to be convinced that they are incest survivors or harbor multiple personalities. Such beliefs can be instilled in anyone, given the right circumstances and mindset.
An astonishing number of repressed memories involve some form of group ritual abuse, usually with an explicitly satanic component. A high percentage of such ritual survivors believe that they split off internal alters as a result of this dreadful experience.
The events usually unfold as follows. First, a young woman enters therapy for depression or some other complaint. Her therapist encourages her to see her family as dysfunctional, and herself as the victim of “emotional incest.” Soon, she reads self-help recovery books and retrieves memories of physical incest by one family member. Then, as her memories flow more easily, she names other perpetrators. Finally, she recalls ritual abuse, is diagnosed with MPD, and often winds up heavily drugged and suicidal in a psychiatric ward.*
Other writers have already convincingly demolished the notion that such cults actually exist, although nothing will ever sway true believers.** People who can believe that a child’s heart was surgically removed and replaced with an animal’s ticker during ritual abuse, and refuse to accept physical evidence disproving such an event, are not likely to accept logical arguments either.
After years spent trying to track down such cases, FBI investigator Kenneth Lanning concluded that “there is little or no evidence [for] large-scaled baby breeding, human sacrifice, and organized satanic conspiracies. Now it is up to mental health professionals, not law enforcement, to explain why victims are alleging things that don’t seem to have happened.” At least four well-researched books have already been published on this “contemporary legend,” and they have all reached the same conclusion: this is a hoax, a fraud, a paranoid delusion fomented by the media, credulous therapists, distraught patients, pressured pre-schoolers, fearful parents, and over-excited policemen.***
Why do so many well-trained therapists believe in satanic cults? They will tell you that their clients couldn’t make up these gory details or display such terror if the stories weren’t true. They will say that their clients knew nothing about ritual abuse, yet they came up with the same breeding strategies, sacrificed babies, blood-letting, rape, and murder that others across the country—around the world—have reported. Witch-hunters in 1670 made much the same observation, citing “so much agreement and conformity between the different cases” as proof of witchcraft. Of course, that’s the way folklore legends work, as sociologist Jeffrey Victor has masterfully documented in his recent book, Satanic Panic. The stories float on the airwaves, and bubble in the rumor mills. Just as someone transported back to a past life doesn’t remember where she originally learned about a particular epoch, many ritual abuse survivors honestly believe that they never saw a movie, read a book, listened to a talk show, or overheard a conversation that provided the details they bring forth in a hypnotic session.
Even if they never did see such a movie or hear a talk show, the therapists can cue them inadvertently, particularly using the “ideomotor method” in which a hypnotized subject merely raises a finger to indicate a positive response to a leading question. “Familiarize yourself with signals and symptoms of ritualized abuse,” one psychologist advises in a handout. He goes on to explain that “survivors of ritualized abuse HAVE MANY SPECIAL NEEDS” and must be seen beyond the normal hour limit. “If you are uncomfortable with the reality of ritual abuse, then you should not be treating survivors of ritual abuse,” he asserts. Following this advice has a mutually reinforcing effect in which both patient and therapist feel special.
The moral panic* over satanic cults has produced a curious partnership between some left-wing radical feminists and selected right-wing Christian fundamentalists. Members of both groups believe that there is an international conspiracy of sexual abusers who brutalize children, use them in violent child pornography, then murder and eat them. Cult members, they assure anyone who will listen, include the pillars of society—doctors, lawyers, bankers, policemen. The perpetrators are cunning beyond belief in hiding their revolting activities. To indoctrinate children, cult leaders routinely use electric shock, isolation in closets, mind-altering drugs, and starvation. In addition, according to a pamphlet from VOICES in Action, a Chicago-based Survivor group, brainwashing includes the “Black Hole” experience, in which members are “suspended head first into a dark deep pit, the pit containing human/animal parts, blood, rats, snakes, spiders, for up to 24 hours.” Sometimes a child is given a “re-birthing ritual” in which he or she is inserted into a cow’s abdominal cavity for a while, then pulled out by the high priest.
