Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Buffet of Childhood Diagnoses

I just want to promote this very good post on Neuroskeptic on the North American epidemic of diagnosing young children with the adult disorder of Bipolar and the American Psychiatric Association's attempt to fight this problem by writing yet another childhood disorder into the DSM-V.

Psychiatrists: Does Fire Put Out Fire?

What is it about North America that we want to believe all our children are mentally sick?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dissociation, DID, Culture, and Empirical Evidence

Dissociation is some kind of human phenomenon that crosses time and place in the human experience.  Most forms of dissociation occur in the context of religious ecstasy.  There are many many examples.  Umbanda in Brazil.  Indigenous Taiwanese healers.  Balinese ritual trance (people have been know to go into spontaneous trance states even working in factories in Indonesia).  Pentecostal direct experiences with the Holy Spirit.  Speaking in tongues.

Umbanda trance

The list goes on.  But, we find that dissociation manifests differently in different cultural contexts.

Dissociation itself is not what is in question, but Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personalities, is.

In North American culture, dissociation generally manifests, if not in a tent revival, than in the context of hypnosis or with the patients of certain therapists with proclivities for the promotion of DID.

Does DID occur universally or is it a product of the North American culture of psychopathology?  We already know that mental health disorders can be a product of cultural place and time.  Hysteria in Victorian Europe and America is one well known example.  Neurasthenia in China is another example that has been written on extensively.

Is DID another disorder that is not universal but tied to the Zeitgeist of a particular place an time?  Right now the field of mental health is in an intellectual tug of war on the topic.  We have the historical record that gives us some insight.  The concept of multiple personalities appeared early on in the development of the field of psychology, but it was an extremely rare diagnosis up to a certain point.  That point was the publication of "Sybil" in 1973 and the subsequent film adaptation.  This was the story of Shirley Mason, AKA Sybil Dorsett, who claimed to have multiple personalities, (and later said she made the whole thing up to please her therapist, and then changed her mind again).  After the popularization of multiple personalities by "Sybil" it became a mainstream diagnosis and has benefited from several waves of popularity since.
Sally Field acting
Shirley in youth
"Sybil" acting?
Dr. Richard J. McNally, et al., has now provided us with an empirical window on the topic.  He crafted a controlled study to test a fundamental basis of the DID construct, the amnesic barrier.  The amnesic barrier being the concept that as a DID identified individual transitions from personality to personality, the one personality has no direct memory of the other personality or personalities.

These researchers used a concealed information task that consisted of flashed words on a screen in which subjects were instructed to push "yes" or "no" based on whether or not the word was on a list.  What DID identified subjects did not know is that some of the words flashed on the screen were taken from surveys conducted with at least two of each of their personalities.  The words were specific to the personalities, such as the name of a friend or a favorite food, for instance.

The crux of the study was on a microsecond lag in pressing the button related to words autobiographical to the personality.  This occurred as expected.  Unfortunately for the construct of DID, the same delay occurred for words related to alternate personalities (not currently present/aware personalities), showing that knowledge crosses alternate personalities, undermining if not disproving the amnesic barrier.  It also implies, if not deception, at least an attempt on the part of the subjects to conform to the cultural model of DID.

McNally concludes that "Cultures provide envelopes for people to express suffering or psychological pain and DID is one such cultural trope. . . . I don't think much would be lost if the diagnosis were eliminated from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual."

Source:  "A story that doesn't hold up" in the Harvard Gazette

Original paper is on PloS ONE here

DID in defense of crime: the case of William Bergen Greene and his therapist

mugshot of William Bergen Greene
William Bergen Greene was a troubled man who started with a troubled childhood.  He apparently suffered severe abuse as an early child until he was made a ward of the state at age eight.  He suffered further abuse in foster homes and institutions.  At age 17 he escaped from his institution and started his adult life of chronic criminality.  He was so frequently convicted of sexual offences that he spent the vast majority of his adult life in prison.  He remains incarcerated today in Washington State.

