The author, a psychiatrist, recounts using hypnosis to treat Bernice, a woman suffering from multiple personalities, sharing summaries of their sessions, letters they exchanged, and Bernice’s poetry. The story starts with Bernice’s hospitalization for a medication overdose (an event she denies remembering) and ends with her embracing a life of greater self-awareness, self-nurturance, and productivity–through a process that often seems to be a case of two steps forward, three steps back.
Bernice’s troubles stem from a series of traumatic early childhood experiences, among them her mother’s untimely death from cancer, her father’s subsequent relationship with a woman who treats her with cruel disdain, and their decision to send her to live with her sister and brother-in-law. The extreme stress of these events, coupled with the absence of understanding adults, causes young Bernice’s mind to take refuge in what eventually became nine different entities, ranging from the petrified child cowering under the porch to the practical, protective “Nancy” to the compassionate “dreamer.”
The author posits that while medication can be helpful in some situations, “hypnotherapy is useful for psychogenic conditions when there needs to be a reprogramming of the mental computer” Â¬– which he undertakes with Bernice, encouraging the more capable personalities to nurture the fearful ones; updating and correcting her mind’s perceptions, and gently encouraging Bernice to become fully self-aware.
A close reading offers glimpses of the author’s clinical skill and compassion, as well as insights into how the mind dissociates. But this reading experience is marred by pervasive typographical errors and stylistic inconsistencies, the inclusion of vignettes about other patients ahead of Bernice’s case (jarring, in light of the title) and a lack of dates or other elements that would help readers orient themselves among Bernice’s letters, which are written in many moods, at different times, and “by” different personalities. The cumulative result, unfortunately, is a book requiring motivation and persistence on the part of readers.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.