[This chapter is from Making
of an Illness: My Experience With Multiple Personality Disorder,
by Gail Macdonald. Laurentian University Press, Sudbury, Ontario. Copyright
(c) 1999. All rights reserved. To order this book, print out the forms
available online at http://www.bookstore.laurentian.ca/eIndex9.htm
and fax them to the Laurentian University Bookstore at (705) 675-4801.
Call the bookstore at (705) 675-1151 if you have problems. Or, you can
email the Laurentian University bookstore manager at firstname.lastname@example.org
or Dr. Paul Tyroler at PTYROLER@NICKEL.LAURENTIAN.CA.]
Are you a retractor or affected family member? Would you like to share
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Gail Macdonald, Retractor
From the foreword by Dr. Campbell Perry
Author of Making of an Illness
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Concordia University, Montreal
"What makes this particular work unique is that the therapist
encouraged journaling, and, further, that the author was able to gain access
to the therapist's notes. Hence, there are independent records of the events
Gail Macdonald describes; these enhance the credibility of her recollections."
About the Book
Gail Macdonald is a courageous woman who has been through a nightmarish
ordeal that would have completely destroyed a lesser person.
In the early 90s, the Ontario Government sponsored the training of therapists
in recognizing and treating "multiple personality disorder" (MPD). The
number of therapists estimated to be trained vary widely, from several
hundred to a couple of thousand. One of the trainees was a social worker
from California, who hung his shingle in a small Ontario town. Gail, a
recovering drug and alcohol addict, had been his client before he took
his MPD training, and she was well on her way to regaining her long-lost
self-esteem. After the indoctrination in spotting MPD, her therapist's
modus operandi drastically changed. Soon after, most of his clients started
to exhibit signs of MPD.
In her memoir, MAKING OF AN ILLNESS, Gail describes how she and her
therapist engaged in a tragic and dangerous game of deceit and self-deception
that almost cost her her life. She writes about horrible episodes of self-mutilation,
about voices in her head, and about incidents of vivid hallucinations.
In MAKING OF AN ILLNESS, Gail presents entries from her journal, written
or drawn by different "alters," and the narrative is supported by quotations
from her therapy records.
Ultimately, her story has a happy ending. As a result of the intervention
by a friend, Gail started having doubts about both her diagnosis and her
treatment, and finally she and two other women left therapy. Gradually,
her mental state improved. She decided to sue her therapist and his supervisors,
and she settled out of court in the fall of 1996, in what is believed to
be the first settlement of this sort in Canada.
Gail gives voice to the many people who have been hurt by irresponsible
treatment at the hands of MPD believers. MAKING OF AN ILLNESS may serve
as a timely and potent antidote to false beliefs and harmful procedures
that are still being used, with impunity, by some mental health care providers.
MAKING OF AN ILLNESS is an eloquent account of how utilizing a "disguised"
hypnotic procedure can make patients function even more poorly. The book
is distressing at times, but has a happy ending.
Campbell Perry, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Concordia University,
About the Author
Gail Macdonald was born in 1956 in the Canadian East. She is the oldest
daughter in a family of three children. Her father was a hard working man
who would do any job to support his family. Shortly after the family relocated
to Toronto, Gail's father began to drink and grew verbally and emotionally
abusive. Gail became a rebellious child and, ultimately, an unruly teenager.
Unable to cope, her parents sent her to an all-girls convent on the East
Coast, where her aunt lived. This made her even more resentful and angry.
She began a love affair with drugs and alcohol that would last for fifteen
years. As well, she got involved in a series of abusive relationships.
As she grew older, her resentment toward her father grew, too. Ironically,
one year after she left home, her father found recovery and has remained
sober ever since. Along the road of self-destruction, Gail got married
twice and gave birth to three children. Then, one day, her life turned
around. On July 10, 1988, she joined the 12 steps group in her town and
stopped using mood-altering substances. Although the 12 steps program worked
for her, she still harbored a great deal of resentment toward her father.
In order to address these feelings, she began therapy with an expert in
the treatment of adult children of alcoholics.
What happened next is the basis of her memoir MAKING OF AN ILLNESS.
In therapy, she was made to believe that she had been sexually abused by
her father; that she had repressed memories of this abuse; and that she
was inhabited by various "personalities." After years of suicidal despair,
with the support of a friend, she quit therapy and, in time, gradually
recovered from the mind control exercised over her by her therapist. Today
she lives on a farm with her three children, and is employed at a job she
likes. She is on good terms with her parents and visits them regularly.
She also devotes considerable time and energy to spreading the word about
the horrors of recovered memory therapy and about what she perceives the
"con" of the nineties: the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder.