In 1988, Lauren Stratford published Satan’s Underground, which continues to exert a wide influence, despite Stratford’s story having been thoroughly discredited by journalists for the Christian publication, Cornerstone.* In the book’s foreword, Christian author Johanna Michaelsen admitted that the story was “beyond belief,” but explained “that attitude is precisely what satanists are counting on.” After all, “it was only a few short years ago that we had a problem believing that incest was rampant.” Michaelsen was not dismayed by the complete lack of evidence of this widespread cult activity. “If there is one thing that cult satanists do well, it’s cover their tracks.” Thus, she reasoned, “animals are indeed killed and buried, but are later dug up and disposed elsewhere.” No satanic child pornography had surfaced because it is “carefully kept in vaults of private collectors.” And so on. There’s no question: “Satanism is on the rise.”
In the book itself, Stratford described how her sadistic mother allowed her to be raped by a group of tramps in the basement. That experience was just training for her teenage and young adult experience in a satanic cult dominated by the evil Victor. The cult members drank a brew of blood, wine, and urine and then gang-raped her. “With each vulgar act, my will to resist lessened,” she wrote. Later, she witnessed many other terrible events. “They ordered acts of sexual perversion that went far beyond the descriptions of lewd, perverse, and vile. They ordered the literal sacrifice of animals and even humans—both willing and unwilling victims.” She watched “the ultimate sacrifice of a baby—skinned while still alive.”
In order to break her, the cult members put Stratford into a barrel and threw dead babies on top of her. Then she became Victor’s personal mistress. Only when the cult tired of her and she had a nervous breakdown does the reader learn, on page 120, that she had entirely repressed all of these memories, which came back with the help of guided imagery and Jesus. Eventually, she recalled how she had borne three children—Joey, Carly, and Lindy—all of whom were sacrificed to Satan. “What happened to Joey is even now happening to babies, children, and teenagers across the country,” Stratford wrote. “Believe the unbelievable!” In the end, however, she was healed by meeting Johanna Michaelsen—the author of the book’s foreword—who told her that while they were praying together, “I saw Jesus standing with His nail-scarred hands outstretched towards you.”
Modern rumors of satanic cults represent nothing new, but follow a long tradition in Western culture, as Norman Cohn meticulously documented in his 1975 book, Europe’s Inner Demons. Beginning in the second century, early Christians were accused of “holding meetings at which babies or small children were ritually slaughtered, and feasts at which the remains of these victims were ritually devoured; also of holding erotic orgies at which every form of intercourse, including incest between parents and children, was freely practiced; also of worshipping a strange divinity in the form of an animal.”
The Christians outlived these defamations, only to use them on the Jews, who were supposed to have drunk Christian children’s blood in their synagogues and carried on in other disgusting ways. The Catholic hierarchy and various monarchs spread similar rumors about any splinter sects, such as the Waldensians and the Templars. Belief in organized satanic orgies flowered in the 16th and 17th centuries during the Great Witch Craze. Throughout the centuries, as Cohn described it, “the essence of the fantasy was that there existed, somewhere in the midst of the great society, another society, small and clandestine, which not only threatened the existence of the great society but was also addicted to practices which were felt to be wholly abominable, in the literal sense of anti-human.” It was usually the intelligentsia who fomented these conspiracy theories and led the quest for satanic abusers.
In our own time, that generalization holds true. PhD clinical psychologists and psychiatrists—trained as physicians and then mind-healers—are the primary agents to spread authoritative stories of ritualistic abuse and conspiracy. Psychiatrist Bennett Braun explains that “we are working with a national-international type organization that’s got a structure somewhat similar to the communist cell structure.” He asserts that cult members are “trained to self-destruct” if they remember too much.
