About the Movie "Sybil"

by Asha Kalyani

"Sybil" documents the successful treatment of a young woman with a mental disorder.

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The movie "Sybil" documents the treatment of a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder; the emotional film follows the main character as she finds a good psychiatrist who helps her finally comes to terms with her abusive past and become a whole person who achieves her personal dreams and goals.


The movie "Sybil" was originally made in a four-hour version and aired in 1976 in two two-hour segments on NBC. The movie was based on the true story of a woman whose traumatic life had caused her to develop multiple personalities; particularly, it was based on the book by the same name, written by Flora Rheta Schreiber. The movie was very popular and was eventually edited down into a two-hour home edition.


Sally Field, who plays the main character, Sybil, won an Emmy award for her portrayal of the character. Martine Bartlett plays Sybil's abusive and mentally ill mother, Hattie. William Prince has the role of Sybil's father, and Jane Hoffman plays her step-mother. Brad Davis plays Sybil's love interest, Richard. Joanne Woodward plays Doctor Cornelia Wilbur, the psychologist who spends years diagnosing Sybil and helping her recover.


The movie traces the traumatic life of Sybil, who was physically and sexually abused from an early age by her schizophrenic mother. Sybil's father turns a blind eye to the things she is going through, and it is not until she begs him to let her see a doctor that he agrees she can see a psychiatrist. She moves to New York to be treated by Dr. Wilbur, who subsequently identifies 16 multiple personalities of Sybil -- 14 feminine personalities and 2 masculine. Dr. Wilbur convinces Sybil's father to support her treatment financially, and after 11 years of counseling and treatment, she helps Sybil merge into a new, whole personality. Sybil reaches her goals of becoming a college professor and artist, and after a year goes by where she experiences no "lost time" (that is, time where she reverts to another personality), she realizes that she really has recovered.


The main theme of the movie "Sybil" is a dramatic representation of the psychological disorder known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder). For the woman that Sybil represents (named Shirley Ardell Mason in real life), her Dissociative Identity Disorder started becoming apparent around the time that she started her graduate studies at Columbia University. When stressful situations occurred, or when she was interacting with certain people, one of her personality stages might emerge. Each personality stage had different moods and responses, and not all of them were aware of the other personality stages. All of them, however, were aware of who Sybil was, though they considered her a "friend" and not part of the same person. As is common in this disorder, one of her personalities, Vicky, knew all the others. Her psychiatrist was able to get to know Sybil better through discussions with her when she was in her Vicky personality stage.

About the Author

Asha Kalyani has more than seven years of experience writing about linguistics, language learning and many other educational and cultural topics. She received a Master of Arts in applied linguistics and enjoys teaching and interacting with people of all language and cultural backgrounds.

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