Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Here is the unbelievable yet true story of Sybil Dorsett, a survivor of terrible childhood abuse who as an adult was a victim of sudden and mysterious blackouts. What happened during those blackouts has made Sybil’s experience one of the most famous psychological cases in the world.

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I had already mentioned a while back that this was a book I had to read as part of a twitter book club challenge. I probably wouldn’t have gravitated towards this on my own since psychology is not something I read – not because I don’t want to, I just haven’t. One of the book choices I cannot explain.

There is no suspense here – Sybil is the story of Sybil Dorsett who had 16 distinct personalities, what is referred to as “multiple personality disorder”. The character of Sybil Isabel Dorsett was later identified to be Shirley Ardell Mason sometime in the 1990s by an investigative journalist.

The author was a friend of Sybil’s psychiatrist Dr.Cornelia Wilbur and therefore was able to write the book with the full cooperation of both Dr.Wilbur and Sybil. The book starts from a point in Sybil’s treatment in the 1950s and keeps going back to her past – a childhood filled with horrible abuse.

The book ends with a list of questions for reading group discussions and, surprisingly, also has a few pages dedicated to the opinions of the skeptics. Two of those stand out – first, a lot of psychiatrists seem to believe that this is not a case of MPD and second, that Dr.Wilbur has suggested the 16 personalities to Sybil who has then willingly adopted them.

Overall, this seems to be a story that has generated wide interest. I found this on Goodreads – a book by Debbie Nathan that alleges that the entire story of Sybil is fabricated and it was an outcome of the ambition of Dr.Wilbur and the author.

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Which brings us to the question of whether this really is a “true story”. Personally, I found it pretty believable except for the part where Dr.Wilbur uses hypnosis, which sounded bunkum. In all, Sybil was definitely a page-turner for me.

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