Corydon Hammond, the former president of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis, is widely respected by his peers and has edited a scholarly 1990 volume entitled Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors. “Dr. Hammond is a master clinician of unusual breadth and talen who has become one of the giants in the field of clinical hypnosis,” wrote a colleague in that book’s forward.* In recent years, Hammond has traveled throughout the United States, giving workshops on ritual abuse. He dismisses those who are “such intellectualizers and skeptics that they’ll doubt everything.” Alternatively, those casting doubt might be cult members themselves, he asserts. He describes “very organized groups with interstate communication and who use a very, very systematic brainwashing.”
Hammond states that the cult members learned these brainwashing techniques from sadistic Nazi scientists secretly brought to this country by the CIA to conduct mind-control experiments. Drawing on a long tradition of anti-Semitic rumors, he also asserts that a Jewish teenager named Greenbaum learned the Nazi secrets and now, as a Dr. Green, is coaching cults in the United States. “I know of cases,” Hammond asserts, “where the Mafia likes to use cult people as hit people because they can have one personality who will come out and . . . perform a cult blood-cleaning and have no emotions about it, come back and everybody has amnesia for it.” To train children in strict obedience, the cults may apply electrodes to a little girl’s head and inside her vagina. “Perhaps a finger might be cut off and hung around their neck on a chain as a symbol to them they had had better be obedient. They may be given drugs.”
Psychiatrist Colin Ross, who wrote an influential 1989 textbook on MPD, agrees with Hammond. In fact, in his proposal for a book to be titled CIA Mind Control, Ross discloses that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been turning children into Manchurian candidates since the 1940s.* “These individuals were systematically abused in laboratory and experimental settings,” he writes. They used “drugs including hallucinogens, sensory deprivation, flotation tanks, electric shock, enforced memorization and other techniques. The programming involved the deliberate creation of multiple personality disorder with specific letter, number and other access codes for contacting alter personalities.” Ross recently reiterated his claims to a television journalist, explaining that the “political strategy” to counter his revelations was to assert that “it’s all created in therapy, it’s fantasy, it’s not real.”
Despite the lack of any physical evidence that satanic cults exist, and many well-researched books debunking them, True Believer therapists continue to tell stories about ritual abuse. An entire 1994 issue of The Journal of Psychohistory was devoted to the topic, with the overwhelming majority of the articles exhorting us to believe, believe. In this issue, one Albany, New York, psychiatrist explains how cult members “injected blood from a chalice into all her [his patient's] orifices and raped her six times each. A mother cat and her kittens were shot with a pistol and were buried with my patient in a coffin-like box. She was then removed, thrown into a lake, cleaned up and brought home.” And, of course, she remembered nothing about all this until she entered therapy.
Specialists such as Bennett Braun, Corydon Hammond and Colin Ross receive enormous support from books, articles, and conferences where the myths of satanic cults are repeated and elaborated. In the final analysis, such therapists believe in the cults because they want to believe. The sessions in which menacing, evil alters appear provide the same thrill which exorcists experienced hundreds of years ago. It is challenging, exciting, frightening work—a far cry from the humdrum existence of the routine mental health professional who listens to a boring litany of drab complaints all day long. Yes, it’s difficult work—dangerous, in fact, because the cult members may even try to assassinate the therapist.* But for the intrepid mind explorer, savior of souls, healer of splintered selves, it is all worthwhile.
A Warning from Thigpen and Cleckley
Ten years ago, when the great MPD hunt was just heating up, Corbett Thigpen and Hervey Cleckley, who started the ball rolling in 1957 with The Three Faces of Eve, saw what was coming and tried, in vain, to stop it. “Over the last 25 years we have had sent to us hundreds of patients, many of whom were either referred to us by therapists who had already diagnosed them as having the disorder, or who came to us for treatment based upon their desire or belief that they had the illness.” Of these, they concluded that perhaps one was genuine. One woman phoned and “went so far as to have each personality introduce itself and speak in a different voice,” while another changed her handwriting from one paragraph to the other.
