The 1975 Penguin Books edition
|Author(s)||Flora Rheta Schreiber|
|Subject(s)||Henry Regnery Company|
Sybil is a 1973 book by Flora Rheta Schreiber about the treatment of Sybil Dorsett (a pseudonym for Shirley Ardell Mason) for dissociative identity disorder (then referred to as multiple personality disorder) by her psychoanalyst, Cornelia B. Wilbur.
Mason is given the pseudonym "Sybil" by her therapist to protect her privacy. Originally in treatment for social anxiety and memory loss, after extended therapy involving amobarbital and hypnosis interviews, Sybil manifests sixteen personalities. Wilbur encouraged Sybil's various selves to communicate and reveal information about her life.
Described personalities 
The fictional book begins with a list of Sybil's "alters", together with the year in which each appeared to have dissociated from the central personality. The names of these selves were also changed to ensure privacy.
- Sybil Isabel Dorsett (1923), the main personality
- Victoria Antoinette Scharleau (1926), nicknamed Vicky, self-assured and sophisticated young French girl
- Peggy Lou Baldwin (1926), assertive, enthusiastic, and often angry
- Peggy Ann Baldwin (1926), a counterpart of Peggy Lou but more fearful than angry
- Mary Lucinda Saunders Dorsett (1933), a thoughtful, contemplative, and maternal homebody
- Marcia Lynn Dorsett (1927), an extremely emotional writer and painter
- Vanessa Gail Dorsett (1935), intensely dramatic
- Mike Dorsett (1928), one of Sybil's two male selves, a builder and a carpenter
- Sid Dorsett (1928), the second of Sybil's two male selves, a carpenter and a general handyman. Sid took his name from Sybil's initials (Sybil Isabelle Dorsett), implying that the real-life personality would have been named Sam (from Shirley Ardell Mason)
- Nancy Lou Ann Baldwin (date undetermined), interested in politics as fulfillment of biblical prophecy and intensely afraid of Roman Catholics
- Sybil Ann Dorsett (1928), listless to the point of neurasthenia
- Ruthie Dorsett (date undetermined), a baby and one of the less developed selves
- Clara Dorsett (date undetermined), intensely religious and highly critical of Sybil
- Helen Dorsett (1929), intensely afraid but determined to achieve fulfillment
- Marjorie Dorsett (1928), serene, vivacious, and quick to laugh
- The Blonde (1946), a nameless perpetual teenager with an optimistic outlook
The book's narrative describes Sybil's selves gradually becoming co-conscious, able to communicate and share responsibilities, and having musical compositions and art published under their various names. Wilbur attempts to integrate Sybil's various selves, first convincing them via hypnosis that they are all the same age, then encouraging them to merge. At the book's end, a new, optimistic self called "The Blonde" emerges, preceding Sybil's final integration into a single, whole individual with full knowledge of her past and present life.
The book had an initial print run of 400,000. The book is believed by Mark Pendergrast and Joan Acocella to have established the template for the later upsurge in the diagnoses of dissociative identity disorders.
Audiotapes that recorded conversations between Schreiber and Wilbur were examined by Dr. Herbert Spiegel and later by John Jay College of Criminal Justice academic Robert W. Rieber. Both these professionals concluded that Dr. Wilbur suggested multiple personalities to her client, whom they saw as a simple "hysteric". They also claimed that Wilbur and Schreiber fabricated most of the book, which is not a psychiatric case history but a novel with many details of the real case changed or removed.
A review of Rieber's book Bifurcation of the Self by Mark Lawrence states 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.
The case remains controversial, as Wilbur's psychiatric files are sealed, and both she and Mason are deceased.
The book Sybil Exposed by Debbie Nathan published in 2011 claims that Wilbur, Mason and Schreiber perpetrated a fraud, documenting a 1958 letter by Mason confessing to making up the "alters" for attention and excitement. (This letter had been printed in full in the original book. Cornelia Wilbur was described as interpreting the letter as an attempt to put difficult, painful therapy on hold.) Nathan claims Schreiber became aware of Mason and her alleged past, writing Sybil based on stories coaxed from her during therapy, and that this case created an "industry" of repressed memory.
Film adaptations 
There have been two film adaptations, both made for television:
- Sybil (1976 film), an NBC TV-movie starring Sally Field.
- Sybil (2007 film), a CBS TV-movie starring Tammy Blanchard.
See also 
- Schreiber, Flora Rheta (1973-05). Sybil. Kirkus Reviews. ISBN 978-0-8092-0001-6
- Pendergrast, M (1996). Victims of memory: sex abuse accusations and shattered lives. Upper Access Books. pp. 153. ISBN 0-942679-18-0.
- Acocella, J (1979). Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder. New York: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-4794-6.
- Rieber, R. W. (1999). "Hypnosis, false memory and multiple personality: A trinity of affinity". History of Psychiatry 10 (37): 3–11. doi:10.1177/0957154X9901003701. PMID 11623821.
- Lawrence, M (May 2010). "Review of Bifurcation of the Self: The history and theory of dissociation and its disorders". American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 50 (3): 273–283.
- Schreiber, p. 374.
- Smith, K (2011-10-16). "'Sybil' is one big psych-out". New York Post. Retrieved 2011-10-18.
- Ben Harris (21 October 2011). "Sybil. Inc.". Science 334: 312.