“Christian” psychology has once again joined hands with the world. Christians are actively involved with alleged multiple personalities, both as therapists and as patients. Besides following the world in diagnosis and treatment, they may add exorcism and/or a new kind of evangelism that seeks to save each and every alternate personality—just to be sure the entire person will go to heaven.
Since Christians are diagnosing and treating other Christians as if they have “multiple personality disorder” (MPD), we must ask two questions. (1) Is MPD a scientifically established diagnosis or is it the latest fad in the mysterious world of psychology and psychiatry? (2) Can one remain true to biblical orthodoxy while combining it with secular MPD diagnosis and treatment?
MPD is one of the most fascinating and seemingly mind-boggling psychiatric phenomena today. It is also one of the fastest growing segments of psychiatric consumerism. Its growth parallels the booming business of recovering (or constructing) memories of abuse and satanic ritual abuse (SRA). They go together.
Consider the case of Lucy Abney, who entered treatment for depression and ended up with 100 alternate personalities after two years of therapy. Besides developing so-called MPD, Abney “relived” such horrendous “memories” as sacrificing three of her children and drinking blood. Although Abney admits that “the memories were very real, very vivid,” she has concluded they were not based on reality. They were fantasy.1
Abney is just one of many abuse victims. However, the abuse appears to have occurred in therapy. Such psychiatric abuse is costly to patients in terms of time spent in psychiatric units, unjust accusations of parents, the personal emotional trauma of experiencing such horrible fantasies, and just plain dollars (in her case over $300,000).2
There is quite a bit of disagreement in the field concerning the diagnosis, treatment, and even existence of MPD. However, most recognize its close connection to hypnosis and some researchers say that paranormal experiences are often associated with those with alleged MPD. Much of the writing depends upon what we call “anecdotal psychology” rather than research psychology. In other words, the authors rely on subjective views of individual cases rather than solid research.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III-R) describes MPD as:
The existence within the person of two or more distinct personalities or personality states . . . [each having] a relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and one’s self. . . . At least two of the personalities, at some time and recurrently, take full control of the person’s behavior.3
This description sounds authoritative. However, neither the description nor diagnosis has been established by objective scientific standards.
The usefulness of MPD being listed and defined in the DSM-III-R is financial. In fact, one might look at the DSM-III-R as the guide to financial gain through psychiatric diagnosis. If a therapist can attach a DSM-III-R label to an individual, he can be paid by insurance companies. Beyond that, the DSM-III-R has numerous problems, with most of the “diseases” not being true diseases at all, but rather problems of living.
Such medical jargon makes MPD sound as if it is beyond the reach of biblical analysis. If a condition is described as psychopathological, people assume it is outside the realm of Scripture. However, personality itself is an aspect of the soul, and the Bible is the only accurate, authoritative source for understanding the soul. Nevertheless, before we discuss MPD from a biblical perspective, let’s look at how various people in psychiatry and psychology view and treat MPD.
Can a person have 100 different alternate personalities? Can a person have even one extra personality? That is a question under considerable debate among the professionals. The therapists who are busy diagnosing and treating those to whom they’ve assigned the MPD diagnosis believe they are right. They contend that the only reason why MPD used to be such a rare occurrence was because it was not previously recognized for what it was.
On the other hand, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, who is a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, believes that so-called MPDs are created by the therapists themselves. He says:
This formerly rare and disputed diagnosis became popular after the appearance of several best-selling books and movies. It is often based on the crudest form of suggestion.4
Here are some of the kinds of suggestions McHugh says are used by therapists to find alter personalities in their patients. Therapists ask such questions as “Have you ever felt like another part of you does things that you can’t control?” Then, if the patient gives any kind of positive response, the next question might be, “Does this set of feelings have a name?” Even if the person does not yet give a name to that “set of feelings,” the therapist may ask, “Can I talk to the part of you that is taking those long drives in the country?” Here the therapist separates the person into different personalities without even using hypnosis.5
McHugh contends, “Once patients have permitted a psychiatrist to ‘talk to the part . . . that is taking these long drives,’ they are committed to the idea that they have MPD and must act in ways consistent with this self-image.” He says, “The emergence of the first alter breaches the barrier of reality, and fantasy is allowed free rein.”6
Advantages of MPD
There are distinct advantages of an MPD diagnosis. MPD provides a personally blameless explanation for why the person’s life is not working. MPD provides a convenient excuse—just blame the sin on one of the multiples and avoid having to own up to responsibility. It may be a case of wanting one’s cake and eating it, too—doing what one knows is wrong but not having to feel guilty or bear the consequences. Generally the alleged alters do what the patient would “never do.”
MPD can also be a very dramatic way of making sense out of life or drawing attention to one’s own importance by having a condition that seems beyond the scope of most people. The person becomes both the star and the entire cast in a drama that challenges all who try to help, even the therapist, who is a partner in the drama—the joint playwright, producer and director.
The diagnosis is also an advantage for the therapist. MPDs are fascinating and long term. If a therapist has enough MPD cases he won’t have to drum up business. He can participate as the paid partner in this production for a “long run.”
