In 1997, the issue of multiple personalities was discussed by the national media. As usual, it was not helpful at all for the millions of adult survivors of child abuse or the therapists who treat them. Paul McHugh was selected by 60 Minutes to talk about this issue, I guess because he was the Chief of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. Once again, the millions of viewers were presented with McHugh’s diatribe and insulting rhetoric about one of our trauma disorders.1
Wallace: “Dr. Paul McHugh is chief of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University. He says that he has never seen a case of multiple personality disorder that was not induced by the therapist.”
McHugh: “I wouldn’t be doing this at all if I didn’t feel that this huge misdirection in psychiatric practice hasn’t hurt thousands of families in our country.”
Wallace: “Fact is, the psychiatric profession may never take action on this issue because, says Dr. McHugh, they are hoping the multiple personality disorder diagnosis simply fades away.”
McHugh: “I believe that we have seen here in psychiatry, like we’ve seen in other aspects of our society in history, a craze. And now, like all crazes, the damage that’s – that it did is becoming evident. And the diagnosis, the approach, the very ideas themselves are waning. It’s gonna be like the Hula-Hoop, it’ll be gone.”
I remember sitting there watching 60 Minutes and saying to myself, Shame on you, and Thank God you aren’t my doctor. I would never get well.
I was blessed in that I had a top trauma expert as a therapist, not someone who had never treated dissociative disorders like Paul McHugh.
Every day I struggled with all my personalities/alters so that I could get through the day. I worked at identifying each one’s needs, their fears, understanding the origin of their existence, recognizing their triggers of stressful material, and worked on having them communicate with each other. It was a major negotiation process. To listen to Paul McHugh make fun of my disorder was infuriating. And yet, the media gave him a national audience.
I hope that by reading this series on Dissociative Disorders, people will have a better understanding of why this disorder has not received adequate funding by NIMH or fair reporting by the media. By discounting the need to accurately and appropriately address this disorder, both NIMH and the media continue to shame adult survivors for a disorder acquired as a result of being abused as a child. The shame belongs on them.
Through all of my arduous work with my therapist, I integrated all my personalities/alters into one and no longer struggle with WWIII in my head. If more therapists were trained in the dissociative disorders, survivors would receive better care. NIMH is a major piece of the problem because of their inattention to this disorder. Hopefully, mental health organizations will make their voices heard and support adult survivors in their healing. They deserve nothing less.
1 CBS 60 Minutes, Interview of Paul McHugh by Mike Wallace, Transcript November 30, 1997