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This review is from: Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case (Hardcover)
I first read SYBIL in 1976 when I was told, the soon to be aired TV movies principle character, Sybil, was in fact, Shirley Mason, my grandmothers step daughter. Closer to home, Shirley\Sybil was my babysitter in the late 40's and early 50's, in Denver Co. The Masons had been friends of the family for years before my Grandma, Florence, married Walter Mason, Shirley's dad. I especially remember Shirley taking requests to draw cute pictures for my older brother and me.
When my grandmother died in 1985, I retrieved about 200 letters destined for the trash, written by Shirley to my Grandma from 1954 - 1974. After reading the letters, lets just say there were discrepancies with the book, SYBIL.
Subsequently several researchers contacted me, such as Peter Swales, expressing concern over the ethics and rampant diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID). Debbie Nathan is not the first to come across this controversy, but she is the first to present it to the public, since Peter Swales and Mikkel Borch-Jacobson elected to publish it in a more academic forum in France.
Debbie Nathan has been extremely accurate and careful with the documents I have entrusted to her. She doesn't claim to be, or have to be a psychotherapist to be a good investigative reporter. To me that's just what she is, and in some ways better equipped to deal with this controversy.
SYBIL EXPOSSED is not written by a wanna-be psychotherapist dispensing her biased opinions. This is a 282 page condensation of facts gleaned from documents, letters, case files, and interviews, most of which have only been open to the public, or otherwise available, for just the last 13 years.
I am grateful for such a compilation. If you look at the footnotes in the back of the book, you'll find thirty-five pages itemizing 580 document citations averaging 30 per chapter to back up her "opinions".
SYBIL EXPOSSED is a must read for anyone who read SYBIL, but also for anyone who loves a great biography, a shared look at three women fatefully tied together.
SYBIL EXPOSSED never faulted Dr. Wilbur for not loving and caring for Shirley\Sybil. Neither did it claim that DID does not exist. After 35 years of fallout, I believe from what I've learned and what this book shows, is Dr. Wilbur's human nature overruled her professionalism and determined her judgments. Read it for yourself, you may not like your conclusions, but truth still matters. No book dealing with beliefs and maters of the mind is going to be 100% black or white, right or wrong. I believe SYBIL EXPOSED is much closer to the truth.
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Initial post: Oct 26, 2011, 9:40:46 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 9, 2013, 5:36:56 PM PST]
Posted on Oct 26, 2011, 9:42:58 PM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Oct 28, 2011, 10:07:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 28, 2011, 10:08:39 AM PDT
Something really bothers me about this whole 'narrative' that is unfolding concerning 'how' Nathan seems to have gained not only 'trust', but loyalty of folks like you who actually 'knew' Mason.
It was clear that Nathan did actually go into this project viewing herself as a kind of 'expert' in the area of multiple personalities and false memories -'a wanna-be-psychotherapist' (as you put it) - as well as having a well-planned agenda previous to researching for this book.
In fact, during her interview on Leonard Lopate Show -Oct.19, 2011 - Nathan first states that she becomes interested in investigating the Sybil story because she always thought it would be 'fun' to go into archives and write a book based on them. Then, a quick switch that her 'true' passion was in sexual politics and the 'satanic panic' and the connections she had made with that - in her other writings (investigations) - with multiple personality disorder....
Were you aware that she was not only 'biased', but passionate about proving 'Sybil' a fraud - in order to further a campaign that she had already begun in other works? Obviously, not - from what I am reading here.
So, how did you come to the conclusion that she was a 'good investigative reporter'? Did you do a bit of research on her past record as an 'investigative reporter' - or did you speak to her in person? From her persuasive writing and the interviews I have heard, I can imagine that you might believe most anything she told you. What did she say that gave you the idea that she would be better able to deal with this than say.... someone 'qualified' in the area of scientific research - or someone objective who was not 'expressing concern over the ethics and rampant diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID)' - that you speak of.
I understand that Mason drew pictures of you. I think if you knew the three woman a bit better, you might not be so quick to to hand over personal letters that were obviously of sentimental value to any close family member - without further inquiring into Ms. Nathan's past research projects and books.