“It seems that in very recent years,” the psychiatrists lamented, “there has been even a further increase in the number of persons seeking to be diagnosed as multiple personalities—some patients move from therapist to therapist until ‘achieving’ the diagnosis.” In addition, the psychiatrists noted “a competition to see who can have the greatest number of alter personalities.” They objected to Billy Milligan’s feigning MPD to get out of a rape conviction, adding that “sexual child abuse . . . can hardly be used as the core criterion for diagnosing multiple personality disorder.”* Finally, they concluded: “Everyone changes nearly all the time, and extreme swings of behavior and feelings are hardly unique to multiple personality disorder.”
Endnotes, Chapter 6
age regression 3, 9
buried alive 16
child abuse 33, 34, 36
clinical psychologists 33
* MPD may exist independent of cultural influences, but if so, it is extremely rare. Whether or not there have been isolated instances of true MPD is outside the scope of this book.
** Eve White wasn’t nearly as satisfactory as Sybil in terms of childhood abuse. Her parents seemed to be fairly normal, and her major childhood traumas—seeing a drowned man at two, touching her dead grandmother’s face at five—weren’t sexual.
*** His son David Spiegel, a Stanford psychiatrist, has recently pushed through a change in the MPD diagnostic category for the forthcoming DSM-IV, calling it Dissociative Identity Disorder in an attempt to steer away from the idea of separate personalities. Herbert Spiegel himself has not been immune to questionable claims stemming from hypnotic regression. In 1976, he wrote the foreword to The Control of Candy Jones, the story of how a former fashion model’s disc jockey husband hypnotized her so that she could “remember” how she was programmed by the CIA as a double personality. Spiegel called the book “fascinating and compelling.” To his credit, he did note in the foreword that “without external confirmation of data, the possibility of stress-hallucination is not ruled out.”
* Carrie’s husband unsuccessfully sued Dr. Allison for malpractice following his wife’s suicide, claiming Allison had prescribed the pills that killed her. Allison not only denies supplying the pills, but says that she was no longer officially his patient at that point. She did, however, come to visit him in his office on the day she killed herself.
** It should be noted that Ralph Allison never became part of the MPD “establishment” and has, in recent years, taken a firm stand against the hunt for satanic ritual abuse. He has not, however, changed his mind about MPD and has been attempting to have his book reissued in paperback.
*** Peck came to believe in evil patients after 400 sessions with a patient named Charlene. The therapist was frustrated because “she totally failed to be affected by it.” Rather than blaming himself, Peck concluded that there was a simple reason: she was evil. “Charlene’s desire . . . to toy with me, to utterly control our relationship, knew no bounds.”
* For the historical background on the switch from demonology to hypnotism and MPD, see Chapter 12.
* Putnam’s approach is mild compared to MPD specialist Richard Kluft, who often will not let patients take breaks or avert their faces during his lengthy interviews. “In one recent case of singular difficulty,” he says, “the first sign of dissociation was noted in the sixth hour, and a definitive spontaneous switching of personalities occurred in the eighth hour.” Scott Peck’s exorcisms sometimes last twelve hours. Another therapist pushes his thumb against a client’s forehead while demanding that an alter appear, an approach similar to Sigmund Freud’s “pressure method” (discussed in Chapter 12).
** The ego of some MPD specialists appears to be matched only by their inability to hear their clients. Dr. Eugene Bliss reports that he intentionally induced a new personality and christened it “Dr. Bliss” in hopes that the alter could help in therapy. “Unfortunately, he was not helpful but instead would complain that the region was both overcrowded and unmanageable.” The therapist did not get the message.
