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Dissociative Identity Disorder

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Running Head: DISSOCIATIVE IDENTITY DISORDER: ITS CAUSES AND TREATMENTS

Dissociative Identity Disorder: its causes and treatments:
What are the roots causes and treatments of Dissociative Identity Disorder

Abstract
Research shows that Dissociative Identity Disorder, the most extreme form of dissociative disorders, is usually developed in childhood as a means to cope with emotionally difficult situations, whether it is sexual abuse or other childhood trauma. In the past, it has been assumed that Dissociative Identity Disorder has no treatment because of the complexity of the condition. However, recent studies have shown that structured clinical psychiatry sessions can alleviate the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder and actually reduce the number of memory relapses. These conclusions stand as testimonies to the fact that Dissociative Identity Disorder can be treated despite the claims of past studies.

“What if pretending she was somebody else was the only way a little girl knew how to defend herself. But she had to pretend so intensely that the pretending became real” (Sargent, 2007). In the 2007 docudrama film Sybil, directed by Joseph Sargent, the main character Sybil Dorsett suffers from 16 personalities because of her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which she developed as a child. Dissociative Identity Disorder is defined as “a condition in which a person displays multiple distinct identities (known as alters or parts), each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment” (Global Health Observatory). In the film, Sybil’s psychiatrist Cornelia Wilbur offered the opening quote as a suggestion as to why Dorsett developed such a condition. Before Sybil, Dissociative Identity Disorder was not an accepted psychiatric disorder; most psychiatrists claimed it was a form of bipolarity or hysteria and could never be proved (Global Health Observatory). One psychiatrist in the film even argued that Sybil was merely faking her additional alter personalities as a means to gain attention (Sargent, 2007). However, now that Dissociative Identity Disorder has been established as a legitimate condition after years of research and studies, psychiatrists are analyzing its causes and the best forms of treatment. Research studies have shown that Dissociative Identity Disorder is developed mainly because of traumatic experiences and that structured clinical therapy sessions can integrate these many personalities into one whole human being. The most common form of trauma that leads to Dissociative Identity Disorder is abuse as a study shows that 60% to 75% of patients have been physically abused and 68% to 83% sexually abused at some point in their lifetime (Merskey, Piper, 2003). There is no doubt that sexual and physical abuse scars individuals for life. Because sexual and physical abuses are often regarded as some of the worst experiences an individual can go through, there is a strong correlation between abuse and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Additionally these forms of abuse happen habitually, only furthering the pain inflicted upon the individual (Hansen, Malinosky-Rummell, 1993). Granted, it takes years and years for victims to overcome that abuse, but those who bottle their feelings and emotions rarely move past their painful experiences. Instead, they sometimes unconsciously create alter personalities to shoulder the emotional burden. Although sexual and physical abuses are known to strongly correlate with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the deaths of loved ones often influence people in the same manner. The emotion felt when losing someone dear to you is indescribable and the pain unbearable. The death often leaves people with an empty feeling and loneliness – Unable to accept the loss, patients sometimes try to fill the hole left in their hearts with alter personalities. These personalities not only fill that hole, but also “protect” the victim from experiencing further pain. It is no surprise that death is the number two cause of Dissociative Identity Disorder (Merskey, Piper, 2003). Similar to abuse, death has a strong correlation to the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. The development of Dissociative Identity Disorder can occur at any age, but it is most common for this condition to emerge in children. While the percentage of Dissociative Identity Disorder patients who have suffered from abuse is relatively high in adults, the number only increases for children to 89% to 97% (Merksey, Piper, 2003). Adults are more adept at dealing with stressful predicaments and, therefore, can find ways to alleviate their painful emotions. Adults can visit psychiatrists or find outside help because they are socially independent. Children, on the other hand, cannot because they depend on their caretakers. And if the caretakers themselves abuse the children, there is no one for the children to turn to. Thus, the child represses all of his or her negative emotions, which can lead to the split into multiple personalities. Additionally, people are more susceptible to outside influences at a young age. As people grow older, they become more mature and are able to cope with more difficult situations. This makes it easier for children to subconsciously create alter personalities to deal with their traumatic experiences. Because of the aforementioned reasons, it is clear why children are more susceptible to Dissociative Identity Disorder than adults. In the film, Dorsett follows the typical path of a Dissociative Identity Disorder patient to perfection. As a child, her mother physically and sexually abused her by tying her to the piano, preventing her from escaping. However, her mother was always quick to place the blame on Dorsett by telling her that it was her fault that she was getting punished. Additionally, Dorsett’s grandmother, a kind and loving woman who accepted young Dorsett for who she was, passed away from cancer – the death took a monumental emotional toll on Dorsett. Also, her beau when she was 16 years old, who was her only true friend at the time, accidently impaled himself on a pitchfork when falling onto a haystack (Sargent, 2007). Not many children can overcome such devastating events, particularly when they are blamed for every one of the events. The deaths of her grandmother and boyfriend, in conjunction with various forms of constant abuse, could be the cause of the creation of 16 alter personalities, each of who were aware of the others but thought they were entirely different people. This film illustrates the long-term effects of child abuse on a child who refused to share her troubles with anyone, only worsening her condition. Dorsett experienced every textbook “prerequisite” for Dissociative Identity Disorder and, as would be expected, developed the unfortunate disorder.