Chapter 7: "Women Against Women"
"I left Montreal confused and saddened that we faced professional people,
most of them women, who did not believe us. My experience is not about
sexual abuse, it is about bad therapy. I will not be silenced when I know
this type of therapy is still practiced today"
In November 1993, Nancy * and I were invited to Montreal to speak at
a seminar at the Montreal General Hospital. The topic of the seminar was
"True and False Accusations by Adult Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse,"
and the key guest speaker was a prominent American psychiatrist from Philadelphia,
Dr. Harold Lief. The day-long seminar was to be preceded by a public meeting
at McGill University which was scheduled for the evening prior to the seminar.
I decided to accept the invitation, both to gain more information for
myself and to share my experience about my therapy with others. The one
aspect that I was unaware of at that time was that this whole issue of
false memory was rapidly becoming a great political issue. Some people
believed that "false memory" was a term invented to help protect the abusers.
When I arrived in Montreal, I was not prepared for the events that were
to take place over the next two days. I was not to be part of the public
meeting held at McGill, but I thought it may be helpful if I attended for
my own benefit.
In the University auditorium, I saw a large crowd, mostly McGill students
and some older folks as well. But there was also another group of about
twenty people who, I believe, were not associated with the University in
any way. These were the protesters who came to silence Dr. Lief. I sat
horrified as they screamed, coughed and whistled.
Eventually, they succeeded in preventing Dr. Lief from delivering his
lecture. The protesters were all women or at least this was how it appeared
to me. Women against women for god's sake, is this what this therapy has
brought us to? I heard them shouting "He is protecting abusers" and "False
memory is a false syndrome."
I instantly knew that my experience was going to be taken in anger and
I found myself crying as I sat there, scared and pale. I came to Montreal
to learn and to look for missing pieces of the therapy puzzle. I left that
evening with an irrational fear. Once again I felt alone and betrayed but
this time not by my therapist but by other women who did not seem to understand
and who even did not try to understand.
I did not realize at that time that this event was filmed by several
TV crews, and that shots from this shameful protest were to be shown on
the evening news all across Canada. The protesters achieved something what
they certainly did not have in mind. For the first time, the Canadian viewers
from coast to coast heard the term "false memory syndrome." The action
of the small group of the hysterical women was destined to be criticized
by many as an attack on academic freedom for months and years to come.
When I came back to the hotel, I showered but I had a restless sleep.
I was terribly afraid of speaking the next day. When I woke in the morning,
I decided that no one would silence me by using fear tactics and intimidation.
This was my truth and I would share that experience with all who wanted
When Nancy and I arrived at the Montreal General Hospital the next morning,
more demonstrators and a large group of media were there. Also, the place
was swarming with police. Everyone was nervous. My friends and I were whisked
into a small room adjacent to the lecture hall, where we were supposed
to wait until the seminar was to start. I must admit I was relieved that
this was done.
The lecture hall was much smaller than the one at McGill, seating only
perhaps 150 people. This event was supposed to be a training seminar for
professionals, and the participants had to pay a fee. In addition to professionals,
there was also a small group of accused parents attending, and a group
of women from Ottawa, led by a Carleton University professor, Dr. Connie
The first part of the seminar consisted of Dr. Lief's lecture about
false memories of satanic ritual abuse. Before I and Nancy were given a
chance to describe our experience with bad therapy, a woman named Shirley
spoke. She was a true survivor of sexual abuse, the one who never "repressed"
memories of her ordeal. She courageously shared her experience with the
audience. I remember the sadness in her eyes and the quiet tone of her
voice. I remember thinking how brave she was to stand there and bare her
soul to others.
Later I learned that she was not originally scheduled to speak, but
due to pressures on the organizers of the seminar, she was included at
the very last minute. Her appearance somewhat clouded the major theme of
the seminar, since this was, after all, about bad therapy and false memories
and not about always remembered abuse.
I spoke after her and I could not clearly focus on any faces. I felt
anger and resentment towards me coming from the audience. "What the hell
have I done wrong?" I thought, "why is this my fault, why would not any
of you hear me with an open mind?" Someone asked me a totally absurd question:
"How do you know you are not an alter created to protect the abuser?" My
response was that I was only one entity and that I did not have multiple
I left Montreal confused and saddened that we faced professional people,
most of them women, who for whatever reasons did not believe us. I know
many women have suffered from sexual abuse and I would never discount anyone's
truth. My experience is not about sexual abuse, it is about wrongly believing
that I was abused, it is about a very bad therapy. I will not be silenced
when I know this type of therapy is still practiced today. I know there
are others that share my experience, and I have paid a high price for having
gone through that experience.
