I regret that this may only be the first among many posts on this topic. If you are a supporter, loved one, or caregiver of an extreme abuse survivor, a little additional support might be helpful as this controversy plays out in the media.
Shirley Mason is most commonly known as Sybil Dorset, one of the most famous of all DID cases. This beautiful, brave woman, her caregiver, and a dedicated journalist are being defamed in a smear campaign.
Debbi Nathan, an academic and former proponent of the now thoroughly repudiated False Memory campaign, has put Sybil in her cross-hairs in a new book. The New York Times and several other media outlets have jumped upon this potential new controversy, which from all appearances at this point, springs from a single statement in one of the letters Sybil wrote early on in her treatment.
Therapy for extreme trauma involves a long and repeated grief process. Denial is a natural part of grief. Denial is also a central feature of dissociation. In DID cases, alters actively cultivate denial of the trauma so that the child can perform in normative life. Of course these aspects present in therapy, not only at the beginning, but over and over again, as the process of awareness and then grief repeats itself until all the traumas are confronted.
Sybil’s early declaration that she is not a multiple is a normal and expected part of the therapeutic process. Nathan, and those who have covered her work, have cynically highlighted it as a singular proclamation of truth. This is the very definition of propaganda, suggesting an alternate meaning of a fact in service of an agenda.
Child pornography and domestic child trafficking are mutli-billion dollar businesses. There are networks of people who have high stakes in keeping survivors silenced and out of treatment. Confusing the public about the natural responses to this kind of abuse, like DID, and engendering distrust of trauma therapists are integral to those aims.
I have no evidence that Nathan is tied to any such criminal network, but neither are any of the targets of her attacks here to confirm or deny her insinuations. I have no doubt if Shirley, Connie or Flora were alive today, Nathan could not publish this book.
Dr. Patrick Suraci on Sybil
Here is a link to the Facebook page for Dr. Patrick Suraci’s recent book on Sybil. In a wall posting dated October 19th, he refutes some points in Nathan’s book.
Statement from Dr. Patrick Suraci
I went to the Special Collections Library at John Jay College of Criminal
Justice to verify statements made by Debbie Nathan in her book SYBIL
1. On pages 99-100 Nathan writes: “Connie would carry her apparatus to
Shirley’s apartment and climb in bed with her. She would clamp the paddles to
Shirley’s temples, twirl the dials, and press the buttons. Connie’s gadget
was an old electro-convulsive machine she had retired years earlier.”
Nathan cites the evidence for this in her “Notes: Chapter 8, No.38.. FRS
Box 37, Files 1081, Tape 124.” In this document on January 26, 1955, Shirley
writes about “electric shock” along with her other treatments. There is
absolutely no documentation of Nathan’s outrageous claim.
2. On page 71 Nathan writes: “Completely inexperienced with men, she had
little idea of how to take Gene’s (O’Neill) measure. He noticed her
ignorance and didn’t like it. Too‘girlish’ he called Flora, particularly when it
came to sex. In a sheaf of notes she wrote to herself, she described feeling
pain at having his finger inside her, let alone his penis. ‘Be an animal,’
Gene would urge her, and he blamed her reticence on the fact that she had
a profession. ‘You bring Adelphi College into the bedroom. It is not that
career women don’t want to go to bed – it is that they don’t know how,’ he
To prove this Nathan cites in: “Notes: Chapter 6, No.11, FRS Box 34, File
1051” In this document Schreiber writes about Eugene O’Neill: “His
complaint – Be an animal – give – you bring Adelphi College into the bedroom –
we’re close friends in the living room and the moment we go into the bedroom
you become a stranger…he says that it is not that career women don’t want
to go to bed – it is that they don’t know how. Outcome might have been
different if she had gone to bed with him on the last Saturday after he told her
about _____” Schreiber at no time writes about O’Neill’s “finger” or
3. On page 232 Nathan writes: “…She (Shirley Mason) died quietly in her
home, surrounded by nurses, on February 26 of that year. She was seventy-five
years old. It was early evening when she died.”
In my book SYBIL in her own words: The Untold Story of Shirley Mason, Her
Multiple Personalities and Paintings. On page 261 I write:
“The penultimate time I phoned Shirley’s home was on February 26, 1998, at
12:07 PM. In the background I heard her weak voice pleading to Roberta
,(Guy) ‘Tell him I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ Roberta informed me that Shirley was
too sick to speak on the phone. I mumbled, ‘Please tell her that it’s okay,
it’s okay. I’ll call later.’ …
“When I called later that day at 3:01 PM Roberta stunned me with the news
than Shirley had just died.”
Dr. Suraci has the telephone records of that day, September 26, 1998.
Information about Dr. Suraci:
“SYBIL In Her Own Words: The Untold Story of Shirley Mason, Her Multiple
Personalities and Paintings” by Patrick Suraci, Ph.D.
Perhaps a productive way to counter Nathan is to purchase Dr. Suraci’s work.