Cathy’s voice doesn’t change while she talks. She doesn’t suddenly act like an enraged killer or adopt a little kid’s voice. But in her mind, Cathy carries the identities of 20 different parts or personalities.
She has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). It’s the result of years of childhood abuse. Prior to treatment for DID, Cathy didn’t even know she had DID. All she knew was that she felt nothing — not even the will to live.
“People like to feel like they’re part of the human race,” Cathy says. “That’s how they get joy or pleasure out of life. I didn’t feel any of that.”
Yet for years, Cathy refused to accept her diagnosis. She feared it and so avoided DID therapy. “I realized that until I admitted that I had DID and I addressed my parts, they were going to keep making my life unmanageable.”
Unlocking the answers
Towson University psychology Professor Bethany Brand is leading the world’s largest study of treatments for DID.
The studies that Brand is pioneering show that DID treatment is effective: Patients have fewer symptoms, suicide attempts, and psychiatric hospitalizations. For decades, some researchers insisted DID treatment was harmful. The Towson University professor and her team have proven them wrong.
In other words, they sparked hope. DID is curable. Movies don’t tell you that, maybe because a cure takes so long. The average psychology treatment study lasts only about 13 weeks. But no one with DID gets better in three months. It takes years to overcome years of childhood abuse.
DID affects 1 percent of the world’s population. The same is true for schizophrenia, a condition belonging to a different psychological category. But when Brand started researching DID in 2009, there were 103,000 scholarly articles on treating schizophrenia and only eight on DID. Her team has since more than doubled that number.
The reason for the disparity is that very few mental health professionals even know how to identify DID, let alone how to treat it. People with DID are often misdiagnosed, leading to years of therapy that never touches the core issue. Brand’s goal is to change all that, and help an underserved population get better.
And if improving or saving lives isn’t a strong enough argument, here’s another: The results of Brand’s study show that DID treatment cuts health care costs.
Brand and her research team have developed web videos for therapists and patients. Used weekly, the videos — along with journaling and behavioral exercises — are helping patients diminish their symptoms, control unsafe behaviors and have a better quality of life. If the results hold over the course of her current study, Brand’s team will disseminate the program worldwide — accessible for free.
It’s research that Cathy finds heroic. “These researchers didn’t have to go into this line of work. To me, those people are crusaders for us.”
Dr. Bethany Brand is the Martha A. Mitten Associate Professor of Psychology at Towson University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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