The Montreal events were documented for posterity in an article written
by Professor Connie Kristiansen in SWAP (Section on Women and Psychology)
Newsletter (volume 26, number 2) entitled "Bearing witness to patriarchal
In this article, she makes reference to my case several times. I find
it ironic that this woman who had ample opportunity to talk to me about
my therapy during the Montreal seminar, has never approached me and yet
she presented insights that were no less ridiculous than the therapy itself.
She insulted me deeply by referring to me as a "part of the FMSF road show"
and voiced her shock that my story was presented after the talk given by
the sexual abuse survivor Shirley. Quoted from her article": We felt for
her [Shirley] because we knew that her reality had been attacked." Reading
this makes me feel that Kristiansen and I had attended two different events,
because I do not recall anyone attacking that sad woman while I was there.
I personally applaud her courage I find it really disturbing that Dr. Kristiansen
would discount my truth in such a vulgar way only because of where I was
slotted to speak or because my experience does not neatly fit within her
narrow belief system.
At this point I would like to emphasize that I am not part of any organization.
The False Memory Syndrome Foundation provided me with professional literature
and books on the topic of memory. They have never paid me for anything.
I have received the same support from women's groups in my area. I went
to Montreal at the invitation of Dr. Pierre Assalian, the chief organizer
of this seminar, who felt that it was important to include experience of
a victim of therapy with Dr. Lief's professional lecture. I went there
to help professionals to better understand the "false memory" issues and
I went there to learn. I never expected that I would be disbelieved and
humiliated by other women, least of all a Professor of Psychology.
Here is a sampling of headlines of articles about these events, most
of them from local newspapers:
Noisy protesters disrupt lecture
Furor greets academic who questions incest memories
Protest muzzles false-memory talk
Man disputes memories of abuse
Hospital brings "incest lobby" to Montreal
Workshop continues despite protesters
Unjustified attack on free speech
Closing mouths closes minds
You are suppressing an idea, dean tells noisy crowd
False memory merits discussion: psychiatrist
Silencing a guest speaker on an academic soil was viewed as repugnant
by many.This event was brought up by several journalists long after it
occurred. On August 24, 1994, Michael Koren wrote in the Globe and Mail:
"...I speak of the radical feminist agenda that is based on
extremist notions and is articulated by a tiny, elitist group who claim
to speak for the mass of women but in fact represent a zealous few...Who
could forget the repugnant scenes of extremists screaming and whistling
into silence the professor of psychiatry trying to deliver a lecture at
a Canadian University about the possible errors of suppressed memory syndrome?
Echoes of the nastiest of authoritarian regimes of the century..."
And almost a year later, Professor John Furedy expressed his critique of
McGill reaction to the protest:
"...McGill University failed to reschedule a public lecture
sponsored by its department of psychiatry after the lecturer was shouted
down by a group of feminists led by an academic-a professor of psychology
..." (The Globe and Mail, July 20, 1995)
The Montreal meeting was not to be my last encounter with Professor Kristiansen
and her group. In May of 1998, a long article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen,
entitled "Of two minds?" It was supposed to be a "debate" between Kristiansen
and her dead colleague from Carleton, Professor Nick Spanos, who died in
a plane crash four years earlier. (Spanos' contribution to the "debate"
was provided by selecting quotations from his published work by Kristiansen
and the journalist, Shelly Page. A strange "debate," indeed. I don't think
that Spanos would have agreed to have himself presented like this.)
Once again, a reference was made to my case. Somehow, even after so
many years of revelations of the harm done by the type of "therapy" to
which I was exposed, Professor Kristiansen and her co-researcher Wendy
Hovdestad are unable to accept the reality of women who recognized that
their "memories" were false. They seem to believe that we are true victims
of abuse who are, for whatever reason "in denial." They don't seem to ever
get it! In response to this article, I wrote a letter to the editor which
was published on May 31, 1998 in the Ottawa Citizen.
I am writing in response to your article titled "Of Two Minds"...
I believe I am the 37-year-old woman ... who was referred to in the article
(as saying her therapist made her believe in false memories of childhood
abuse). Firstly, I need to say that no one involved in writing this article
ever called or spoke to me prior to its publication....When I sought therapy,
I knew why I walked through the doors and presented problems I struggled
with. Months later, I was walking out with the belief that I am an incest
survivor. Prior to therapy, that belief was not part of my reality. I only
write this letter in hope that if another woman out there is struggling
with her memories that she suddenly has, that she finds some hope from
my words. This whole experience has been horribly painful, and to have
yet more women telling me that perhaps I am lying...it can be devastating.
