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Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder Paperback – August 27, 1999

3.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reading this acerbic and witty debunking of the Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) diagnosis is like staying long enough in a courtroom to listen to a brilliant prosecuting attorney and then walking out before the defense. Acocella, the coauthor of a psychology textbook, Abnormal Psychology, builds a highly convincing case against mental health professionals whom she portrays as exploiters who prompted the mass hysteria and witch-hunts that have resulted from recovered memory syndrome and the MPD diagnosis. (This book requires a mastery of numerous acronyms.) However, she proceeds to undercut her own argument by destroying all in her path: the child-protection movement, the credibility of women who say they were abused as children, the self-help (AA) movement, the feminist movement, insight-based psychotherapy, "New-Age spirituality" and postmodern theory are just a few of the victims of her sweep. Like all good prosecutors, Acocella has no qualms about using one set of beliefs, events or institutions as evidence and then discrediting the same set when the next stage of her argument requires it. She presents the media, for example, as having disregarded the truth in its pursuit of ratings when it embraced MPD and its offshoots, but the same media evolves into a champion of justice in her appraisal of its support of the False Memory Syndrome (FMS) Foundation. "Managed care" is villainous when it supports FMS but heroic when it balks at financing long-term treatment of MPD or indeed any prolonged therapy. One of the many ideologies she savages (while alternately using it to prove her points) is social constructivism. In fact, a broader sense of truth as a shifting and culturally located construct would have made her argument far more convincing. Agent, Robert Comfield. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Based on the premise that mental disorders go in and out of vogue, this book traces the development of the Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)/Recovered Memory movement from its beginnings (as the story of Sybil) to its heyday (in the 1980s). New Yorker writer Acocella (Abnormal Psychology) uses case studies, research, and original analysis to show that the movement is itself a form of social hysteria. Although it serves the needs of troubled women and the "therapy establishment," concern about this disorder deflects attention from what Acocella considers to be more serious social ills. This book, which reads like a well-written, expanded journal article, competently covers recent psychological history, including the Satanic cult scares of the 1970s. However, while criticizing the science of MPD, Acocella posits thinly substantiated claims against feminism, intellectuals, and the psychiatric establishment for encouraging the diagnosis. Recommended for comprehensive women's studies and psychology collections.AAntoinette Brinkman, Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (August 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787947946
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787947941
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,756,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on August 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
Having been misdiagnosed with DID by three so-called experts, then experiencing the full internet DID subculture of support sites with 'littles', outbursts, and amateur experts self-diagnoising both themselves and other people, I was interested to read this book. I always found it interesting how people evolve at support sites on the web so they can fit into the typical DID mold. Once again with 'littles' who can read like an adult but make such an effort to spell badly it goes beyond how a young child would spell. Then the 'protector' who dishes out insults and attacks with ferocity whenever it suits and never is expected to take responsibility for their actions. Always a 'counselor' type who seems to oversee and understand the rest and is kind enough to offer explanations to rest of the ignorant world. The 'system' mapping is what I sometimes find unbelievable. It's like reading a playbill for a cast list of characters. Actually I do think that DID is a legitimate diagnosis, but not as widespread as some would have it be believed. I believe that it's become an epidemic, particularly on the internet. Having been suckered into the whole thing, I read this book with great interest but I was somewhat disappointed with it. I feel that in some ways the author's arguments are weak and almost as fantastical as the proponents of DID. She also does contradict herself in some places. I wish she took a more scientific, logical approach to writing the book and eased up on the heavy emotional perspective, but that's how I like to view things and life in general so I know I'm biased. I truly hope someone else writes a book on the subject, because I think there's a wealth of information out there that hasn't been fully explored or published.Read more ›
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I think that all of the reviews (both pro and anti) missed her last chapter (I think some people probably reviewed the book without reading all of it, which is understandable, because the first chapters are provocatively written). Her point in the first part is that insofar as recovered memory syndrome, ritual satanic abuse, and multiple personality disorder are taken seriously, they apparently do little to help people recover from their unhappy states, and insofar as the claims of people suffering from these disorders are provably false in an objective sense, they discredit the professionals who diagnose them and the individuals who are diagnosed with them. Her more important point ( in my opinion) in the second part is that insofar as these phenomena have been discredited in the wider public, they lead to a distraction from or discrediting of related issues (sexual and other kinds of abuse of children and women, and more importantly, the circumstances of poor people, who are more likely to suffer certain sorts of abuse). Most likely no one will be able to settle many of the disputes over the accuracy of repressed childhood memories, but she points to an important problem--these particular trends in psychotherapy distract us from important social problems and yet offer no solution to them.
On a related theme: I visited a therapist in 1996 to be treated for depression--a therapist that my mother found for me--who insisted that I must have repressed memories and that this could be the only source of my longterm, episodal depression (she ignored my culture shock from a transcontinental move, my below-poverty-line income, the end of a serious long term relationship, my unfinished dissertation, and a troubled relationship with an alcoholic parent).
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Contrary to what Ms. Feruggia believes, Acocella *does* discuss how some disorders are culturally-oriented. See Chapt. 2 for example.
I found this book to be compelling reading, and unlike some of the other reviewers, I felt she made a pretty strong case for her criticism of the psychiatric establishment's role in creating the whole MPD "epidemic."
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Joan B. Acocella (born 1945) is an American journalist who is the dance and book critic for The New Yorker; she has written/cowritten other books such as Abnormal Psychology: Current Perspectives, Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints: Essays, Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism, etc.

She stated in the first chapter of this 1999 book, "Prior to Sybil, MPD had been one of the rarest of mental disorders... a search of the medical literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had yielded only seventy-six cases that met their definition. But after Sybil, MPD exploded. One expert estimates that between 1985 and 1995 there were almost 40,000 new cases. And curiously, the latter-day multiples looked a lot like Sybil... In one study of 236 cases, the mean number of alters was sixteen, Sybil's count exactly." (Pg. 4)

She notes, "As the number of MPD patients grew, so, naturally, did the field designated to treat them. Until about 1975, there had been no MPD speciality to speak of. Multiple personality disorder had no separate listing in [the DSM]... But in 1980, after strenuous lobbying by interested therapists, the new edition of DSM gave multiple personality disorder a primary-level listing among the dissociative disorders... MPD was now a full-fledged psychiatric syndrome... The field soon had its own journal...
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