Whereas the few isolated cases of people with suspected multiple personalities in the past had only one or two, the numbers have now expanded, with the possibility of over 100 different personalities, including animals and members of the opposite sex.
The drama of MPD may begin with depression. Alter personalities are suspected and elicited. Memories of abuse are suggested and encouraged. Then the therapist begins the long process of trying to integrate all those personalities into one person.
In his study of 29 case reports Dr. Myron Boor says, “A variety of therapy approaches, including psychoanalysis, hypnotherapy, behavior therapy, structured videotaped sodium amobarbital interviews, and general integrative techniques, was used with some success to treat the patients in these case reports.”7 Most of these techniques rely primarily on suggestion. Therefore, the entire treatment may simply become a conspiracy of fantasy. Furthermore, there are documented dangers to using hypnosis and other mind-altering techniques.
Both sides of this controversy present case studies to support their claims. But, one cannot rely on individual cases. They are subjective and isolated.
McHugh compares the proliferation of MPD with that of “hystero-epilepsy,” discovered by Jean-Martin Charcot in the nineteenth century. A student by the name of Babinski insisted that Charcot himself had persuaded his patients that they had hystero-epilepsy. At first Charcot objected. However, when Babinski connected the patient’s vulnerability to suggestion with the fact that they had been placed in the same ward with epileptic and hysterical patients, Charcot was ready to try an experiment.8
Charcot moved these patients to other wards, away from the epileptics and hysterical patients, and away from the others he had diagnosed as having hystero-epilepsy. Next, he and the hospital staff began to ignore the symptoms resembling hysteria and epilepsy. Instead, they talked with the patients about the various concerns that had initially led them into treatment. Without reinforcement, the patients’ symptoms disappeared.9
McHugh relates this discovery that “doctors can induce a variety of physical and mental disorders, especially in young, inexperienced, emotionally troubled women” to the current MPD vogue.10 He says:
The rules discovered by Babinski and Charcot, now embedded in psychiatric textbooks and confirmed by decades of research in social psychology, are being overlooked in the midst of a nationwide epidemic of alleged MPD that is wreaking havoc on both patients and therapists.11
McHugh argues that “MPD, like hystero-epilepsy, is created by therapists.”12 He recommends:
Ignore the alters. Stop talking to them, taking notes on them, and discussing them in staff conferences. Pay attention to real present problems and conflicts rather than fantasy. If these simple, familiar rules are followed, multiple personalities will soon wither away.13
Another researcher, H. Merskey, examined a series of MPD cases and found that “no report fully excluded the possibility of artificial production.” In his article “The Manufacture of Personalities: The Production of Multiple Personality Disorder,” published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Merskey says:
Unprecedented numbers of cases of MPD have been diagnosed mainly in North America, since 1957. Widespread publicity for the concept makes it uncertain whether any case can now arise without being promoted by suggestion or prior preparation.14
Merskey mentions that MPD is “rarely, if ever, found in Japan or Britain.”15 He says:
It is likely that MPD never occurs as a spontaneous persistent natural event in adults. . . . Suggestion, social encouragement, preparation by expectation, and the reward of attention can produce and sustain a second personality. . . . Enthusiasm for the phenomenon is a means of increasing it.16
In spite of the enthusiasm for diagnosing and treating MPD, both the description and diagnosis of MPD rest solely on subjective material, such as: what the patient says in therapy, what the therapist thinks about what the patient says, and such things as journals about dreams and fantasies. The only evidence regarding MPD is as scientific as testimonies from alleged UFO abductees and Past Lives Therapy. Any information gleaned from a patient diagnosed with MPD is highly subjective within a highly suggestive situation.
Erroneous Assumptions about MPD
Nevertheless, many assumptions about MPD are spoken of as facts from an authoritative sounding position. These include this notion:
Most people with this disorder have been physically and sexually abused for many years as children. They are terrorized, violated, confused about who is to blame, and threatened with horrible consequences if they reveal the truth.17
Such an assumption seems to make sense since MPDs and SRAs and other forms of allegedly remembered abuse go together. However, with such memories now in question, very possibly having been created by suggestion, it appears that MPD also comes from suggestion rather than from early childhood abuse.
The manufactured memories of FMS (false memory syndrome) may simply accompany manufactured personalities. Rather than sexual abuse being the cause of MPD, both may be created in therapy through the expectations of the therapist and the patient, as well as through suggestive techniques, such as hypnosis.
While MPD therapists are busy “discovering” multiple personalities in their patients to integrate them into one personality, there are other therapists who are working to help their patients discover their “subpersonalities.” Through guided imagery they help their clients discover hidden aspects of themselves.
Specialists in subpersonalities teach people to imagine a lovely place and wait for a person or an animal to appear. This entity is supposedly one of their own subpersonalities, somewhat like Carl Jung’s archetypes. The humanistic idea is that we can find wisdom within ourselves from these subpersonalities or archetypes. But, Jung became involved with demons through this activity. What initially appeared as part of his own psyche turned out to be a familiar spirit.