To suggest that my past is just too painful so I decided to go with false
memory and then sue my therapist is ridiculous...Therapy almost destroyed
me and many others and I will not be silenced by the implication that I
was abused and that I am more comfortable with lying than facing it. The
reality is...incestuous abuse did not happen to me. Professional abuse
can and does happen. Please stop attacking the victim
My story is not about sexual abuse, my story is about therapy abuse. I
am once again brought back to the old saying about sticks and stones. At
one time women with loud voices scared me, but not today. When I was alone
in all this or so I thought, I was intimidated by anyone who spoke a louder
message than I had.
Today there are many of us coming out of therapy with very similar stories.
We actually have a name. We are called "retractors" or "recanters." We
have been embraced by the falsely accused parents, since we give them hope
that their children will also escape the therapy cult one day. We are ignored
by the proponents of the "recovered memory" movement. We are disliked by
the therapists who do not know anything else than to fish for "repressed
memories" and who have been handsomely rewarded for this destructive activity.
We are a very real threat for their pocketbooks.
We are viewed with suspicion with so called "researchers" who fell for
the "recovered memory" scam and whose professional reputation is at stake.
They try to dismiss our experience; they claim that we are abuse victims
"in denial." They want to examine our motives for retraction of our bizarre
beliefs we developed in therapy. It somehow does not seem to dawn on them
that for some time, we were living in an unreal world of "recovered memories"
of events that never took place, that we were encouraged to create "alters,"
and that we were terribly hurt by people to whom we turned to help. We
were the lucky ones, the ones who managed to escape back to reality from
the insane world inhabited by "alters."
What shocked me the most in Montreal was that women were attacking us.
What happened to supporting women's choices? How many of us will it take
before the Connie Kristiansens of the world get it? They may strongly believe
in their "recovered memory" cause, but they should not deny us, retractors,
to tell other women about our dreadful experience.
That type of therapy to which my friends and I were exposed is now widely
questioned but the attacks continue. Why? At any time I would be pleased
to sit and talk, as honestly as I can about my false memories, and about
the horrors of having "alters" created by hypnotic suggestions in so called
Perhaps if Dr. Kristiansen and others stopped dismissing our experience,
a solution could be found. Why does everything need to be so black and
white, have we not learned from the mistakes of others that have followed
such thinking patterns? Not a day goes by that I don't remember something
that occurred while I was in therapy, that kind of memory can't be repressed,
although I wish at times it could. The best I can do for myself is continue
on and trust that truth will prevail one day soon and that families won't
be torn apart because of malpractice.
In this book, I am not talking about sexual abuse, but about professional
abuse masked under the shingle advertising Help. If one's healing begins
with dishonesty, the truth will never be found. Besides, you can never
heal from a disorder you did not have in the first place. While struggling
to find words to explain what had happened to me in therapy, a friend told
me: "You are the much needed forerunner for a group of voiceless individuals,
victims of therapy. I love you."
Kristiansen and her friends can call us names and accuse us of being
"in denial," but when I lay my head down in the evening today, I sleep
knowing that truth is on my side and with truth comes the gift of freedom
for me. What others may think of me is quite irrelevant in the larger scale
of life. My reputation can easily be attacked, after all, there were serious
problems that caused me to seek therapy in the first place, but no one
can hurt my integrity. If I were to remain silent about the disastrous
therapy I ran into, that would indeed be another form of accepting abuse.
Today I am in control of my own life and I will not be silenced by people
who do not want to understand this dangerous form of mind control masquerading
* Nancy, is one of a number of friends Gail met in her survivor group,
several of whom have successfully sued their therapist for malpractice.
MAKING OF AN ILLNESS can also be ordered directly from
the author. Gail welcomes your comments. If you want to contact her or
if you want to order additional copies of MAKING OF AN ILLNESS please write
to: Gail Macdonald, RR #1, Box 56, Mckellar, Ontario, Canada, P2A1W7 Please
make cheques or money orders payable to Gail Macdonald.
In Canada: CD$ 9.95 plus $2.20 for shipping and handling
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Overseas: CD$ 9.95 plus $4.30 for shipping and handling
For more than one copy, add $ 1.50 per copy for shipping.
To arrange for an interview with the author, please call (705) 389-9988
after 6 p.m.
MAKING OF AN ILLNESS My Experience With Multiple Personality Disorder
by Gail Macdonald
Laurentian University Press, Sudbury Ontario 935 Ramsey Lake Road SUDBURY,
ON P3E 2C6
Phone: (705) 675-1151
ISBN # 0-88667-045-4
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