Shirley Ardell Mason
|Shirley Ardell Mason|
Shirley Ardell Mason
|Born||January 25, 1923|
|Died||February 26, 1998(aged 75)|
|Other names||Sybil Isabel Dorsett|
|Known for||Famous patient with dissociative identity disorder|
Shirley Ardell Mason (January 25, 1923 – February 26, 1998) was an American psychiatric patient and commercial artist who was reputed to have multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative identity disorder. Her life was fictionalized in 1973 in the book Sybil, and two films of the same name were made in 1976 and 2007. Both the book and the films used the name Sybil Isabel Dorsett to protect Mason's identity, though the 2007 remake stated Mason's name at its conclusion.
Mason was born and raised in Dodge Center, Minnesota, the only child of Walter Mason (a carpenter and architect) and Martha Alice "Mattie" Hageman. In regard to Mason's mother: "...many people in Dodge Center say Mattie" — "Hattie" in the book — "was bizarre," according to Bettie Borst Christensen, who grew up across the street. "She had a witch-like laugh....She didn't laugh much, but when she did, it was like a screech." Christensen remembers Mason's mother walking around after dark, looking in the neighbors' windows. At one point, Mason's mother was reportedly diagnosed with schizophrenia.
In the early 1950s, Mason was a substitute teacher and a student at Columbia University. She had long suffered from blackouts and emotional breakdowns, and finally entered psychotherapy with Cornelia B. Wilbur, a Freudian psychiatrist. Their sessions together are the basis of the book.
Some people in Mason's home town, reading the book, recognized Mason as Sybil. By that time, Mason had severed nearly all ties with her past and was living in West Virginia. She later moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where she lived near Dr. Wilbur. She taught art classes at a community college and ran an art gallery out of her home for many years.
Wilbur diagnosed Mason with breast cancer in 1990, and she declined treatment; it later went into remission. The following year Wilbur developed Parkinson's disease and Mason moved into Wilbur's house to take care of her until Wilbur's death in 1992. Mason died of breast cancer on February 26, 1998.
Flora Rheta Schreiber's novel Sybil told a fictionalized version of Mason's story. The book stated that Mason had multiple personalities as a result of severe child sexual abuse at the hands of her mother, whom her psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur believed had been schizophrenic. The book was made into a TV-movie, starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, in 1976. The movie was remade in 2007 with Jessica Lange and Tammy Blanchard as Sybil.
Mason's diagnosis has been challenged. Psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel saw Mason for several sessions while Wilbur was on vacation, and felt that Wilbur was manipulating Mason into behaving as though she had multiple personalities when she did not. Spiegel suspected Wilbur of having publicized Mason's case for financial gain. According to Spiegel, Wilbur's client was a hysteric, but did not show signs of multiple personalities; in fact, he later stated that Mason denied to him that she was "multiple", but claimed that Wilbur wanted her to "be" people. Spiegel confronted Wilbur, who responded that the publisher would not publish the book unless it was what she said it was.
In August 1998, psychologist Robert Rieber of John Jay College of Criminal Justice challenged Mason's diagnosis, claiming she was instead an "extremely suggestible hysteric" and also stated he believed Wilbur had manipulated her in order to secure a book deal. In a review of Rieber's book Bifurcation of the Self, Mark Lawrence asserts that Rieber repeatedly distorted the evidence and left out a number of important facts about Mason's case, in order to advance his case against the validity of the diagnosis.
Debbie Nathan's Sybil Exposed draws upon an archive of Schreiber's papers stored at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and other first-hand sources. Nathan describes the purported manipulation of Wilbur by Mason and vice versa, going into personal detail about the lives of Mason, Wilbur and Schreiber. Nathan ascribes Mason's physical and sensory issues to a lifelong case of pernicious anemia but mistaken at the time for psychogenic symptoms caused by stress. Nathan claims that Wilbur and Mason knowingly perpetrated a fraud. She cites a well-known 1958 letter by Mason (which is reprinted in Sybil) in which she claimed to pose as a multiple for attention and excitement. Nathan claims Schreiber wrote Sybil based on stories coaxed from her during therapy, and that this case created an "industry" of repressed memory. The case remains controversial. Although Wilbur's papers were destroyed, copies and excerpts within the Flora Rheta Schreiber Papers at the Lloyd Sealy Library of John Jay College were unsealed in 1998.
- Miller, M; Kantrowitz B (1999-01-24). "Unmasking Sybil". Newsweek. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
- Van Arsdale, S (2001-08-02). "Sybil: Famous multiple personality case was a stranger in our midst". Ace Weekly. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
- Schreiber, Flora Rheta (1973). Sybil. New York: Warner Books, Inc. p. 460. ISBN 0-446-35940-8.
- Borch-Jacobsen, M (1997-04-24). "Sybil-The Making of a Disease: An Interview with Dr. Herbert Spiegel". New York Review of Books 44 (7). Retrieved 2009-04-02. abstract
- Rieber, R (1998). "Hypnosis, false memory and multiple personality: a trinity of affinity". History of Psychiatry 10 (37): 3–11. doi:10.1177/0957154X9901003701. PMID 11623821.
- Schreiber, Flora Rheta; Rieber, Robert W. (2006). The bifurcation of the self: the history and theory of dissociation and its disorders. Berlin: Springer. ISBN 0-387-27413-8.
- Lawrence, M (2008). "Review of Bifurcation of the Self: The history and theory of dissociation and its disorders". American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 50 (3): 273–283.
- Nathan, D (2011). Sybil Exposed. Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4391-6827-1.
- Nathan, Debbie. "A Girl Not Named Sybil". New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
- Smith, K (2011-10-16). "'Sybil' is one big psych-out". New York Post. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- Multiple Personality Controversies Links to many articles about the real Sybil, Shirley Mason.