* To his credit, Frank Putnam has recently expressed doubts about many MPD diagnoses, criticizing the vague criteria for the condition, stating that inpatient treatment often worsens the condition, and stressing that hypnotism and sodium Amytal can produce confabulations. In a personal 1994 communication to me, he wrote: “Outside corroboration is absolutely necessary before one undertakes any kind of action outside of the therapy based on such memories. When my book was written, people were not suing their parents for alleged abuse.” Putnam has not, however, retracted any of the material in his 1989 textbook. Psychiatric anthropologist Sherrill Mulhern, who knows all of the major MPD specialists well, believes that Putnam’s book reflects not only his own theories, but those of other MPD gurus, particularly Richard Kluft. Kluft is the acknowledged master of the “scientific” presentation of MPD, writing about the “polysymptomatic pleomorphic presentation of MPD” — by which he means that he interprets almost any behavior as evidence of possible MPD.
* Such hypnotic instruction — to raise a hand or finger to signify “yes” or “no” — is called “ideomotor signaling” and is widely practiced by hypnotherapists, despite the obvious hazards of leading the patient.
* Ever since Morton Prince, MPD specialists have attempted to prove that an individual in different “alter” states displays different physiological functions, becoming, in effect, a different person. Recently, alters within the same person are supposed to have different allergies, eyesight, and handwriting—all anecdotal reports. Frank Putnam and others have conducted experiments that indicate different brain wave patterns [EEGs or evoked visual potential] among alters. Although interesting, none of the experiments proves the existence of MPD, as psychiatrist Carol North points out in her excellent summary of the physiological studies: “No laboratory measurement has been developed that can differentiate MPD from other disorders.”
** Harold Merskey points out another interesting aspect of the case. Rather than “Eve Black,” the actual name of the first “alter” was really Chris Costner, her maiden name. Since she was experiencing marital strife and couldn’t allow herself to express it, it’s quite possible that this role gave her an outlet. “It was an affirmation of a previous [real] single state which the patient regretted leaving,” Merskey hypothesizes.
* Fortunately, the Smith story has a happy ending. After reading the Esquire article, Donna Smith began to question her MPD diagnosis and her memories of abuse. She has now reconciled with her parents, whom she no longer accuses of abuse, and is suing her former therapists.
* Satanic cult “experts” have identified festival days throughout the year. One inventive list from a Survivor organization provides detailed descriptions. A sampling from September: “Sept. 7: Marriage to the Beast Satan, Sacrifice/Dismemberment. Female child under the age of 21. Sept. 20: Midnight Host, Dismemberment. Hands planted. Sept. 22: Feast Day, Fall/Autumn Equinox. Orgies.”
* The abusive treatment of patients in dissociative disorders units is part of a larger problem documented by journalist Joe Sharkey in his 1994 book, Bedlam: Greed, Profiteering, and Fraud in a Mental Health System Gone Crazy. Sharkey describes how private psychiatric hospitals have paid clergymen, school counselors, and other “bounty hunters” for referrals, while using hard-sell advertising tactics to attract new patients. His book includes numerous horror stories, including that of one 13-year-old boy whose insurance paid for 41 group therapy sessions in one day. Curiously, Sharkey does not even mention multiple personality disorder, ritual abuse, or repressed memories.
* When I told her that ******** said she had lied, Sally McDonald laughed. “I was really careful that anything I wrote was the absolute truth and could be verified. There was much, much more that was deleted. What you read was a watered down version.” She told me of an abreactive session during which ******** asked a child questions, and one of ********’s associates answered for her. The child never said a word. At the end, ******** praised the child, saying “You really worked well this session.” Asked why the patient had not answered for herself, ******** allegedly said, “Her alters were mute.” Another anonymous nurse told me that until a Texas “patients’ rights” bill was passed in 1992, dissociative disorder patients could not use the phone, receive mail, or see their families at all. “They were not allowed off the unit. They lived totally in a closed society, dependent on the whim of the therapist and the MD overseeing the unit.”
* As I pointed out in Chapter 3, those who believe they harbor multiple personalities have found all kinds of creative outlets through print, paint, or song. Multiples produce their own newsletter and have even written an anthology called Multiple Personality Disorder from the Inside Out (1991), in which alters take turn addressing the reader. “It’s Gregory writing this for everybody inside,” a typical entry by Cindy B. commences. But then Gregory is interrupted. “Somebody else inside wants to add that it is very confusing and scary being a multiple….”
