When Karen Overhill entered psychiatrist Richard Baer's office in 1989, she complained of memory loss, and physical pain and depression. There were whole parts of her day unaccounted for, and she'd often find herself in places she didn't remember going.
Eventually, Baer realized Overhill, who was on the verge of suicide, had multiple personalities. Under hypnosis, Overhill's alternate personalities revealed themselves.
The book "Switching Time" documents Baer's daunting task of creating a therapy that would make Overhill whole again. Somehow, he had to gain the trust of all 17 of her personalities and convince them of the necessity of their annihilation.
Read an excerpt of this book below.
It's January 11, 1989, and I walk down the narrow corridor, past the two other therapists' offices, to the waiting room to fetch Karen. She sits in the corner with her head bent, fidgeting with her purse strap. She's twenty-nine years old but looks older; she's overweight, with a round face, unkempt short brown hair that curls at the ends, brown eyes, gold-rimmed glasses, and a jagged, semicircular scar running up the middle of her forehead. Her clothes are tidy, but her black cotton pants and brown top don't ask to be noticed. She wears no makeup or jewelry except a wedding band. She looks up as I approach. Her eyes say, Hi, I'm sorry, I give up.
"Come right in," I say, and she walks past me in a way that is slow, self-effacing, apologetic, and helpless. There's a physical and emotional heaviness about her, an inertia that seems old and solid.
I'm a young psychiatrist; thirty-seven is young in this business. I'm a little over six feet tall, with sprinkles of gray in my formerly dark brown hair, and I once had a gay patient who described me as having boyish good looks. I've been in practice for seven years, practicing part of the time in a working-class suburb south of Chicago. The patients I see here are mainly housewives who are depressed or anxious, a few middle-age manic-depressives, and several elderly patients with what used to be called involutional melancholia, the depressive illness that is common in old age.
I also see a few high-functioning schizophrenics and a couple of people in religious life. This is a good place to practice because of the wide variety of psychiatric illnesses I get to observe–and almost all the patients are covered by generous union medical insurance. I also have an office in downtown Chicago where I work the other half of the time, seeing my psychoanalytic patients and a handful of others.
This suburban office, which I share on alternate days with
Dr. Gonzalez, is in a brown-brick, three-story 1970s office building situated between strip malls, car dealerships, and fast-food restaurants. The office is sparely appointed. It has a large oak desk with two chairs facing it and a small corner table with a modest arrangement of artificial silk flowers, a gift from my wife. A window spanning most of one wall gives a view of the traffic on 95th Street. The walls are off-white, and the carpeting and furniture are a mixture of browns. Except for the window, there are few distractions.
Karen settles in the chair facing my desk and sighs.