Sybil Exposed: the extraordinary story behind the famous multiple-personality case

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Scribe Publications Pty Limited, Oct 31, 2011 - Psychology - 320 pages
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The compelling true story of the three women — a Manhattan psychiatrist, a glamorous magazine writer, and a troubled young woman — behind the psychology case that shook the world.

In the 1950s, Sybil Dorsett, a woman from a tiny Midwest town, was diagnosed with a new psychiatric condition — multiple personality disorder. Sybil was believed to have 16 separate personalities living within her: from aspiring carpenter Mike to intensely religious Nancy; from impertinent schoolgirls Peggy Lou and Peggy Ann to depressed grandmother Mary; from whimpering toddler Ruthie to the bookish, highly critical Clara.

When Flora Rheta Schreiber wrote about the case in her 1973 book Sybil, it immediately became a bestseller. Soon the Sybil case was a pop-culture phenomenon, and it grew to near-mythic proportions. The case became a touchstone for issues surrounding identity and sexuality, influencing the way millions of people saw their bodies, relationships, and psyches. And it gave rise to a new wave of diagnoses: before Sybil, there had been fewer than 200 known cases of multiple personality disorder in history; afterwards, approximately 40,000 people were diagnosed in just a few years.

In this groundbreaking book, journalist Debbie Nathan reveals, for the first time, that the Sybil case was an elaborate fraud — albeit one that the perpetrators may have half-believed. Nathan follows an enormous trail of papers, records, photos, and tapes to show that what really powered the legend was a trio of women who together spun their story into bestseller gold. The result is an intensely fascinating portrait of a pop-culture phenomenon and the complex psychological factors that primed the world to receive it.

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About the author (2011)

Debbie Nathan has been a journalist, editor, and translator for over three decades, and her work has won numerous awards. She specialises in writing about immigration, sexual politics, and sex panics, particularly in relation to women and children. Debbie is a board member of the National Center for Reason and Justice, a nonprofit organisation that advocates for intelligent, humane approaches to preventing child abuse and dealing with accused offenders. She was raised in Houston, Texas, and currently lives in New York City. For more about Sybil Exposed, visit

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