Shirley J. Davis
As any of you who have read this blog know, I live with a condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, what was once known as Multiple Personality Disorder. DID is a very controversial diagnosis among the professionals of the mental health field and I believe I have identified some of the reasons for this. Four of the primary causes of this inability of some mental health professionals to accept the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder fall into four categories: The DSM criteria, disbelief, misinformation and fear.
The first reason I shall speak about is the DSM criteria.
- “The existence of two or more distinct identities (or “personality states”). The distinct identities are accompanied by changes in behavior, memory and thinking. The signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual.
- Ongoing gaps in memory about everyday events, personal information and/or past traumatic events.
- The symptoms cause significant distress or problems in social, occupational or other areas of functioning.”
While this does explain very well the majority of the symptoms involved with DID, it causes many problems for clinicians too. How do you determine the existence of two or more distinct identities with changes in behavior etc. when your client doesn’t present them? Presenting my alters to a therapist or a Psychiatrist, or anyone for that matter, isn’t as simple as it may seem on the surface. I must truly trust someone before they will be aware that I have switched. I saw the same therapist for many, many years and trusted her more than anyone in the entire world, yet she only met four of my ego states in all that time. The likelihood of a relative stranger meeting them is slim to none. The trap that many clinicians fall into is that they believe they must see the alter states for themselves before they can diagnose someone with this disorder. I have been told by several well-meaning Psychiatrists that they could not in all good conscious give me the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (although I had been diagnosed by other professionals) without meeting the others. When confronted by a professional with their inability to diagnose without seeing, I simply remind them that all mental health disorders are self-reported. There is no empirical proof, in fact, that mental disorders even exist. All of Psychiatry is self-reported.
The disbelief I am speaking about in my opening paragraph is the disbelief that such horrendous things, such as are reported by people like myself living with DID, happen to children. No human, unless they are completely heartless, wants to believe that the atrocities reported to have been committed against survivors could have happened. Denial of these truths is one of the primary causes of the painful denial among survivors. Who on earth would want to admit to themselves that caregivers could do such horrendous things to innocents. Unfortunately, it does and will continue to happen until we get child abuse out in the open and have a dialogue about it as a society.
The third cause, I have determined to be the continual mill of disinformation pouring out of the media about DID. There are movies and television shows that sensationalize and demonize people like myself. If you have seen any of these films and programs, you will know what I mean. I have been asked if I have supernatural abilities like the ability to climb walls, and if any of my alters are dangerous. Public opinion is shaped by the media, and clinicians are no different. This continual assault on the realities of living with DID is more than unfortunate. It makes the diagnosis seem unreal and many clinicians are swayed while the media continues to use Dissociative Identity Disorder to make money hand over fist.
The last of my thoughts on why professionals have such a hard time believing in DID is that they are afraid. The stigma involved with Dissociative Identity Disorder doesn’t just involve the people who must live with it, it spills over into the professional world as well. To believe in and treat DID is to risk your reputation among other clinicians. This is so unfortunate. We need open minds to honestly and openly work on this problem without fear of reprisal in any way. Only then can the victims of severe trauma who have developed the capacity to dissociate receive fair and lasting treatment.
The main reason I write this blog and my books is to help change the public and professional opinion about what Dissociative Identity Disorder is like and how to treat it. I am not a superhuman nor am I a monster. I am an ordinary person who was exposed to extremely harmful abuse as a child and learned to use my natural human ability to dissociate to survive.