* Some multiples now claim to house hundreds of alters, but that’s nothing compared to a 16-year-old girl who, in 1583, was found to contain 12,652 living demons.
* In their 1978 book, Trance and Treatment, Herbert and David Spiegel carefully described how to observe this mysterious indication of hypnotizability. “Accurately rating eye-roll signs takes a great deal of practice,” they wrote. “You may not feel confident in judging them until you have seen fifty to a hundred.” In a recent interview, Herbert Spiegel told me, “You develop a greater ability to observe it once you know what your’e looking for.” In other words, this “sign” calls for the same sort of attention to “subtle” details that MPD specialists are fond of talking about. As a consequence, some skepticism about the high eye-roll may be in order.
* No one really knows how the “reticular activating system” works. As a 1990 science encyclopedia explains, the reticulum is a mass of fibers ascending from the brain stem and branching into every part of the brain. It appears to modulate “sleep, wakefulness, attention, and other aspects of consciousness, as well as effects on muscular coordination, vascular tone, [and] blood pressure.” The system is a “fascinating regulatory mechanism, at present only dimly perceived.”
** More recently, Persinger has conducted experiments that he believes indicate that women are biologically more prone to elevated temporal lobe activity than men, which he thinks may explain why more women than men recover illusory memories of abuse. His experiment consisted of putting modified motorcycle helmets on subjects wearing opaque goggles inside an acoustic chamber, while a magnetic field pulsed through their brains. His “working assumption” for the experiments was that this amplified “internal neuro-electrical noise,” or thoughts. More women reported “fear or phobic experiences” in these circumstances. I question whether these results indicate much about temporal lobe activity or innate gender differences. Rather, they indicate that women are more fearful in our society, for good reasons.
* Bear’s concept of an “epileptic personality” is still controversial, primarily because epileptics have been socially stigmatized for centuries. Some researchers want to “protect” patients from further prejudice by minimizing the relationship between epilepsy and behavior.
* The Courage to Heal offers a short course in ritual abuse memory, using “Annette” as a role model. “From infancy, Annette was abused in rituals that included sexual abuse, torture, murder, pornography, and systematic brainwashing through drugs and electric shock.” Of course, she forgot all of this until she was 48. “I was what they called a ‘breeder,’” Annette explains. “I was less than twelve years old. They overpowered me and got me pregnant and then they took my babies. They killed them right in front of me.”
** There are three types of “satanic” or ritual activities that actually do exist: 1] Harmless organized religions led by flamboyant characters such as Anton La Vey, who heads the Church of Satan. 2] Teenagers who, as part of societal rebellion, dabble in the occult, draw pentagrams, and perhaps sacrifice a stray cat. 3] Aberrant psychopaths who act out the myths they read about or see in movies, such as the 1989 Matamoros murders.
*** The books are: Satan Wants You, by Arthur Lyons ; In Pursuit of Satan, by Robert D. Hicks ; The Satanism Scare ; and Satanic Panic by Jeffrey Victor .
* In his classic 1972 book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, sociologist Stanley Cohen defined the term “moral panic” as a period in which a group or phenemon is regarded as “a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and sterotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions.”
* “Lauren Stratford” was in reality Laurel Willson, who, although she was clearly a very troubled individual, was apparently not a victim of satanic cults. The portrait that emerges from the meticulously researched Cornerstone article is of a sad, manipulative, attention-seeking individual. Similarly, in Selling Satan (1993), investigative reporters have demolished the story of Mike Warnke, who has claimed for years to have been a high priest in a satanic cult.
* In the Handbook, Hammond recommends asking hypnotized MPD clients to raise their finger in response to the question, “Is anyone inside afraid of…?” His list includes words that are supposedly indicative of a ritual abuse background, including stars, fire, knives, blood, being photographed, dying, candles, feces, animals being hurt, robes, a certain color, eating certain things, digging in the dirt, Halloween, the equinox, and people in a circle.