I also don't understand - you 'entrusted her' with these documents you speak of? Were they 'open to the public' previous to this? Where were they stored? Exactly what 'facts' were in these documents that 'proved' "Sybil" to be a completely fabricated story?
I am just trying now to get a narrative of how Debbie Nathan's strategies of persuasion may have influenced the validity of her interviews. Her ability to persuade through writing is easily identified by an experienced writer. I feel sadly for those who may have been duped by persuasion to believe their own family and friends to be as portrayed in this book.
I await some answers to my questions. thank you.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2011, 7:57:59 PM PDT
I am on vacaton, grandkids .Will reply late Monday. David E
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 29, 2011, 8:13:43 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2011, 1:26:06 PM PDT
Having reread your review as well as this inquiry, let me say, I feel all of us agree that many children are abused by guilty parents and many innocent parents are falsely accused of abusing their children. Where the pendulum swings between these issues and how to deal with them is difficult for sure. Both deserve to be investigated. As I read all these reviews and see a dramatic polarization, I feel for both sides. I don't hate anyone for his or her point of view. Since this seems to be a, us against them, readership why don't both sides concede the bias card as a wash. I don't have a dog in this fight. Honestly, I am not emotionally involved in this controversy. I inherited information that I find extremely interesting. That's it.
Having said that let me respond to some of your very valid questions. Regarding Debbie Nathan having an agenda and a biased opinion before writing the book. Not being a mind reader I still would bet you're right. What author has written a book without a pretty good idea of what it was going to say and conclusions it would make before they started. The fact that she has written other works on this subject may prove she is bias. It may also prove she is convicted. It just doesn't prove she is wrong.
I figured Mrs. Nathan would be a good investigative reporter because she was one of only two researchers who sleuthed all the way to find me. Both, flew across the country, not knowing what my material contained. Due to Shirley's wishes in my grandma's letters I never told anyone I had pertinent material. In her letters Shirley only wanted to avoid "facing the publicity". So only after her death did I reveal this, and only to those who found me. I never offered this to anyone. By the way, where are the researchers on the other side of this issue? Even now they are welcome to any of this information. Also having spent two days with Mikkel Borch-Jacobson, several years after Shirley's death I learned things that fit more with the knowledge I had from my parents and Grandma.
Regarding Your statement, "duped by persuasion to believe their own family and friends to be as portrayed in this book" , I say " we may never know if Hattie Mason/Mattie Dorsett as the book SYBIL portrays, is the most maligned person in recent history, or not." Think about this, Which book if wrong, maligned people the worst? You forget both books talk about those no longer alive to defend themselves. Including my Grandma and Walter Mason.
Thanks, Filecity for your very respectful inquiry. I'm going to use this forum, to answer the very obvious question, "what do these letters show", or as you asked it, 'Do these letters show Sybil to be a completely fabricated story"? The short answer is ,no. The story is very real. It's the conclusions that are questionable. I don't know and won't argue the existence of MPD\DID. But I will argue that Hattie Mason never Physically abused Shirley. Shirley herself said this In a very adamant letter(not one of mine), which is sited in SYBIL EXPOSED. Grandma Florence's (Freda, in SYBILl) letters showed a remarkable relationship that she had with Shirley, which was almost entirely cemented in their common belief in God and The SDA church. Shirley confided to Florence that she could talk to her about things she couldn't say to Dr. Wibur, regarding God and church. "She just doesn't want to hear these things",(paraphrased)she told Florence. She confided to Florence about the book, soon to come out, and her name would be change to protect her, dated Wed.,May 9th. 1973. After that the letters abruptly stopped. Florence later surmised Shirley must have read the book shortly after the 5\9\73 letter, and was blindsided by the terrible portrayal of "Freda" in SYBIL. 9\4\74 florence wrote, "I tried calling you several months ago, but learned that you had no listed telephone. So a few days later I wrote you a letter but no answer and no return either so now I am trying again to see if you can be contacted. I would appreciate very much if you would let me hear from you and tell me how you are getting along, please." This was sent with a return receipt slip, Which Florence got back with Shirley's signature. 11\12\74 Florence wrote"----no hint of you selling out in Point Pleasant and moving to Lexington.-------so after I sent the registered letter I did get your signature and Lexington , but still no address where to write. So I just gave up, at least knowing that you were still alive". Shirley didn't know it but florence never read the book(Which florence just thought was another one of Shirley's wishful thinking), until she saw The TV guide promoting the movie at the checkout stand,11\14\76, and recognized Dr. Wilbur. Florence, never complained about her horrible portrayal but was horrified to find out about what had happened to Shirley. She said, "We had no idea what Shirley had gone through." But we all believed it because we saw it in print.
