Guest Post: Lucien Greaves on Dissociative Identity Disorder

(Note: in Friday’s column For Infernal Use Only gave an overview of The Satanic Temple’s Grey Faction campaign against proponents of a controversial psychological diagnosis perpetrated by an organization called the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD). In today’s guest post TST Co-founder Lucien Greaves answers our questions surrounding Dissociative Identity Disorder as a diagnosis, and the organization that supports such claims.) 

It seems like there are really two issues at play here, the legitimacy of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as a diagnosis, and then the host of issues surrounding recovered memory therapy as a practice. Would you say that you think one is more problematic than the other, or are they too enmeshed to really separate?

When people first begin to familiarize themselves with Grey Faction, they are easily sympathetic to the position we take against Recovered Memory Therapies. Even those with only a basic understanding of the Satanic Panic recognize that the Satanic Ritual Abuse survivor’s movement was qualitatively identical to the Extraterrestrial Abductee movement in that the claims related to each were largely the product of so-called recovered memories, many of which were said to have surfaced during a presumably therapeutic process involving hypnotic regression, dream analysis, free association, and other methods. But while few people today ascribe any credibility to such narratives or the methods through which they were “uncovered,” many people are still hesitant to question the legitimacy of the DSM-recognized condition of Dissociative Identity Disorder [DID] (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder), holding the diagnosis separate from the debunked therapeutic practices that are employed to treat it.

Organizations like the ISSTD (International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation) have also worked hard to distance the diagnosis from Recovered Memory Therapies, though only as a matter of Public Relations, not as a revision in actual therapeutic practice. The ISSTD still endorses the premise, lacking in empirical support, that DID is caused by a mechanism of “repression” which relegates memories of traumatic events into isolated compartments, removed from conscious recall, which then develop into unique personalities that emerge intermittently.

Some DID “experts” have asserted that the literal veracity of a “recovered memory” is unimportant, suggesting that the trauma reported must at least be symbolic of a real problem, and working with the provided narrative is nonetheless therapeutic. Of course, it’s ludicrous to claim that false memories of Satanic Ritual Abuse can be cultivated and encouraged to some beneficial outcome for a client who’s instilled with crippling paranoid delusions. “Validating” such fears can hardly be considered productive, much less humane.

Lately, it’s been a popular hobby of those who are still trying to legitimize DID to merely illustrate by way of PET or MRI that their are demonstrable indicators of DID, which avoids all of the real questions in this entire controversy, which is whether or not the condition is primarily or entirely cultivated in therapy, or the result of earlier trauma.

I’ve met with and corresponded with, interviewed, and read the case studies of many people who felt that they very much did, at one time, have Dissociative Identity Disorder, but who came to realize that the condition was iatrogenically imposed, meaning that it was a dysfunction that was created and cultivated for them during the course of the therapy itself.

So, in short: If there are, somewhere, credible rare cases of naturally occurring (as opposed to iatrogenically created) DID, we still have very little understanding of what that would look like because the scientifically ignorant quacks who have inextricably tied their theory and treatment to Recovered Memory Therapies. Also, if we’re to take seriously any claims from the ISSTD (which is by far the dominant professional mental health organization dedicated to the study of DID) that Recovered Memories are a separate topic, or that the veracity of Recovered Memories are irrelevant, then we need to ask why they cover so much Recovered Memory-specific topic material in their annual conferences. Why are there so many hypnosis seminars, and why are there lectures related to Satanic Ritual Abuse and Cult and/or Government Mind-Control in the context of dissociation studies? Why do they have a “Ritual Abuse/Mind-Control Special Interest Group” run by therapists who believe their clients have recovered memories of a Satanic Cult Conspiracy?

ISSTD claims that “An average of 2 to 4 personalities/alters are present at diagnosis, with an average of 13 to 15 personalities emerging over the course of treatment” … assuming, for the moment, we accept the diagnosis and the goal of treatment is reunifying dissociative identities, how do they get away with a recommended treatment that seemingly exacerbates the problem?

