Review: Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

Sybil by Flora Reta Schreiber

‘How are you today?’ the doctor asked. ‘I’m fine’, was the reply. ‘But Sybil isn’t. She was so sick she couldn’t come. So I came instead.’

Sybil is the story of a woman with sixteen separate personalities, and was instrumental in influencing the definition and diagnosis of multiple personality disorder.

Sybil’s diagnosis has since been called into question – but, forty years after it was first published, her story remains a gripping and disturbing account of one woman’s struggle for mental stability and happiness.



I began reading Sybil with an idea of the story’s surrounding controversy. When the author’s account of Sybil’s story came out, it made quite an impact and resulted in a movie. Why wouldn’t it? This poor woman had sixteen personalities and her life was not liveable. Her childhood was horrible, reading about it is traumatic enough, and then she’s constantly questioning everything around her. Even if it’s not true, the story itself has some serious details to create a riveting tale.

I purposely did not thoroughly research the actual beliefs of what happened. I didn’t want my opinion, and experience, to be influenced. I couldn’t help discovering some of the aftermath to the story, my curiosity got the better of me, but even then I only went as far as finding other titles to read about what could have actually happened.

I’m not sure if it’s an idea or more, but at this point I’ll just name it theory. There’s the theory Dr Wilbur drugged and manipulated Sybil Dorsett into playing these separate personalities. There’s also the theory Sybil herself lied and manipulated Dr Wilbur in hunger for Dr Wilbur’s attention.

As much as I tried not to think about it, I couldn’t help wondering what really happened. I tried my best to read Sybil as a true story, eventually I switched to reading it as fiction, and then I was completely up in arms about it all. I honestly cannot form an opinion on whether the story should be taken as fact or fiction. I’m aware disorders like this do exist. I can’t decide on anything because I have never had any experience with it. How can I possibly pass judgment?

Reading the story was really interesting. I tried to fit in reading as much as possible in-between activities and responsibilities. The writing was boring sometimes. There were certain facts being reiterated and I have an intolerance for such a thing, especially when it comes to reading, but it wasn’t dominating the story.

In the end it didn’t matter to me whether Sybil was real or not. I’m not being blasé about the subject at all. I now find myself wanting to read more on Dissociative Identity Disorder and have added books to my TBR, all non-fiction, alongside the books about the controversy surrounding Sybil.

If Sybil is a true story, than it is a messed up and fascinating account. If Sybil is fiction, well it is a messed up and fascinating story. Either way, it’s hard to put down.

3 thoughts on “Review: Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber

  1. Fascinating indeed! I thought it was non-fiction when I started reading your review but even your review had me questioning that so the book must be very confusing, quite an exercise. Interesting to read the history behind it and well done on What’s In A Name so far.


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