Psychology in Sybil by Flora Schreiber

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Psychology and How it Relates to Sybil
  • Parenting Style
    Mental Disorders
  • Conclusion


The book Sybil is a book about a girl named Sybil Isabel Dorsett who suffers Dissociative Personality Disorder. The book was written based on a true case that happened with a young girl, the names were changed in the story for privacy reasons. The book was a very controversial topic; therefore, it was not published until after the deaths of the girl and her psychologist.

Her mother suffered from a mental disorder known as schizophrenia. Since her mother was undergoing such issues, she took it out on Sybil by abusing her in many ways. This resulted in Sybil's personality disorder. Sybil's different personalities were there to help and deal with her mother's actions when she was unable to do so herself. Sybil's father was somewhat better than her mom in which he did not abuse her; however, he did neglect her. Sybil eventually gets taken in by a psychologist named Dr. Wilbur, who then makes the decision to help her free of charge. He begins treatment with her and Sybil starts to gain memory of some things she may wish against. Sybil denied these occurrences but soon began to accept them after Dr. Wilbur reassured her.

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Psychology and How it Relates to Sybil

Psychology is portrayed in multiple ways throughout the book Sybil. For example, Sybil's mother portrays the authoritarian parenting style along with practicing child abuse. Another way psychology is shown throughout the book is through psychological mental disorders. Sybil's mother suffers a mental disorder know as schizophrenia. Because of this she also suffers some depression. Sybil herself also suffers a psychological mental disorder known as dissociative personality disorder. Lastly, psychology is portrayed in the treatment of Sybil's disorder. One of the treatments Dr. Wilbur decides to do to help Sybil was hypnosis.

Parenting Style

The book Sybil does a great job in showing how parenting styles can affect children's mental health, how mental disorders are, and how hypnosis can relieve a patient. Sybil's mother is a good example of an authoritarian parent by using the authoritarian parenting style. Parents who practice the authoritarian parenting style believe that they have the only say and that their children should never question them. The parents attempt to control, shape, and evaluate the behavior and attitudes of their children according to a set code of conduct (Kasschau, 2003, p. 79). In addition to Sybil's mothers parenting style, she practiced child abuse. Child abuse includes the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, negligent treatment, or mistreatment of children under the age of eighteen (Kasschau, 2003, p. 80). Sybil's mother hurt Sybil physically and mentally in which she physically abused her and sexually abused her. Both of these resulted in Sybil being emotionally abused too, because she was not being loved like a child should. Sybil's father was not as extreme as her mother was; however, he still neglected Sybil.

Mental Disorders

Sybil and her mother both suffered from a mental psychological disorder. Sybil's mother's disorder is known as schizophrenia. Schizophrenia involves confused, disordered thoughts and perceptions (Kasschau, 2003, p. 466). Overburdened and stressed parents are more likely to abuse their children, which may be a factor explaining why Sybil's mother chooses to abuse her (Kasschau, 2003, p. 80). After Sybil's mother would do such horrible things, she would cheer in pleasure. For example, Sybil's mother shouted "I did it, I did it!" after hurting Sybil's and causing her to cry (Schreider, 1973).

In result of Sybil's mother's actions, Sybil suffered from a psychological mental disorder known as dissociative mental disorder. This disorder is more commonly referred to as multiple personality disorder. Sybil had about sixteen different personalities in which two were men and the rest females of different ages. Sybil did not know how to cope with her mother's abuse and neglect so the disorder did for her. The personalities or "friends" that she had were there to handle Sybil's mother's actions when she could not.


Psychology is portrayed in one of the treatments Dr. Wilbur decides to perform on Sybil. He uses hypnosis to bring back memories and personalities of Sybil's past. Hypnosis is a state of consciousness resulting from a narrowed focus of attention and characterized by heightened suggestibility (Kasschau, 2003, p. 191). The hypnosis that Dr. Wilbur used is known as posthypnotic suggestion, which allows a psychologist to suppress memory (Kasschau, 2003, p. 193). Things seem to be going well, until she meets the identity of her mother, in which she dissociates into a baby. However, she recovers, and the next time she undergoes hypnosis, she recalls an incident when her mother drags up her up to the roof of her barn by her hands, and then locks her in a cabinet. They undergo their last session of hypnosis, where Sybil recalls her mother having sexually abused her, she then wakes up very upset, which Dr. Wilbur tells her to accept.


In conclusion, the book Sybil showed how psychology works in a few different ways. The book does a great job in showing how severe the mental disorder schizophrenia is and how one who suffers from it reacts, this also applies to the personality disorder too. Sybil's mother was a prime example of a parent who practices child abuse. Lastly, a good example of posthypnotic suggestion was shown when Dr. Wilbur practiced it on Sybil. Psychology relates to the book Sybil by portraying an authoritarian parenting style, showing child abuse, hypnosis, and psychological mental disorders.

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