Book Review - Multiple Personality Disorder from the Inside Out

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 2000, Volume 17, pages 224-227. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Multiple Personality Disorder from the Inside Out. 

Barry M. Cohen, Esther Giller, & W. Lynn, Sidran Press, 1991, 245 pages.

Perhaps one of the greatest debates among psychologists in the 1990s revolved around the diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder in the DSM IV). While some believe that this disorder is caused in part by a history of severe abuse, others believe that this disorder is extremely rare, if it even exists, and that the surge in purported numbers with MPD is the result of well-meaning but naïve therapists who have unscientific beliefs.

Whichever side you are on will greatly influence how you will feel about Multiple Personality Disorder from the Inside Out. There is no debate launched in this book. Hence, it is best for believers only, or perhaps those who are open to the possibility that MPD is common enough to warrant a collection of writings by and for those with the diagnosis. Since it is clear that any bias on the part of the reviewer will influence one’s judgment about the book, I will try to remain neutral and assess the book in light of the goals stated by its editors.

The introduction includes a section called “How to use this book.” To paraphrase the book’s purposes, it is meant as an educational tool for clinicians and families of those with the diagnosis of MPD. For survivors, it is meant to validate their experiences by providing a variety of essays, poems, and vignettes about various aspects of living with this diagnosis.

Living with MPD indeed. Having a diagnosis that some might consider farcical adds a unique twist to the usual stigma associated with mental illnesses. In other words, not only are you crazy, but you could be perceived as even crazier (or naïve and foolish) to accept such a diagnosis. Consider how confusing it must be for patients to be told that they have Disease A by Doctor Jones, while Doctor Smith says that Disease A doesn’t even exist. What is the patient to do when the experts disagree, and in the case of MPD, quite vehemently so? This experience, in itself, may be crazy making. The patient simply wants an explanation and a course of action that will help.

Thus, part of the experiences described in this book have to do with the stigma of the diagnosis, not being believed, and the feelings engendered by such experiences. For example, one self-identified mental health practitioner writes the following:

My greatest wish is that there was more acceptance of Dissociative Disorder among mental health professionals. Contrary to some survivors, I feel that this IS a “disorder.” If it were simply a creative response to horrible circumstances, then I wouldn’t be overwhelmed so much of the time with feeling suicidal, profoundly depressed and wishing to harm myself. Since there is so much skepticism within the field of mental health regarding even the occurrence of the disorder, I find that in a long list of deep secrets, the fact that I suffer from MPD is just one more.

Other writings are phenomenological, trying to communicate what it feels like to have a bunch of different selves sharing one body. For example:

It is very difficult not to think of ourselves as individuals or separate. We have to be reminded frequently that we are a part of Susan. I also have to keep telling myself that there are other parts of me. Accepting this is accepting the experiences and all the feelings that come with them.

In other cases, poems describe the psyche recovering from unspeakable trauma. Still others discuss the responses of therapists, family members, and significant others—good and bad, ideal versions and worst-case scenarios.

In light of its own goals, I think that this book succeeds. Since it is a well-organized book, replete with a section of resources, a glossary, and an excellent index, it can be used as a learning tool by anyone interested in the subject and holding the book's perspective. It will not, however, inform one about the great debate. Those who strongly doubt the diagnosis itself will probably view the authors as misguided patients who don’t know what they are talking about. But for those who believe in this diagnosis and who work with this clientele, have a friend or family member with this diagnosis, or perhaps believe that they have MPD, this book could be an excellent resource, with something for everybody.

Andrea Bloomgarden, Ph.D.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania