I wrote a letter shown below to the Editor-In-Chief of the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease protesting his publication of what I considered unscientific information. Letters from distinguished mental healthcare professionals were sent as well voicing concerns similar to mine.
Dear Mr. Talbott,
As an adult survivor of child abuse, I strongly resent your inclusion of Dr. Paris’ article “The Rise and Fall of Dissociative Identity Disorder” in the latest edition of your journal. By doing so, you have added one more nail in the coffin for the successful treatment of DID. Disseminating this type of misinformation just continues the disparagement of a lifesaving method of treatment.
I know because I was diagnosed with DID and through successful treatment, I no longer suffer from the debilitating effects of both my child abuse and the mental disability of DID.
It has been both unsettling and a mystery to me why prestigious journals such as yours continue to allow proponents of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) – an organization whose purpose is to advocate for parents whose children have accused them of being child molesters or pedophiles – to publish unscientific pronouncements. Dr. Paris was affiliated with the FMSF as early as 1997.1 The FMSF, nor its proponents, have any legitimate, scientific justification for inclusion of their opinions in any journal that distributes verified, scientific data.
The FMSF’s fabricated diagnosis – False Memory Syndrome – has never followed the established principles for determining the effectiveness of treatments which include:
- Randomized clinical trials to improve the validity of causal conclusions, and
- Replication of results in multiple settings to improve the validity of results for actual practice.
Thus, there are no published case histories in any peer-reviewed clinical or scientific journals of their so-called False Memory Syndrome. And yet, as I stated, members’ and supporters’ views of this organization are disguised (authors never identify themselves as supporters of the FMSF) and published in journals to the detriment of successful treatment being implemented for adult survivors of child abuse. The fact that Dr. Paris used Paul McHugh (former Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital) as a reference (an original member of FMSF’s Scientific Advisory Board and a long-time supporter) is disturbing as survivors of child abuse cannot get treatment for DID at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Paris’ statements about the reason for the “diagnostic epidemic” that began “in the 1980s and 1990s [which was] associated with a theory that the etiology of the condition was rooted in child abuse,”…. and his off-the-wall declaration that “DID offered a drama of trauma, followed by redemption through psychotherapy,” is both incorrect and demeaning to me and other survivors. Again, this is his opinion, not a fact based on scientific research. Dr. Paris’ disparaging attitude toward recovered memories and dissociation by stating that they “became a way of validating and acknowledging the long-term effects of child abuse” is not based in fact. What has been validated by Stanford University2 in their research is that “brain imaging scans were used to identify the neural systems involved in actively suppressing memory. The core findings showed that controlling unwanted memories was associated with increased activity of the left and right frontal cortex, which, in turn, led to reduced activation of the hippocampus. In addition, the researchers found that the more the subjects activated their frontal cortex during the experiment, the better they were at suppressing unwanted memories.”
With the excellent therapeutic treatment I received, I recovered a memory long suppressed. With my therapist’s ongoing support by allowing me to explore my painful past without shaming me (as my abusers did) and providing the space to look back at what happened to me, I was finally able to understand how painful reactions in my current life were connected to my abuse as a child. Every year during the Christmas season, I grew increasingly disoriented, cried uncontrollably, and usually had suicidal thoughts. During one of my hospitalizations, the repressed memory that had been causing so much distress came forward, and I was finally able to understand its origin. This is described in my autobiography Conquering Incest – My Life as a Trauma Survivor. Since then, I have never experienced those same debilitating symptoms.
Dr. Paris disparages the link between child abuse and dissociation with a discussion of the movie Sybil by attempting to equate the therapist’s inappropriate and unethical therapeutic practices with his denial of DID as a legitimate diagnosis. Dr. Paris’ quote that “child abuse is only a weak risk factor for the development of adult psychopathology” reminds me of those who lived in the first half of the 20th century.
During that period of time, an admission to a State Hospital was scary, shameful to the family, and various methods of treatment were used in the hope of treating mentally ill people. These included electroconvulsive therapy, insulin therapy, induced seizures, hydrotherapy (the wet sheet pack, the continuous bath), fever therapy, and for some people, a lobotomy. These mentally ill people were many times labeled as “lunatics.” It was no wonder that mental illnesses were kept a secret. I know if I had had to go through that, I would have been scared to death to reveal my abuse history.
Women and children were treated as property and had no real control over their lives. They were beaten, molested, raped, and threatened with further violence if they said anything—just like they are today. So, the thought of studying the impact of violence in the home (a man’s private castle) and the resulting impact on its victims at that time was not a possibility.