He became a prison sex offender patient after a 1988 conviction.  His prison sex offender therapist, known to the public only by the initials M.S. (because she later became another victim of Mr. Greene's many sex offenses), was the first to diagnose him with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) otherwise known as multiple personalities.

Her course of therapy started with hypnosis.  With this extremely questionable (if not negligent) technique she proceeded to draw out (or co-develop) some 24 personalities in her patient, not the least of whom were "Auto," a non-human robot personality, and "Smokey" the dragon.  Yes, a dragon personality.

Another therapist at the prison disagreed with M.S.'s diagnosis.  Instead he diagnosed Greene with Malingering.  Incidentally, malingering is listed and described in the psychiatric diagnostic manual and is designated with code V65.2.  V-codes generally indicate a diagnostically important factor or condition that is not itself a disorder.  Malingering, of course, is not a disorder that is treatable under Medicaid but is described as "the intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated physical or psychological symptoms, motivated by external incentives."  Typically, external incentives have to do with financial gain, or avoidance of responsibilities or consequences.  In this case, Greene was already convicted and incarcerated.  The dissenting therapist warned that Greene's malingering was motivated by his life-long pursuit of sexual victims.  He warned that Greene was setting his therapist, M.S., up for a future assault.  The dissenting therapist's assessment proved to be prophetic, but sadly failed to influence M.S.  Not only did she continue her work treating Greene's purported DID, she seemed to become increasingly close to her patient.

Greene was released from prison in 1992.  Within days of his release, M.S. quit her job at the prison and took Greene on as a private patient.

Was it coincidence that she quit immediately after his release?  I can't say, but it is suggestive of a therapist who was severely enmeshed with her patient.

She met him for therapy on a routine of bi-weekly sessions, but if so, they must have been extremely long sessions, because by the end, when he finally assaulted her in 1994, she had racked up over 2000 hours of therapy with this single patient.  By comparison, standard out-patient therapy is generally in the range of 12 to 54 hours of therapy per year.  Yet more evidence of enmeshment if not outright obsession on the part of the therapist.

M.S. received a phone call from a distressed Greene on April 29, 1994.  She knew he was under stress from several things and she was worried he might be suicidal, so she went to meet him at his apartment.  He was talking very slowly with a childlike voice.  He kept referring to himself as "we."  I will add here, the "royal we" is a common trait or affectation among DID patients and it seems unlikely it was the first time he used it in M.S.'s presence but later, in court, she would use it as one of the evidences of his personality fragmentation at the time of the crime.

At some point, as M.S. tried to console the oddly behaving Greene, alone with him in his apartment, she figured out that he was on cocaine.  In a moment of good judgment, she chose to leave.  Unfortunately for her, he barred her way out.  They struggled and M.S. fell.  He ripped off her shirt and bra and touched her, ignoring her protestations and clear statements for him to stop.  He took her to the bathroom and held her there for two hours.  He continued to molest her there, taking breaks only to shoot up a drug, presumably cocaine.  Throughout this incident, Greene's behaviors were later described by M.S. as childlike with frequent but brief bouts of crying. Near the end he removed his own pants and touched himself but failed to achieve a result and soon after said she could go, but when she tried, he changed him mind, tackling her and left her bound and gagged as he removed himself from the scene in M.S.'s car.

Once Greene had fled, M.S. was able to remove her bonds and escaped to a hospital across the street where she called the police.  Greene was soon apprehended and charged with kidnapping and indecent liberties.

Greene plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but in his first trial, Judge Thorpe ruled that DID could not be used in an insanity defense due to lack scientific consensus on the existence of the disorder.  The defense attorney, David Koch, was not permitted to even mention DID.  Greene himself assisted his defense attorney, telling his attorney that one of his alter personalities was trained in law.  Without DID as a defense, the case rested solely on whether or not Greene had committed the deeds.  He was quickly found guilty on both counts.

In 1998, Greene and Koch appealed to the Washington Court of Appeals.  Appeals continued back and forth up to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court and, in the end, he was granted a retrial.

