Therapist and teacher Stout (Psychiatry/Harvard Medical School) gracefully explores the phenomenon of dissociation.
The author, who works with victims of severe psychological trauma, starts with a simple observation: “We are all a little crazy.” In an engaging volume free of jargon and cant, she argues that psychological dissociation (loosely defined as being AWOL from your own direct experience), though normal in just about all of us, can in extreme manifestations be destructive, even lethal. It is normal, she says, to lose oneself—to dissociate—while, say, watching a film. Or writing a sonnet. But in a series of riveting case studies (interrupted by a variety of useful digressions on such topics as mesmerism and hypnosis), Stout reveals both her narrative gifts and the dire dimensions of the disease that used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder but is now officially Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Among the many DID cases she discusses are those of Julia (whose parents physically and sexually abused her) and Garrett (who has a variety of distinct personalities, each with a name). Stout believes that nearly 40 percent of girls in the US are sexually abused before they are 18 (twice the number of boys)—the sort of trauma that causes the surviving adults to dissociate. She enters—but barely—the “false memory” debate: “Sometimes,” she says, “a recovered memory is factual” and sometimes it is not. And she does not explore thoroughly enough the theoretical foundations of her conviction that remembering initiates healing (though she observes wisely that merely remembering is insufficient). She also suggests that the sexual behavior of President Clinton (whose name does not appear) may be evidence of DID. The emotional impact of Stout’s narratives is attenuated somewhat by her concluding cookbooky recipes for dealing with DID.
A lucid reminder of the power of narrative and the magic of metaphor in our psychological lives.