Book Review: Multiple selves, Multiple Voices, Working with Trauma, Violation and Dissociation.

Phil Mollon.

Chichester, Wiley:1996. ISBN 0-471-96330-5/ 0-471-95292-3.

Phil Mollon, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist has written a clear and concise book about trauma and dissociation. Together with the book’s title, the dedication, ‘To the broken ones and to all who are committed to a healing science’, both summarises the book’s content and outlines the readership for whom the book is designed. The content of each of the eleven chapters is outlined in the contents’ pages and a summary concludes each chapter. The writing style is easily understood and, importantly for those like me with fading eyesight, the print is large, the page layout is spacious and there are no mathematical graphs!

Centring the origins of his concept of dissociation on Freud’s theories of repression and denial, Winnicott’s theories of the true and false self and Janet’s concept of dissociation, Mollon draws on integrative approaches in the work with such clients. Stating that respect for the client’s autonomy is paramount, Mollon issues clear advice to psychotherapists who work with dissociative disorders. He warns against attempting to recover lost memory, about the dangers of fostering false memory and of retraumatization in the therapeutic alliance. He writes that the ‘goal of therapy is the healing of mental or behavioural disorders not the unearthing of traumatic history’ (p.7) At the core of Mollon’s approach is the reassuringly familiar person-centred therapeutic relationship. He stresses that work with clients suffering from dissociative disorders necessitates listening receptively, responding thoughtfully and treading very gently and slowly. I say reassuringly because it is this approach which connects the therapeutic approach of the Integrative and Humanistic therapist with this author’s insightful book on Dissociative Indentity Disorders.

Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) has been recently renamed as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). However, Mollon consistently refers to both conditions simultaneously as MPD/DID. There is no indication which term is more commonly used, or by whom. Furthermore I am unclear as to whether there is indeed any distinction between these terms or why the label MPD needed to be changed to DID. Be that as it may and so that there is no confusion, Mollon wisely uses the terms together. It is this clarity of thought which distinguishes this book. Carefully conceived case studies illustrate each topic as the author discusses the effects of trauma on the client’s internal and external object relations. Chapters about considerations in the therapeutic alliance, body memory and the efficacy of varying therapeutic techniques lead the reader to the final chapter.

Entitled ‘Reflections on Evil. The Mystery of Deep Perversion’, Mollon considers the nature of evil, pornography, child sexual abuse and satanic rituals. This is a courageous chapter because of the difficulty which many readers have in acknowledging the existence of evil. Few will deny that sexual deviants who commit heinous and perverse crimes are in our midst. But many have difficulty accepting that some may be motivated by evil. Profiling ‘the evil one’(p.177), and acknowledging the possibility of a paranormal influence, Mollon concludes, ‘Evil appears to be an active component of mental life and not merely and absence of good. The source of evil is obscure’ (p.184).

Rather than leave the reader with haunting images of ugliness, Mollon returns to the more familiar environment of the therapeutic relationship. Stressing the two-fold function of the therapist as the provider of empathy and a ‘global workspace’ (p.186), Mollon ends  by suggesting that an understanding of dissociative disorders helps the therapist to ‘tolerate and last out the work while the healing process runs its course’ (p.187). This is an essential and eminently readable book for all practitioners.

Mary de Courcy works in private practice and currently serves on the Governing Body of IAHIP.