A pre-trial hearing was held to determine if DID could be used as an insanity defense.  The defense team brought in expert Dr. Robert B. Olsen who testified that DID was generally accepted in the field but conceded after interviewing Greene, he could not say who Greene really was much less determine his sanity due to the number of alter personalities.  The prosecution brought in their own expert, Gregg J. Gabliardi who failed to challenge DID, stating that he agreed it was generally accepted.  His only contribution to the prosecution was to testify that it would be impossible to determine the sanity of each separate personality or determine which personality was responsible for which of the actions Greene had taken.

This was clearly a low point in the field of psychiatry when two psychiatrists under oath fail to mention any controversy related to this diagnosis.  One wonders if Olsen or Gabliardi had in fact believed they could determine guilt and responsibility of one specific personality out of 15, what the criminal justice system would be expected to do with that information?  How do you incarcerate one personality out of many?

With the given experts, it is not surprising in the retrial the defense was allowed to use DID as an insanity defense to claim that Greene was not legally responsible for his actions.  He had two new public defenders in the second trial, Teresa Conlan and Marybeth Dingledy.  The second trial took place over five days in September 2003 in Snohomish County courthouse.

In one of the strangest twists in the history of DID being used to avoid truth and consequences, Greene's victim, his former therapist, the now 53-year-old M.S. demanded to testify in his defense.  In the retrial she was permitted to do so.  She claimed that only she could explain the impact of his terrible disorder, DID, on Greene and its role in causing his behavior on the night of his attack on her.  M.S. testified before the court that it was not Greene himself who had attacked her but actually three of his alter personalities:  Sam; Tyrone, a three or four year old; and Auto, a robot.  She explained to the jury it was not Greene, but Auto the robot who grabbed her and held her down.  It was not Greene who molested her for two hours, but Tyrone the child.  The personality Sam appeared for only a moment and tried to save her, but was quickly taken over by the other two personalities.  M.S. testified her belief that the chronic sex offender Greene was not responsible for the attack because he was not present during the attack and had no awareness of it until he was informed of it later when he was in police custody.

In an odd about face, the expert witness, Dr. Olsen, who had originally testified for the defense, switched sides and testified for the prosecution in the actual trial itself.  He now said he believed Greene was malingering.  In the trial, the prosecution also brought in a new expert witness, psychologist Richard Packard who testified that Greene did not have DID at all.  Packard diagnosed the chronic sex offender with antisocial (AKA psychopathic) personality disorder and a sexual paraphilia disorder.  Packard further stated his doubt about the veracity of DID as a legitimate disorder.  Packard firmly believed that Greene had simply been faking DID from the beginning.  Greene's cellmate, a certain Eric Fleischmann, testified that he too attempted to fake DID with Greene's coaching but had failed.

Defense witness, Dr. Marlene Streinberg, then vice president of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, testified that DID was real and that Greene fit the profile.  In spite of Dr. Streinberg's rather weak assertions and in spite of the frantic testimony of an enmeshed and obsessed therapist, Greene lost his second trial and was again found guilty on both counts.  The jury deliberated for five hours and were done in time to go home for dinner.  Greene was sentenced to life as a three-strike felon

Now in prison, Greene has since been charged with the 1979 rape and murder of a 25 year old woman by the name of Sylvia Durante in Seattle.  Greene's DNA from his sperm was found on Ms. Durante's body.  He was convicted of her murder in 2005.

Not everybody is a believer in DID.  No matter how self important and self righteous the tone of its promoters like Streinberg, jurors, and most people with any level of critical thought or common sense, remain unconvinced.  Juror, Jim Camp, from Greene's retrial, stated the jury "just didn't believe it."

Sullivan, Jennifer; Insanity defense fails for attacker; The Seattle Times; Nov. 21 2003; as viewed on web 8/2012. 
Fersch, Ellsworth; Thinking About the Insanity Defense: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions; iUniverse, Lincoln, NE: 2005

Monday, August 13, 2012

Multiple Personalities and Responsibility

Multiple Personalities, now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is the single most controversial diagnosis in the diagnostic manual.  Most would agree with that statement I think.