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a harmful condition with many detrimental aspects, but it can potentially be treated. In the past, Dissociative Identity Disorder was thought to be difficult to diagnose by most psychiatrists, let alone treat (Global Health Organization). There are no drugs, prescriptions, or pills that can help a Dissociative Identity Disorder patient, although they can alleviate some of the psychological symptoms (Global Health Organization). Think about the prospect of helping a patient with multiple personalities, each with their own problems, become one whole person again. Compare it to the task of convincing three completely separate human beings that they are actually the same person with multiple personalities and characteristics – difficult task, right?
However, according to a recent study, 54 out of the 135 patients who received psychiatric counseling responded positively to the treatment, even with the decrease in psychiatric medications (Ellason, Ross, 1997). It was observed that patients improved greatly in areas such as dissociative symptoms, mood and anxiety disorders, and memory relapses (Ellason, Ross, 1997). Although less than half of the patients showed improvements, it is important to take into account the length of the ongoing study - two years is not a lengthy time for someone to overcome years of traumatic experiences. Additionally, the fact that there are alternatives to medication is a large step in the right direction for psychiatrists because psychiatrists view any increase in the number of patients successfully treated as an accomplishment (Ellason, Ross, 1997). Although there was no control group, it was assumed that the condition of patients without treatment would remain stable over time. The groundbreaking study, though merely a preliminary experiment, is a clear indicator that treatment is not only possible, but also highly effective when dealing with Dissociative Identity Disorder patients. The conclusion that counseling is a viable treatment naturally raises a new question: what methods of counseling function on Dissociative Identity Disorder patients? According to a study, the most appropriate method of solving the problem at hand is attempting to access past memories and dealing with those memories that led to the creation of alter egos (Kulft, 1996). The study concluded that addressing the origin of the disorder, which is typically the traumatic memories experienced by the patient, decreases the chances of disruptive events (Kulft, 1996). Kulft has a simple three-step process. First, he located the root cause of Dissociative Identity Disorder: the traumatic experience(s). Second, he isolated the origin in order to solve it. Last, Kluft helped the patient overcome the trauma, thereby eliminating the cause of the entire problem. Although the solution seems simple, its execution is easier said than done. Dr. Wilbur successfully used the same method of treatment in the film to reform Dorsett’s personality into a single one. She had Dorsett lay back in a chair and slowly recollect all of her traumatic events in order to resolve them one by one, therefore eliminating the need for the alter personalities (Sargent, 2007). The film Sybil serves as a great media representation of one of the first publicly known cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Because it is based on a true story, the film accurately portrays the causes, symptoms, and treatments of such a condition. In summation, Dissociative Identity Disorder is a very unique condition. By examining the origin of the disorder and its close correlation with traumatic memories, such as physical and sexual abuse as well as deaths of close friends, psychiatrists now try to isolate and attack the causes (Kulft, 1996). In the past, failed studies have shown that Dissociative Identity Disorder is difficult to treat (Global Health Observatory). Granted, there are a variety of medications that can be used to suppress some of the psychological symptoms but none of them attack the problem at its roots (Global Health Observatory). Instead, psychiatrists have discovered that forcing patients to face and overcome their traumatic experiences serves as a much better treatment (Ellason, Ross, 1997). By analyzing the causes of such a condition, and breaking down the treatment process into simple steps, psychiatrists have found an effective method to help the estimated 50,000 people in the world who are suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (Global Health Observatory).
Works Cited
Ellason, J. W., & Ross, C. A. (1997). Two-year follow-up of inpatients with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Am J Psychiatry. Retrieved from http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/‌cgi/‌reprint/‌154/‌6/‌832.pdf
Global Health Observatory. (n.d.). Report on Dissociative Identity Disorder. Retrieved October 23, 2011, from World Health Organization database.
Kluft, R. P. (1996, July). Treating the traumatic memories of patients with Dissociative Identity Disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(7), 103-110.
Malinosky-Rummell, R., & Hansen, D. J. (1993). Longterm consequences of childhood physical abuse. American Psychological Association, 68-79. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/‌cgi/‌viewcontent.cgi?article=1098&context=psychfacpub&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fq%3Dis%2Bsexual%2Band%2Bphysical%2Babuse%2Bhabitual%26hl%3Den%26as_sdt%3D0%26as_vis%3D1%26oi%3Dscholart#search=%22sexual%20physical%20abuse%20habitual%22
Piper, A., & Merskey, H. (2004, July). A critical examination of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Retrieved from http://ww1.cpa-apc.org:8080/‌publications/‌archives/‌CJP/‌2004/‌september/‌piper.asp

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