MPD, or Multiple Personality Disorder, is quite well known, even outside of the psychological community, since it is popularised in TV shows and the media, yet there is still much confusion within the public as to what behaviours this term actually refers to. For a start, the term is now no longer even used within the psychological community, apart from when referring to old literature where it is mentioned. It is now, more scientifically titled DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, which was chosen by psychologists as a more appropriate name, since it was the identity that changed, rather than the personality, with patients often having a different name, and a whole other character. Also, it is often confused with Schizophrenia, however the latter does not actually link to the existence of differing identities, but rather, sometimes hearing voices in one’s head.
The topic is still widely debated, even within modern psychiatry, because cases are so rare, and each individual case is so different and unique. Some believe that it is hard to categorise all of these problems together, since they have far too many differences. The first clearly reported case of the disorder, was conducted by Thigpen and Cleckley, two therapists who worked at the same offices. When a woman, who was given the codename ‘Eve’ for purposes of the study, came to them with her problem, which she at first thought was just blackouts, they decided that they should use their experience of treating her to also create a proper background for the disorder. With this in mind, they started a case study of the patient.
Eve had been experiencing extreme headaches and what she thought were blackouts for some time, yet her family and friends were not aware of her actually losing consciousness. They were surprised that she had such a distinct lack of some memories though, which was then improved somewhat after a session of hypnosis, but after a few days, they were sent a letter from Eve, which was half written in her handwriting and half written, it seemed, by a child. She did not recall sending the letter, but did remember starting it, and mentioned that occasionally she heard voices in her head. This caused her a great deal of distress. During one meeting, she experienced a large amount of head pain, when she suddenly recovered, but had changed her entire character. Over time, they came to know this other character as Eve Black, who they compared to her original self, Eve White. While Eve White had no knowledge of Eve Black, Eve Black was aware of her place within the disorder, and it was her that had the control over when she appeared. She could also imitate Eve White when she was in control but wanted to remain unnoticed. She was much more childlike than her counterpart, and enjoyed having fun and buying things, as opposed to Eve White, who was very controlled.
After time, they saw a third personality appear, who called herself Jane. This personality knew of both of the others, and was similarly quite mild-mannered to Eve White. At the end of the study, the two therapists concluded that it would be best to let Jane, the newest personality take over completely, since she was competent and controlled, whilst also showing compassion, so they aided her in doing this. A film of the story, entitled ‘The three faces of Eve’ has been produced, and while it is quite old, does provide a good account of the study that changed all scientific knowledge of this disorder.
Of course, there are many issues with the therapy, since in allowing one identity to take over, they had to remove the other two from the person, and this could be unethical. Should we really have the right to decide which personality comes out, since getting rid of some might be seen as killing them? This disorder is, and likely will continue to be, widely controversial, but with so few cases, it will be very hard to improve our understanding. The most we can do for these people right now, is to make treatment as efficient and effective as possible, so that we can minimise the damage caused.
Image from: http://trauma.blog.yorku.ca/files/2013/01/3-faces-of-eve-2.jpg