One of the most bizarre aspects of this diagnosis and its promoters is the wish to have their cake and eat it too.  Let me give you a few examples of what I am talking about.  These are composite examples that have been slightly altered, not pertaining to any individual patient, but the comments attributed to therapists essentially express comments I have heard at one point or another.

Patient A signed a legal contract and later wanted to back out.  Patient A's therapist states, without any sign of misgiving or embarrassment: "People just don't understand that [Patient A]'s part [alternate personality] signed the contract and [Patient A] can't be held responsible."  Why is this having and eating cake simultaneously?  Well, let me explain.  Both the patient and the therapist believe and strongly advocate for Patient A's right to live and act in the community as a fully fledged adult citizen, and yet, they both want the world hold Patient A free of all agreements and obligations that Patient A has selectively decided some other personality inhabiting her body is responsible for.  This sort of undermines the basic social contract doesn't it?  Either Patient A is mentally competent to make agreements and sign contracts and be held responsible for her obligations, or if she really cannot competently sign contracts and be held responsible due to her psychiatric condition she should not be allowed to and her her therapist needs to be working to develop a legal guardian who can actually make binding decisions on behalf of Patient A who is apparently not competent to do so on her own.

Patient B is granted Social Security Disability for a psychiatric condition.  His primary diagnosis is DID.  He then enters university and goes through to complete a graduate program.  Throughout, he continues to receive monthly disability payments intended for individuals who are too disabled to work.  Both he and his therapist maintain that Patient B is both entitled to disability and able to legitimately complete a graduate program in the field of economics because his parts switch only when he is at the school and he can temporarily maintain his "host personality."  When returning home or out in the community he "switches" to different personalities and is therefore disabled.  After receiving his degree in economics, he continues to receive monthly disability payments and his therapist continues to be paid by Medicaid.  Patient B is both disabled and yet he is not.  It seems to me an ethical and competent therapist would be working with Patient B to utilize his graduate degree in a productive manner to his own personal and financial benefit.  Instead, the therapist continues to promote the idea that in spite of earning a graduate degree Patient B is too disabled to work and must continue in therapy indefinitely.  It may be no coincidence that if Patient B earns wage income, he will ultimately lose both Social Security Disability and Medicaid and the therapist's cash cow with dry up.

Patient C commits a felony crime of posing as a property owner (which she is not), collecting deposits and rents from multiple prospective renters and then flees the scene.  She spends the money on a car, clothing and a purebred Pomeranian dog for herself.  When tracked down by detectives and arrested, Patient C, her therapist and her defense lawyer all maintain that Patient C cannot be held responsible for the crime.  None of them dispute that her physical body was present at the time of the crime and in fact committed the crime, but they claim her body was inhabited by a personality who believed it was the property owner, therefore person/body of Patient C (the only legal and biological entity in this case) cannot be held responsible.  The "host personality" of Patient C cannot be held responsible because she was dissociated and was not aware of what occurred and had no control over it.  Furthermore, the "property owner" personality cannot be held responsible either because he/she/it really believed it was a property owner and did not realize it was committing a crime.  What does the therapist and defense attorney request?  That Patient C be freed and allowed to continue the same therapy (that failed to prevent her criminal behavior in the first place) because this is what Patient C "needs."

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

DID patients, therapists and promoters seem to have a problem with responsibility.  Basically they can disavow responsibility for anything with negative consequences for the patient/client/consumer but otherwise expect the world to treat the DID patient as a completely competent and responsible citizen.  Does that sound just a little too convenient?  Most jurors find it pretty fishy, that's why it almost never succeeds as a legal defense, but that doesn't stop people from trying.

Here are some interesting facts about DID and crime.  A small study published in 1989 (Putnum, Diagnosis and treatment of multiple personality disorder) found that 35% of female DID patients reported committing crimes including 7% of which were homicides and 47% of men with DID reported committing crimes of which 19% had committed homicide.

In the end, you can't have your cake and eat it too.