First, we must ask the basic question, what is a personality? The research of the ISSTD has been so incompetent and incurious that even this diagnostic element isn’t clearly defined. All of us can feel like different people at different times of days, under different circumstances, when experiencing shifts in moods. Is a personality change from one personality denoted by extreme sudden shifts in mood and/or preference? How do we distinguish these sudden transitions between personalities from rapid cycling bipolar disorder? Is it the fact that these “alters” are alleged to use different names that makes them unique personalities? But how does it make sense that these personalities, amnesiac between one another, would take it upon themselves to adopt names that don’t correspond to what they’re referred to by the people around them? In fact, the use of individual names indicates that DID is a sociocognitive construct, directed and dictated by outside influence.

Is it the fact that these personality states are said to be amnesiac for one another that distinguishes them? Unfortunately for that claim, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny either. Researchers did a study using a concealed information task which assessed recognition of autobiographical details in supposedly amnesic identities in eleven DID patients, 27 normal controls, and 23 controls simulating DID. They found that “Although patients subjectively reported amnesia for the autobiographical details included in the task, the results indicated transfer of information between identities.” They concluded that the DSM diagnostic criteria for DID be revised to reflect the “subjective nature” of the alleged amnesia. In short, the DID subjects do have access to their memories between personalities.

Just as they demonstrate their ignorance of the actual criticisms against DID when they use brain scans to establish the existence of the condition, the ISSTD demonstrates a clear ignorance of the controversy whenever they frame the controversy as a question of whether or not those who suffer from DID are victims of an actual disorder or merely “acting.” Of course, from a sociocognitive perspective, people who have DID are no more “acting” than those who feel they are possessed by demons and then purged of them by way of exorcism. (And, not surprisingly, this year’s ISSTD conference includes a lecture by a Christian Psychotherapist and ISSTD Special Interest Group Chair, Eileen Aveni, who believes in demonic possession.) The question, again, is whether or not the therapy is training clients to contextualize themselves as multiple?

DID therapy, ostensibly, is supposed to work to integrate multiple personalities into one, but that demands the identification of each “alter.” So the question of whether or not the problem is being fixed or exacerbated depends entirely upon whether or not one believes that new “alters” are being created in therapy or merely being identified for reunification.  

ISSTD Signs
TST signs from ISSTD protests. Image credit: TST courtesy Grey Faction

Do you think the continued propagation of ideas like Satanic Ritual Abuse is more of a sunk cost fallacy thing because they’ve got such a vested interest in it, or more of a ‘when all you’ve got is a hammer everything looks like a nail’ thing and they’re just prone to asserting it as a cause because it’s their “area of expertise”?

I think there are a few things going on here, but primary among them is that Satanic Ritual Abuse conspiracy theorists have found a way to protect their irrational claims from skeptical scrutiny by disingenuously trying to inextricably tie them to the sexual abuse survivors movement. You’ll find the most irrational and implausible claims regarding worldwide Satanic cult/Illuminati crimes, supernatural horrors, and mind-control, all with an element of sexual abuse attached to it, so that to express skepticism toward any of part of the narrative at all is to be accused by the conspiracists of marginalizing the problem of sexual abuse in general. Few things are more infuriating to me than this.

Of course, sexual abuse is a very real and very urgent problem. It is for this reason that we can’t allow a professional industry of delusional conspiracists to use sexual abuse survivors as human shields to protect their shameful fantasies from critical inquiry. It’s specifically in defense of sexual abuse survivors that we demand that the vulnerable and abused not be subjected to sanctioned “professional” “help” that would feed them crippling delusions that isolate them from reality and exacerbate their worst suspicions about humanity.

On the part of the ISSTD, I think their failure to reign in the lunacy propagated through their organization is indicative of their having decided to forego scientific credibility in favor of maintaining their largest market share. Assuming there are those in the ISSTD who fully realize how deranged their “Ritual Abuse/Mind-Control Special Interest Group” really is, they must also suspect that a solid majority of their membership subscribes to such beliefs, and that they can’t sustain without them. Worse, an examination into the therapeutic techniques that have yielded such bizarre narratives of Ritual Abuse and Mind-Control are likely to find nothing out-of-the-ordinary insofar as treatment protocols are concerned by their standards. All they can do is exactly what they’ve been doing since their inception: maintain a false public veneer of scientific credibility while harboring the deluded and dangerous within, hoping that rest of the world doesn’t notice.

Our job is to make the world notice.  

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