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[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 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 or Dr. Paul Tyroler at PTYROLER@NICKEL.LAURENTIAN.CA.] 

Are you a retractor or affected family member? Would you like to share your story for online publication?  Click here.

Gail Macdonald, Retractor
Author of Making of an Illness

From the foreword by Dr. Campbell Perry
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, Montreal

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 to listen.

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 Kristiansen.

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 personality disorder.

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 revictimization."

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 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 "therapy."

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 as care.

* 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 $2.20 for shipping and handling
In USA: CD$ 9.95 plus $4.00 for shipping and handling
Overseas: CD$ 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
April 1999
ISBN # 0-88667-045-4
129 pages

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