Television Review

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The Independent Culture
WHAT MOST people don't appreciate is the sheer inconvenience caused by having Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). On Horizon: Mistaken Identity (BBC2), Sue explained that she had up to 10 different personalities (you wouldn't have thought it was something you could be so vague about). Apart from everyday bickering about what to eat and where to go, she had more dislocating experiences: once, she came back from holiday to discover that one of her "alters" had chucked in her old job for a new one, and Sue didn't even have her new office address.

Lindsay - who had between two dozen and 30 personalities "that I know about" - regularly found her fridge stocked with food she would never eat and her plants dying because "nobody else" would water them. Sarah talked about the problem of deciding what to wear in the morning and then, whoops, up would pop a new personality and wonder what on earth she was doing in that appalling skirt.

Until the early Seventies, MPD was known about, but rarely encountered. Then the book, and accompanying film, Sybil, based on a real-life case,

publicised the syndrome and made the connection with childhood sexual abuse (the theory is that the abused child creates a new personality to suffer in her place - and it is her place: nearly all MPD patients are women). Cases multiplied like rabbits: in America, there are now tens of thousands of sufferers. Or hundreds of thousands, depending on how you count them.

Sceptical psychiatrists argue that this sudden explosion points towards an iatrogenic, or doctor-induced, disorder. "Therapy", suggested Dr Herbert Spiegel, should really be called "training": disturbed, vulnerable patients learn that they can please their doctors by manifesting new personalities and recovering memories of abuse, so that's precisely what they do. Lindsay's case could be taken to support this view: she was sure that she had been abused, but had only the fuzziest ideas of how.

Other psychiatrists maintain, plausibly, that nobody spotted MPD because nobody was looking for it. Sue, for one, has memories of abuse that are clear and consistent (her therapist, and a key proponent of the existence of MPD, is Professor David Spiegel - Dr Herbert Spiegel's son. Freud would have loved it).

In any case, rational argument has no leverage here. Sarah, herself a therapist, said that a lot of her patients with MPD have tried to retreat, telling her they made a mistake, or had made it all up. She had explained to them that denial is so common among MPD sufferers that it can be taken as an indicator of the disorder. (Freud would have loved that, too.)

Nikki Stockley's film was properly restrained: it didn't mention shrinks who try to charge per personality, or murderers who blame their evil alters; and it didn't cite Colin Ross, the leading advocate of MPD's existence, who has claimed that many of his patients are multiples because the CIA has trained them to be secret agents, just like Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight. But the film's compassion towards these clearly disturbed women only made it more devastating. Oh, and Tacky Bob, my tasteless alter, says: Compassion, nuts - I laughed like a drain.

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