Book Review: “Sybil Exposed”

I have reviewed “Sybil” previously, it can be found here.

It may be helpful to read that review if you aren’t familiar with the story.

I was baffled at all the HIPAA violations that were shared within both books, more in this one than in “Sybil”. There were also so many unethical things that occurred, as in Sybil living with Dr. Wilbur, her psychiatrist, for many years. Dr. Wilbur worked for free with Sybil, paid her college tuition and other expenses.

Any medical professional that was known to do this now would lose their license and might even face criminal charges. I’m no expert in HIPAA but I’ve had to learn a lot about it due to working in mental health facilities and other various settings. I’m sure if I had read this at a different time, maybe when this occurred, I may not feel the way I do.

Sybil exposed book cover

Sybil, born Shirley, had a verbally and reportedly physically abusive mother. Her father looked the other way and until his death, denied ever knowing that his wife did anything to hurt their daughter.

As a young child, she began to escape these events through daydreaming and playing with dolls. At first, Shirley was thought to have anemia and had what was thought of as manic episodes. She was secluded at her home at one point and had basically shut down. Dr. Wilbur came into the picture at this point.

The author discusses Dr. Wilbur’s early life and her path into psychiatry. While treating Shirley, she developed countertransference- unconsciously projecting her personal feelings onto a client. This can become damaging to both parties involved.

In this case, Dr. Wilbur treated Shirley as her daughter instead of a patient. She was very unhappy about having to move to Louisville, KY due to her husband’s dental residency at the University of Louisville’s dental school. She knew that she and Shirley, by this time known as Sybil, would be separated without a plan to reunite. They didn’t see each other again, professionally or otherwise, until 9 years later, in New York City.

Sybil didn’t feel comfortable with anyone else helping her so she went without therapy until she once again found Dr. Wilbur. During this time, she got through with sleeping pills and positive thoughts, even though she had begun to have dissociative episodes.

The author pays close attention to detail and the research for this book was well done because otherwise there would have been many holes in it that couldn’t be filled. The story wouldn’t make sense.

Once the two women met again in New York City, Dr. Wilbur began treating Sybil again. This time, however, she became addicted to the various medications that Dr. Wilbur readily supplied- Demerol, Seconal, and other barbituates.

She began to decline, both psychologically and physically. You can see that Dr. Wilbur encourages this decline because she wanted more details for the book that she was trying to get published. She wanted to feed her growing curiosity, not really help as she had been entrusted to. At one point, she referred to Sybil as an “excellent research project”.

I’m almost certain had Dr. Wilbur’s ethics been called into question, she may have lost her license- Sybil worked for her, she bought her a pet, paid her rent- basically supporting her. This is not allowed in any way by today’s standards. Sybil’s parents died and even with an art degree, she could barely support herself.

Dr. Wilbur was beginning to tire of supporting Sybil but didn’t know what to do. The novel “Sybil” eventually came out and it made them a fortune. Unfortunately, her real identity was exposed, and Shirley moved from New Mexico, where she was teaching. People began talking and she became scared.

Shirley ended up in Lexington, KY, where Dr. Wilbur had settled. What happened after that? Did she finally find peace? Read the book to find out.