It would have been helpful if the psychiatric community had openly discussed multiple personalities as well as the combat experiences of men during WWI. Men froze and could not move. They lost their memory and capacity to feel. Initially the symptoms were attributed to a physical cause—the effects of the exploding shells caused a nervous disorder called “shell shock.” Gradually, even though the name stuck, it was determined this was a psychological trauma response.3 Prior to WWI, psychoanalysis had focused on the denial or repression of unacceptable inner drives. Denial of external reality was considered to be indicative of severe psychopathology or a weak ego. The war experience, however, showed that denial could be used by normal persons in an adaptive-or maladaptive-fashion. Dissociative states such as feelings of depersonalization, derealization and detachment from one’s body, and amnesia and fugues, which, like denial, were commonly associated with trauma.4
After WWII in the 1950s, almost 40 years later, the public still viewed mental illness as a stigmatized condition. The public was not particularly skilled at distinguishing mental illness from ordinary unhappiness and worry and tended to see only extreme forms of behavior— namely psychosis—as mental illness. In fact, mental illness was linked with unpredictable and violent behavior.5 But at the same time, people discounted the unpredictable and violent behavior of the bullies, alcoholics, and child molesters in their families which contributed to mental illnesses. That was all kept a secret just like it is today.
With no understanding of the psychological effects of trauma, especially attributed to the internal stressors on young victims of child abuse, the film The Three Faces of Eve burst upon the scene in 1957 and sensationalized the diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder. The average American had no frame of reference to understand the effects of trauma or dissociation, and the medical community did nothing to explain the diagnosis to the public, therefore, the lack of public understanding of trauma and dissociation continued.
This is a more accurate explanation of why the link of child abuse and dissociation was not clear to the majority of Americans.
I was mentally, physically, emotionally, and sexually abused the first 21 years of my life. So as to not completely fall apart, I split off most of my emotional reactions but retained a lot of my memories. I never got angry and I never cried. I also did not realize that I maintained my sanity by dissociating and splitting my psyche into multiple parts. Through hard work and perseverance, I worked for a Fortune 20 company and became a Strategic Planner on the Regional Vice President’s staff. When I found out my brother was sexually abusing my four-year-old niece, my memories came flooding back which caused major disruptions in my life. I was fortunate to have had a therapist who by coupling my dissociation with the trauma I suffered as a child was able to help me understand my reactions/behaviors and to heal. My quality of life dramatically improved. I no longer suffer from depression, PTSD, and integrated about 18 alters. I now live a fully functional, healthy life.
I strongly suggest that in the future, you and your editorial team only print research written by experts in the field. It is not difficult to enter a person’s name on Google to find out if they are a supporter of the FMSF.
We, as survivors, deserve the best treatment after the suffering we have experienced. The ongoing disparagement of DID is not helpful, in fact it is extremely detrimental to our recovery.
Without professional research:
- Very little is discussed about the dissociative disorders in colleges and universities, thus students studying to be therapists are not equipped to treat survivors of child abuse in a knowledgeable way;
- Best practices are not being deployed or promoted nationwide by therapists;
- Survivors are being misdiagnosed which prolongs their recovery; and
- There are less psychiatric units in hospitals with trained personnel who understand and can treat dissociative disorders effectively.
I will close with the contents of an email I received from a therapist pertaining to my discussion about DID on my website. In explaining his thought processes about his denial of the DID diagnosis he stated the following:
“I am going to prescribe you a course of treatment that is frequent, invasive, expensive, and whose course can take years. How many years? Until one of us gets bored, your insurance money runs out, or the state revokes my license.”
“And don’t get me started on what that is going to cost you. Thrice weekly therapy sessions, inpatient hospitalizations on specialized units, books, groups, drugs, and more drugs. Figure on $100,000 if you have average insurance; $250,000 if you have great insurance.”
“I can’t say I’m glad you experienced your therapist as supportive, because he wasn’t. He gave you an illusion rather than treatment and all the while he took your money. You should be furious and it would be healthier if you were.”
“I know you believe what you are saying, but you are dead wrong. I also find a lot of what you say as incredulous and insulting. I found it difficult to read your assessment of my therapy when you were never in one of my therapy sessions, and don’t have the slightest idea of how we successfully integrated my alters or the work we did.”
I hope what I have written gives you a better understanding of why I was so upset when I saw your published article “The Rise and Fall of Dissociative Identity Disorder.”
E Diane Champé
E Diane Champé Institute
1 Book Review, “Hoax and Reality: The Bizarre World of Multiple Personality Disorder,” August Piper, Jr. MD, Jason Aronson, 1997 Reviewed by Joel Paris, M.D., FMS Foundation Newsletter, Vol. 6 No. 4, April 1, 1997, http://www.skeptictank.org/treasure/FMSF/FMS97406.TXT
2“Research reveals brain has biological mechanism to block unwanted memories,” M. Anderson, J. Gabrieli, K. Ochsner, B. Kuhl, J. Cooper, E. Robertson, S.Gabrieli, and G. Glover; Standford University, January 8, 2004; http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-01/su-rrb010604.php
3 Jewish World Review, June 25, 2002
4 “Conversion Disorders,” by Edwin A. Weinstein M.D., War Psychiatry, Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. 1995
5 “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999