A psychologist says tape recordings that lay forgotten in his desk for 25 years show the popular story of Sybil, the woman with 16 personalities, is bogus.
In a best-selling 1973 book, later made into a movie, Sybil was portrayed as developing alternate personalities who did things without her knowledge. The account blames the problem on abuse Sybil suffered as a child, and says she overcame it with therapy.The newfound tapes suggest these personalities were actually created during therapy, through suggestions to a highly pliable young woman, says psychologist Robert Rieber of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Rieber said the tapes of conversations between Sybil's psychiatrist and the book author show they were "not totally unaware" that the story they told was wrong.
"Yet at the same time they wished to believe it, no matter what," Rieber said. "I would prefer to believe that there was as much self-deception as deception of others. They were not malicious people."
An expert on multiple personalities said although he doesn't know whether Sybil's personalities were created in therapy, Rieber's written report sheds no light on the question.
Richard Gottlieb, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, also said the report fails to show the book was a conscious misrepresentation.
Sybil's psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur, died in 1992, and the book's author, Flora Rheta Schreiber, died in 1988.
Rieber spoke in an interview before presenting his conclusions Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.