The letters never mention MPD or anything like it (I agree this proves nothing). They do mention drug use especially thorizine. They particularly report the close living conditions she shared with Dr. Wilbur, multiple vacations they took together, monitory support from Dr wilbur, jobs created for her by Dr. Wilbur, and much more along these lines. She said to Florence, with the book proceeds she could pay off Dr. Wilbur in "One lump sum" instead $100\mo. as she had been trying to do, for all the years of therapy.
I believe there was tremendous pressure placed on Shirley to go ahead with the book. Her whole world and security were at stake, her loyalty to her best friend/therapist was strong. I don't believe she got to read the whole book till it was already off the press.
I refer you now to a negative book review of SYBIL EXPOSED written by Naomi Rhode. Her testimony is the best support refuting what I believe happened. She writes,"Through all these years , up until literally the day before she died, she verified the complete accuracy of the book SYBIL". If Naomi said that,I believe her. I believe Shirley was torn between her strong relationship to her God and her Loyalty to her earthly
hero\therapist which required her compliance. To maintain that balance she had to believe the repressed memories were true, after all, a doctor she trusted who literally made her life, said they were, then it must be true.
The letters showed that she clung to her belief in God and the church clear through her life. I know Naomi would confirm that.
Here are the last words our family ever heard from Shirley, written to my parents in a letter of condolence after Grandma florence died, dated
January 12, 1986. "I know we all share at least one thing in common, the great hope of the second coming and the resurrection - what a wonderful time it will be - a belief that ties and sustains us all. Thank you again for writing. Most sincerely, Shirley."
Thanks Filicity for the questions. I don't think this will convince anybody with other wise strong opinions , this is just what I think.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2011, 2:22:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 1, 2011, 2:27:04 PM PDT
Thank you so much for your kind response.
"I figured Mrs. Nathan would be a good investigative reporter because she was one of only two researchers who sleuthed all the way to find me. Both, flew across the country, not knowing what my material contained. Due to Shirley's wishes in my grandma's letters I never told anyone I had pertinent material. In her letters Shirley only wanted to avoid "facing the publicity". "
I fear that this may not have been the 'best' way to decide on the criteria for a 'good investigative reporter' - sadly - it seems now. None of us went into this as a debate - at least I didn't. Nathan's book simply bothered me in the 'style' it was written - very biased - hurtful, and with an agenda - to discredit a fine doctors' work, to paint a picture of a 'greedy' journalist, and to 'out' Shirley as a dis-functional (even 'insane') fraud. Her intention - to further her campaign to move along a destructive path to discredit the ISST-D and everyone and anyone associated with the group, dismiss the reality of ritual abuse, bring credibility to all that the False Memory Syndrome Foundation stands for, and well - all the other conclusions she makes in her book. It is too much.
It strikes me that Shirley so feared being 'exposed' to the public. Not that she was a fraud, but that she 'was' multiple - in my experience of most folks with DID. The biggest fear multiples have is being called 'fakes', 'frauds', 'pretending', etc., because that is 'abuse' that is intolerable for anyone, especially survivors of any kind of abuse.
You stated that, "In her letters Shirley only wanted to avoid "facing the publicity"." I kind of feel like her only dying wish has been taken away - and by someone like Nathan with no compassion or - as we are seeing now, integrity.