Thus we have all kinds of possibilities in our culture to develop what might look like multiple personalities. Are they simply states brought on through hypnosis and other forms of suggestion? Are they actually parts of the person that have split off from the central personality? Are they demon spirits? The professional community remains divided on this issue. There are many opinions, but no consensus based upon objective scientific research.
The myths surrounding MPD have entered the church. Many Christians believe the popular, unsubstantiated stories about satanic ritual abuse, and they may be receptive to creating false memories. Once they enter the fantasy realm of FMS, they are ready to participate in the MPD drama.
There are Christians who see a demon behind every bush and psychotherapists who see multiple personalities behind every emotional or behavioral disturbance. But in the MPD craze there are Christians who integrate lots of notions about psychology with various doctrines of demons. Along with secular therapists, there are “Christian psychologists” who look for abuse and SRA behind every MPD. Some try to help patients integrate the personalities, some believe the alters are demons, and others attempt to distinguish the two classes of alleged personalities. Many use hypnosis, which opens the mind to the demonic realm.
James Friesen’s book Uncovering the Mystery of MPD is treated as an authoritative text for Christians. However, Friesen promotes just about every secular myth about MPD, memories of child abuse and SRA. He also includes unbiblical teachings about spiritual warfare. He advocates such unbiblical activities as occultic visualization.18 His book is based upon individual cases rather than scientific objectivity or solid biblical exegesis. The substance of his teachings are pure subjectivity and conjecture—his own and his patients’.
One has to wonder about the kind of religion Friesen embraces, for he gives M. Scott Peck credit for his work with MPD and SRA. He says:
My preconceptions about therapy and about people began to change when I read People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. That book led me to be more open to the clinical benefits of exorcisms, and it prepared me for contact with evil.19
Peck refers to himself as a Christian, but his form of Christianity is another gospel, which is quite acceptable to New Agers, and he is often featured at their conferences. (For a brief critique of Peck’s work, see PsychoHeresy, pp. 84-88.)
Because of the high degree of possible deception in the diagnosis and treatment of MPD, Christians should avoid it. Using hypnosis is forbidden in Scripture and presents many dangers. (See Hypnosis and the Christian, published by Bethany House.) Christians should also be wary of eliciting memories of abuse that have been forgotten. Too many so-called repressed memories are contaminated by illusion and fantasy. One does not have to remember, resurrect, or reconstruct the past in order to walk in newness of life. (See Parts 1 and 2 of “False Memory Syndrome: Creating Memories” In Volume 1, Numbers 1 and 2 of this newsletter.)
What does the Bible say about MPD?
Rather than following subjective experience and psychological notions about why people are the way they are and how they are to change, the Christian should follow the Bible as the authoritative guide to studying the soul. Therefore, we have to ask: What does the Bible say about MPD? Nothing.
The Bible does speak of demons inhabiting people, but it does not support the notion that Christians can be demon possessed or controlled. It does say that all unbelievers are under Satan’s rule (Ephesians 2:2-3). But, it also declares that God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son (Colossians 1:13).
The Bible says Christians can be tempted by Satan and his legions. But, inhabited? No! Controlled? No! God enables Christians to resist temptation and overcome sin. If Christians do follow after temptation, they are walking after the flesh and therefore do what will please the evil one. Nevertheless, the battle for the Christian is between the flesh and the spirit.
Instead of presenting multiple personality disorder, the Bible shows that unbelievers are sinners with a sinful nature and that believers may revert to the ways of the old nature’s sinfulness. Instead of many personalities, the Christian has two natures. The old nature has judicially been put to death and buried, but the flesh can make it sinfully operative. The new nature is the new life in Christ which comes from true conversion by the Holy Spirit.
Paul rejoiced in this truth:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
The Bible gives Christians the necessary information and power for living an abundant life. Christ is sufficient to enable Christians to put off the old man and put on the new. Rather than instructing Christians to discover hidden alter personalities, the Bible tells believers:
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
We contend that the current craze of MPD diagnosis is mistaken and misguided. Such a diagnosis covers up the real problem—sin—and the true answers given in Scripture.
1 Mark Smith, “Patient says therapy spawned ‘memory of satanic cult,’” Houston Chronicle, 12 September 1993, 1A.
3 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III-R. Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 1987, p. 269.
4 Paul R. McHugh, “Multiple Personality Disorder,” The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 10, No. 3, September 1993, p. 5.
7 Myron Boor, “The Multiple Personality Epidemic: Additional Cases and Inferences Regarding Diagnosis, Etiology, Dynamics, and Treatment,” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Vol. 170, No. 5, 1992, p. 302, 304.
8 McHugh, op. cit. p. 4.
9 Ibid, pp. 4, 5.
10 Ibid. p. 4.
11 Ibid. p. 5.
13 Ibid. p. 6.
14 H. Merskey, “The Manufacture of Personalities: The Production of Multiple Personality Disorder,” British Journal of Psychiatry (1992), 160, p. 327.
15 Ibid., p. 328.
16 Ibid., p. 337.
17 “Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders: Part II,” The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol 8, No. 10, April 1992.
18 James G. Friesen. Uncovering the Mystery of MPD (San Bernardino: Here’s Life Publishers), p. 175.
19 Ibid., p. 15.