The Controversy Surrounding Multiple Personality Disorder
Multiple Personality Disorder is a condition that many people probably have not heard of. Among those who have heard of it, there are even less who actually know what it is. However, according to Piper (1997) there were about 6,000 cases diagnosed in North America alone in 1986. Some experts estimate that multiple personality disorder, or MPD, affects 5 to 10 percent of the population, or about 100 million people worldwide. For such a widespread disorder, the public's lack of knowledge about it is pretty shocking. One explanation for this lack of knowledge could be the fact that many people, fueled by the beliefs of many noted psychologists, do not believe the disorder even exists. Why do they believe this? To answer this question, one must first understand a little more about MPD itself.
Although there is no clear, universally accepted definition of multiple personality disorder, one interpretation that most seem to agree on was stated by Piper: "Multiple personality disorder (MPD) is characterized by the presence of 'alter personalities' that periodically and unpredictably take control of the patient's body" (pg. xii). All who have been diagnosed with MPD have shown evidence of one or more alter personalities aside from the host personality. The 'host' is usually described as the personality that is in control the largest amount of time, or the personality that presents itself for treatment. This may sound confusing, but it is nothing compared to the many other aspects of MPD, such as what a personality is, what causes the onset of MPD, whether or not someone really has MPD, and what treatment methods are effective-all of which will be discussed.
In defining personality, there is once again no single definition that can be agreed upon. According to Richmond (2003), who, I might mention, is very skeptical about MPD, "we should first realize that no one has a truly single, or unified, personality. For the most part, what psychologists talk about as 'identity,' although a useful construct, is a complete illusion." The example he gives is how people tend to act differently in different situations. For instance, a teenage boy is usually one way around his friends, another way around his parents, and yet another around his siblings or other family members. Richmond calls these different aspects of personality "ego states."
Many psychologists don't even attempt to define personality. For example, Carroll (2003) gives the following explanation for an alter personality: "The "alters" are said to occur spontaneously and involuntarily, and function more or less independently of each other." This really gives no insight as to what an alter personality truly is; it only describes what an alter does. Piper attempts to explain alter personalities in stating "each personality has its own set of personality traits, such as language abilities, style of speech, value systems,...