Are you aware that she has now threatened to publicly 'expose' me in a bio - calling me the 'PREZ' of the 'Onsies Club' ?
This is what appears on her facebook page as a message to us who have commented her on Amazon:
"Earlier I promised to fete the dedicated people on Amazon who give me "ones" then diss me in the comments section, over and over and over. I call them my Onesies and I love them for the fun and publicity they provide.
Next up: Onesies Club prez Felicity Lee.
I "Heart" my Amazon "onesies" club! These are the four or five people who tirelessly post "One" reviews (the worst possible), then go on and on in the "Comments" sections of their fellow "One" posters, calling me a fraud and liar and all around shnook, and cycling all over again. Because of this mishegass, media people are calling me and asking, "Whaaaa?" Who could ask for better publicity! Plus, the discussions are funny! Most authors have to pay for PR, but not me! Thanks, Onesies! It's not appropriate for authors to enter frays at Amazon. So I'l be honoring my Onesies here soon on the Facebook page, posting bios of each. Stay tuned, and if you're in the 1s club, let your homies know to come over here to be feted. Thanks again!"
Is this the same investigative reporter that you intrusted Shirley's private papers to write the compassionate honest truth of her life?
You ask, "By the way, where are the researchers on the other side of this issue? Even now they are welcome to any of this information."
I could only hope that Nathan is seen as what she is, and "Sybil Exposed" might be shelved - and, possibly someone will come along and write the compassionate truth of three historical figures.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2011, 3:39:30 PM PDT
Daniel Houlihan says:
David -- excellent note. Although I am a psychologist, I have never have a vested interest in this story. I have helped gather data for all three of the authors because - Like you, they sought me out. As a researcher, I do have a distaste for inaccurate information, and it bothers me when it impacts people...irrespective of who they are. I became aware of Sybil's identity when I was in college in the late 1970's. Curious by nature, I spent much time digging around for information on this case here in MN where I live. I can tell you that it was with great disappointment that I found an extreme number of inaccuracies in nearly everything I found. I won't speculate on why things were either distorted or poorly researched (although Debbie Nathan does), I will only say that there are many problems with Flora's book.
There does seem to be some division of loyalties, to which you and I might be considered outsiders. I have had a chance to speak with many people who knew Shirley: high school, college, faculty. I have spoken with Art Student friends, art teacher Wylene Frederickson, Evelyn Gale (who lived with the Mason's for several years). These people knew Shirley before the book; they adored her; and the majority felt the book 'Sybil' was false. That is why there is no mention of them in the 'Sybil' the book. On the contrary, people who knew Shirley after the book are extremely defensive. It is hard to dismiss a bias following the reading of Sybil, which in the title claims to be completely true.
Like you, I have many copies of letters, Christmas Cards and other records and correspondence. The letters support demographic points in "Sybil" but contradict therapeutic points. Naomi Rhode is a marvelous person whom I have spoken with on three occasions. If I recall correctly, her connection with Shirley came after the book. That is the case with Patrick as well, and I hold him in high regard -- but differ in opinion. It is impossible to read the content of the letters, box 37, academic files, medical records and not come to the conclusion that significant elements are incorrect or false. I don't believe that Patrick has carefully read them -- and I have a reason for that belief.
I enjoy Felicity Lee's comments. Perhaps she will take the challenge from Patrick to read the material. This is not the case to defend DID with.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2011, 5:30:55 PM PDT
I would actually love to read the material - although, I don't need to defend DID - of course, it is already a legitimate dx - remember?
I am thinking it would be interesting to hear from a therapist who has worked with a client for many years. In Shirley's case, things changed, she changed, there is conflicting evidence - okay - that sounds normal over many years. I doesn't mean that a good investigative reporter takes into account only evidence that backs some political agenda she is trying to promote and use it only - disregarding the 'human' aspect'. These women do deserve respect and high praise - all of them. This was not shown in this book. IMHO
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2011, 10:31:14 PM PDT
Thanks, Daniel Houlihan, I needed a little bit of support right now.