A Chorus in Her Head

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Today we've got the story of a woman with dissociative identity disorder, commonly known as multiple personalities disorder. Her doctor, Richard Baer, will tell her story. The identity of his patient must remain anonymous, so when I was searching for tape today, I came across a story NPR aired more than 13 years ago, about Beth Hafling. At the time, she had dozens of personalities, and her friend, radio producer Dan Gediman, handed her a tape recorder so she could share her story, and hopefully help others with the same problem feel less alone. The piece clocks in at a lush 25 minutes, and Beth's story is very similar to that of Dr. Baer's patient. Since our online archives don't go back quite that far, here's a taste: Beth... and many of her other personalities (audio) sorting through the abuses she suffered. Do you, or does someone you know, have the disorder? Please share your stories here.



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Why do abused people have to be called disordered? Why can't it just be called "multiple personality"? Others can be called "traumatic stress" or "bipolar" or "schizophrenic" -- why does the "disorder" have to be added on? This feels like an insult to rape victims. They need to be empowered, and understand how their behaviors are a way to survive and heal. Healing can take a long time, but the stages can be temporary. Gay people got power from psychiatric labels of disorder. They aren't called disordered anymore. Rape survivors should get this power too. It's often the abusers that want the disorder label applied, because it discredits their victims.

Sent by Irene | 3:22 PM | 10-3-2007

It is a curious phenomenom that the patient had to travel inward to talk to the other persons. What is the clinical explanation of this?

Sent by Michael Albanese | 3:35 PM | 10-3-2007

If people do not disassociate normally in their life, but have just lost time/memory for certain periods when they were at parties or around certain people who do drugs and/or show signs of being abusive, they could have been given date rape drugs. In addition to trauma, date rape drugs can wipe out memory for periods of time.

Sent by Irene | 3:42 PM | 10-3-2007

Current reasearch results estimate that rates of Multiple personality disorder in the general public may be as high as 1%, and yet this condition continues to recieve very little media attention when compared to other mental health conditions with similar rates. Public and professional interest in child abuse and the effects of emotional trauma seem to be at an all time high, and yet the plight of those individuals who demonstrate perhaps the most severe reaction to these events seems all to often shunted to the sidelines. Congratulations to NPR for keeping awareness of this condition before the public.

Sent by Robert Johnson | 4:40 PM | 10-3-2007

On top of everything abuse survivors have endured, being labelled "disordered" is a disempowering slap in the face. Abuse disconnects people from their social connections, their feelings, their sense of connection to what is good. Calling people "disordered" also causes other people to disconnect from the survivors' feelings -- thinking these feelings are "wrong." This increases the problem, which is disconnection -- the result of abuse. When need respectful ways of referring to rape survivors that appreciate their positive value. Studies have shown what people think about other people affects those people. Put that in the DSM-V!

Sent by Irene | 6:30 PM | 10-3-2007

hi there, we are ''did'' and there were 40+ of us, now there are about 20 of us left, we have been w/the same therapist for 13+ years and just in the last 2 years we have stoped fighting therapy so hard, so we could intergrate(we still fight just not as bad). its a very scary thing. waking and leaving your house and ending up God knows where! beng with God knows who? its a very hard thing. being in a personal moment and having a child insider come out. life as a multiple is very hard, we have 2 people in our lives that believe we are us, so it makes it very hard,........... us

Sent by us | 8:52 PM | 10-3-2007

Yesterday, I heard this program on "Talk of the Nation", and I found the interview to be fascinating; so fascinating, I went out and bought a copy of the book. I just finished reading it, and I couldn't put the book down until I finished it. Karen's story is one of the most remarkable and heartbreaking stories I've ever read. However, having read a little about the controversy surrounding this disorder (some experts claim the manifestations of the disparate personalities, in response to all-too-real abuse, are the product of the imagination of the patient and/or the subconscious or conscious suggestion of the therapist), I would be very fascinated to hear more about this debate on a subsequent NPR program.