* During the Cold War era of the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA did, in fact, experiment with hypnosis, Amytal, LSD and other mind-altering drugs in an attempt to create an unconscious killing machine or find a way to extract information from spies. As John Marks documented in his 1979 book, The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, the unethical secret experiments were complete failures, characterized by “bumbling and pure craziness.” Therapists such as Colin Ross and Corydon Hammond have taken bits and pieces from Marks’ book (such as his discovery that the Nazis tried out similar unsuccessful experiments) and have recycled the myth of “mind control.” The Manchurian Candidate was a popular 1959 book and 1962 film starring Frank Sinatra, popularizing the myth that someone could be “programmed” to become a killing machine when properly “triggered.”
* It is impossible to exaggerate the level of paranoia exhibited by ritual abuse believers. At the end of 1992, for instance, members of the Los Angeles Ritual Abuse Task Force claimed that satanists were poisoning them with a toxic pesticide pumped into their offices, homes, and cars. Catherine Gould, a clinical psychologist on the task force, told a reporter that the gas had given her blurred vision and faulty memory. Gould should go back and read a 1945 article in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology entitled “The ‘Phantom Anesthetist’ of Mattoon: A Field Study of Mass Hysteria,” which reveals how citizens in Mattoon, Illinois, became convinced that a mad gasser was pumping a spray gun into their homes.
* In 1977, police arrested 22-year-old Billy Milligan for multiple rape. The talented artist also turned out to be a marvelous actor and con artist who convinced a jury and author Daniel Keyes that he possessed wonderfully diverse alter personalities, including a diffident Brit and a sinister Slav. Luckily for Keyes, who wrote the best-selling Minds of Billy Milligan , Milligan magically “fused” in order to tell him his story, which included allegations that his sodomizing stepfather buried him alive, leaving a pipe over the boy’s face for air, into which the sadist then urinated.
. Thigpen, Three Faces of Eve, p. 1-22.
. Spiegel in Bain, Control, p. xi.
. Allison, personal correspondence, June 1994.
. Sherrill Mulhern interview, July 1994; Ralph Allison interview, July 1994.
. Mulhern interview; FMFS Newsletter, June 1994, p. 6; Kluft, “Clinical Presentations,” p. 607; Frank Putnam personal corresondence, Aug. 19, 1994.
. McDonald, “An Ethical Dilemma”; Smith, “Haunted Dreams.” The material that follows comes from these two sources, as well as August 1994 interviews with Sally McDonald and an anonymous former dissociative disorders unit nurse at Spring Shadows Glen.
. Smith, “Haunted Dreams.”
. Anonymous interview with former Spring Shadows Glen dissociative disorders nurse.
. Smith, “Haunted Dreams.”
. Mary Shanley interview, Sept. 12, 1994.
. Christy Steck interview, Aug. 9, 1994.
. Judith ******** interview, Aug. 3, 1994.
. ********, “When the Therapists.”
. Kluft, “Hospital Treatment,” p. 695-696.
. Multiple Personality Disorder from the Inside Out, p. 124.
. Spiegel, Trance and Treatment, p. 55; Herbert Spiegel interview, Aug. 5, 1994.
. Cohen, Folk Devils, p. 9
. Harold Crasilneck in Hammond, Handbook, p. ix.
. Hammond in Handbook of Hypnotic, p. 347-348.
. Hammond videotape at Parkwood Hospital, Atlanta, GA, March 2, 1991, quoted in FMSF Newsletter, March 1994, p. 6-7; Hammond in “Ritual Child Abuse” Cavalcade video, 1989; Hammond audiotape, no date, from Debbie Nathan.
. Marks, Search, p. 3-22, and following; Condon, Manchurian Candidate; Thomas, Journey Into Madness.