Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities

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"[A]n absorbing journey through a psychiatrist’s dauntingly challenging first case of multiple personality disorder--from the beginning of therapy to stable integration and recovery."
-- Colin Ross, author of Multiple Personality Order and The Osiris Complex

In 1989, Karen Overhill walks into psychiatrist Richard Baer’s office seeking help for her depression and a persistent memory problem: she routinely loses parts of her day, finds herself in places she doesn't remember going to, and is told about conversations she doesn’t remember having. While trying to discover the root cause of her memory loss, Baer works to gain Karen's trust, but it's years before he learns the true extent of the trauma buried in her past. What she eventually reveals is nearly beyond belief, a narrative of a childhood spent grappling with unimaginable horror.

Then Baer receives an envelope in the mail. It’s marked with Karen’s return address but contains a letter from a little girl who writes that she’s seven years old and lives inside of Karen. Soon Baer receives letters from others claiming to be parts of Karen. Under hypnosis, these alternate Karen personalities reveal themselves in shocking variety. One “alter” is a young boy filled with frightening aggression; another an adult male who considers himself Karen’s protector; a third a sassy flirt who seeks dominance over the others. It’s only by compartmentalizing her pain, guilt, and fear in this fashion that Karen has been able to function since childhood. Realizing that his patient represents an extreme case of multiple personality disorder, Baer faces the daunting task of creating a therapy that will make Karen whole again.

As powerful as Sybil or The Three Faces of Eve, Switching Time is the first complete account of such therapy to be told from the perspective of the treating physician, a stunningly devoted healer who worked selflessly for decades so that Karen could one day live as a single human being.
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About the author

Richard Baer is a consultant on a variety of healthcare coverage, compliance, audit, coding, and billing services. Prior to his consultant work, he was the Medical Director for Medicare in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, had a private psychiatry practice for fourteen years, and served as President of the Illinois Psychiatric Society.

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4.5
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Additional Information

Publisher
Broadway Books
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Published on
Oct 2, 2007
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Pages
368
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ISBN
9780307406750
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Medical (incl. Patients)
Psychology / Psychopathology / Dissociative Identity Disorder
Psychology / Psychopathology / Personality Disorders
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Sybil: a name that conjures up enduring fascination for legions of obsessed fans who followed the nonfiction blockbuster from 1973 and the TV movie based on it—starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward—about a woman named Sybil with sixteen different personalities. Sybil became both a pop phenomenon and a revolutionary force in the psychotherapy industry. The book rocketed multiple personality disorder (MPD) into public consciousness and played a major role in having the diagnosis added to the psychiatric bible, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

But what do we really know about how Sybil came to be? In her news-breaking book Sybil Exposed, journalist Debbie Nathan gives proof that the allegedly true story was largely fabricated. The actual identity of Sybil (Shirley Mason) has been available for some years, as has the idea that the book might have been exaggerated. But in Sybil Exposed, Nathan reveals what really powered the legend: a trio of women—the willing patient, her ambitious shrink, and the imaginative journalist who spun their story into bestseller gold.

From horrendously irresponsible therapeutic practices—Sybil’s psychiatrist often brought an electroshock machine to Sybil’s apartment and climbed into bed with her while administering the treatment— to calculated business decisions (under an entity they named Sybil, Inc., the women signed a contract designating a three-way split of profits from the book and its spin-offs, including board games, tee shirts, and dolls), the story Nathan unfurls is full of over-the-top behavior. Sybil’s psychiatrist, driven by undisciplined idealism and galloping professional ambition, subjected the young woman to years of antipsychotics, psychedelics, uppers, and downers, including an untold number of injections with Pentothal, once known as “truth serum” but now widely recognized to provoke fantasies. It was during these “treatments” that Sybil produced rambling, garbled, and probably “false-memory”–based narratives of the hideous child abuse that her psychiatrist said caused her MPD. Sybil Exposed uses investigative journalism to tell a fascinating tale that reads like fiction but is fact. Nathan has followed an enormous trail of papers, records, photos, and tapes to unearth the lives and passions of these three women. The Sybil archive became available to the public only recently, and Nathan examined all of it and provides proof that the story was an elaborate fraud—albeit one that the perpetrators may have half-believed.

Before Sybil was published, there had been fewer than 200 known cases of MPD; within just a few years after, more than 40,000 people would be diagnosed with it. Set across the twentieth century and rooted in a time when few professional roles were available to women, this is a story of corrosive sexism, unchecked ambition, and shaky theories of psychoanalysis exuberantly and drastically practiced. It is the story of how one modest young woman’s life turned psychiatry on its head and radically changed the course of therapy, and our culture, as well.
"My brother saw the face of God. You never recover from a trauma like that."

So begins Angelhead, a taut, powerful memoir of the madness and crime that rips a family apart.

"I didn't see God, of course, but I saw my brother seeing God; I saw how petrified he was, how convinced."

Set in Tidewater, Virginia, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Angelhead documents the violent, drug-addled, schizophrenic descent of the author's brother, Michael. Commencing with Michael's first psychotic break at age 14 -- high on acid, seeing God in his suburban bedroom window -- through a series of petty crimes, bizarre disappearances, and suicide attempts to the shocking crime that landed him in the psychiatric wing of a maximum security prison, Angelhead enables us to witness firsthand, as never before, the fragmenting of a mind and a family.

"I knew, still know, that he saw, in some form, His or Her or Its face."

Bottoms shows, in pitch-perfect prose and with great empathy and dramatic tension, the psychological decline of his brother as he becomes obsessed first with heavy metal music, martial arts, and the occult, and then with the more bizarre aspects of Christianity. We not only see the effects Michael's odd and increasingly violent behavior has on the people around him, but also come to understand how the author, now a successful writer and journalist, used the power of language and storytelling both to save himself and to forgive his brother. With the fast pace and seamless structure of the best crime writing and the moral sophistication and depth of our finest literature, Angelhead will challenge what we know about mental illness and its impact on us all. It is a brilliant work of unusual intensity.

"In his room he was having his first of many psychotic breaks. It came in the form of crippling guilt, ruthless introspection. He was Jesus being scolded by an angry Father. He wore sin, all sin, heavy as lead shackles. God made him look at himself and he was a stone with a minuscule heart."
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