Sent by John Struble | 7:39 PM | 10-4-2007

I am in awe of all who have this disorder and find a way to survive...Because the therapy is so very intense and the committment is years and there are so few therapists in this country who can actually treat this disorder...it is almost hopeless for most who suffer with this...I wish someone could direct me to a therapist who had the time and patience and knowledge to take on someone who was so close to integration and has kept on that level for the past 5 years with no therapy.....well I keep hoping!

Sent by Ann Sideri | 8:24 PM | 10-5-2007

To us: I believe you!

Sent by Irene | 5:40 PM | 10-9-2007

Letter to Talk of Nation: On Oct. 3, 2007, Anthony Brooks interviewed psychiatrist Richard Baer about his new book about Karen, a patient Baer treated for supposed multiple personalities for 18 years. The interview was a completely credulous affair in which Brooks expressed no skepticism whatsoever. It was as if Brooks were interviewing someone about the Salem Witch Trials, describing how witches really worked, or (to be more contemporary) interviewing a hypnotist who helped people to recall being abducted by aliens or to remember past lives.

Brooks failed to educate himself about the history of MPD and how it is diagnosed. It was part of a subset of supposedly repressed or dissociated memories of prolonged childhood sex abuse that became a fad in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Baer's client, Karen, is a textbook example. She supposedly was a victim of grotesque satanic ritual abuse by her father, grandfather, and many others. There has never been any evidence that such ritual abuse took place, other than in the lurid minds of therapists and suggestible patients.

Karen never recalled any of this until she went into therapy and 'discovered' her various personalities. While this makes a compelling, fascinating story, it is just that -- a story. People do not forget years of traumatic childhood events -- they recall them all too well, if the events really occurred. They do not 'split' off different 'alters.'

Hypnosis, which Baer used on his client, does not help people get in touch with their subconscious -- it simply makes them more suggestible. That is why hypnosis can be useful to help someone stop smoking, but it is inappropriate to use it to delve for imagined traumatic memories.

It is also appalling that Baer treated Karen for 18 years. Much research shows that short-term cognitive therapy can be effective. Long-term therapy that encourages dependency is frequently harmful.

I am the author of the book Victims of Memory (1996, 2d ed) in which I researched and documented the harm caused by this form of therapy. It destroyed families, of course, since patients were encouraged to cut off all contact with accused family members. But it also destroyed the lives of MPD patients, who frequently lost jobs, spouses, and sanity. Years later (if they survived), they may be 'better' in comparison to the horror show their life became during their therapy, but the entire MPD edifice -- all the cute little children alters, the whore alters, the protector alters, the alters who needed glasses or didn't, who wrote with their left or right hands, all with their own names, all stereotyped -- the whole edifice is based on a delusion, and it was all unnecessary. Worse yet, patients' real problems, usually involving depression and anxiety, were ignored.

--Mark Pendergrast

Sent by Mark Pendergrast | 10:09 AM | 10-20-2007

I am definitely going to pick this book up in the next few days.If those of you who read this want to read something else like it pick up "when rabbit howls" the troops as they call themselves are made up of 80 different men, women, and children. This book is very intense but amazing.

I highly recommend it if you read switching time.

to "US": I believe you all and my sympathy to you all. Keep being strong and continue to try to integrate.

Sent by Esperanza Wegmann | 1:09 AM | 10-23-2007

also on another interesting note the book (when rabbit howls) is written by "them" and some views from the psychiatrist but mostly by them.

Sent by Esperanza Wegmann | 1:11 AM | 10-23-2007

Doctors like Baer are why I am glad We don't go to a therapist. He totally contradicts himself. about the alters. I have 31 total and we are ALL people and how does this man decide who is to live and who he will kill or put into non-stop nitemares. i sure hope others don't listen or read his BS and believe we are all like this. we live together daily and work together. we the whole 31 of us are family.

Sent by Reberto's Community | 2:55 AM | 10-27-2007