Marla - A Case Study

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Marla - A Case Study

Dissociative Disorder

Marla Anderson is a 38 year old, Caucasian, divorced, mother of two. For the past several years she has been taking courses at the university and working part time at a variety of secretarial positions. She lives with her daughter, age 15, in a small rural town. Her son recently joined the Marines. She was initially referred to treatment by a professor after reading an essay she had written about being severely sexually abused by her father, from age five until after she had her first child. Over a series of sessions her therapist noticed that her moods seemed to vary widely and she vacillated quickly from anger and irritability to severe depression. She frequently complained of headaches, sleep difficulties, dizziness, and breathing problems. She also exhibited several somatic symptoms including swollen eyes and painful and hive-like blotches on her arms and chest that could not be explained. She reported many inconsistencies. For instance, she vehemently denied that she ever drank alcohol; although she often found empty beer cans in the back of her car. She had gaps in memory which she couldn't explain, and she often felt suicidal.

Throughout her first year of treatment, her symptoms became more severe. It was about this time when her therapist received a call from a woman named Sharla who asked if she could come and discuss Marla's case with him. Later, upon questioning, Marla denied knowing anyone by that name, and so the therapist did not pursue the call. About two weeks later, her therapist decided to use hypnosis in an effort to bridge some of the gaps in Marla's memory. It was at this time that "Sharla" first presented herself to him. Sharla told the therapist that she had wanted to speak with him, but because he had not returned her call she was concerned that he did not want to hear what she had to say.

Upon awakening, Marla reported having no memory of the conversation between Sharla and the therapist. Session by session, several of Marla's "alter" personalities came out and introduced themselves. Each seemed to have a separate set of experiences and memories. Each was a different age than Marla and each had their own set of talents and mood characteristics. At first, the therapist felt that Marla might be malingering. Upon closer reflection, he realized that she had neither the motive nor the prior knowledge of the disorder to manufacture her "alter" experiences. He recognized however, that his experience in this area was minimal and so he felt the need to seek professional mentoring.

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