Are you familiar with this relatively new show, the United States of Tara?
When I first heard about it, a comedy centering around an individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I was concerned. The media misrepresentations of this disorder have long been a pet peeve of mine. I have specialized in treating this manifestation of complex trauma since it was called Multiple Personality Disorder. Unfortunately, mental health issues in general are still so stigmatized in our culture, resulting in an additional barrier to seeking services for some. Misunderstandings, sensationalism and myths abound regarding this disorder. My fear was that this show would make the person suffering from this disorder the butt of a series-long joke!
Would this program further awareness and understanding? My hope for this possibility was raised by learning that Dr Richard Kluft, a respected expert in this field, served as a consultant.
I recently received the latest edition of the Sidran Traumatic Stress Newsletter. Clearly others in the field are asking these same questions.
Some concerns raised have to do with the very dramatic and obvious switching between alter personality states that takes place on the show. It has also been my experience that this sort of presentation is the exception rather than the rule. DID most often functions to protect the individual by adapting to external settings in order to protect the person ‘s internal world . For example, very often all parts of a person are able to answer to the same name and present parts that are able to function in different settings (family, parenting, work). Many individuals with DID function well in the eyes of others and would never be identified as such. Another concern of mine is whether enough emphasis will be place on the origins of this disorder. The roots of this disorder lie in severe and repeated childhood abuse. Often our culture seems to overlook such systemic contributions to an individual’s psychological state.
Dr. Steven N. Gold has identified further potential problems for folks with DID as a result of this program:
- widespread skepticism among the general public and mental health professionals about the reality of DID
- the risk of hindering detection of clients with DID whose clinical picture is very different from that of Tara’s
- the creation of confusion and fear in clients with DID that they eventually will display behaviors as dramatic as Tara’s, or concerns that their experience does not really constitute DID because it is so different from Tara’s
I will be interested to see how this plays out and hoping for the best in terms of raised awareness regarding this issue.
Kathleen Young, Psy.D.