Truddi Chase and Bob Phillips have been working together for six years. He's the therapist, she's the patient who has been battling her way out of her own personal prison.
With Phillips' encouragement, Chase has written a book about her internal war -- a war over what she says are 92 distinct personalities housed in her mind. And now the two have taken their show on the road.
In city after city, the striking, fiftyish woman has tried to explain the horrible repercussions of the sexual abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepfather. Her explanation is not simple. She confuses many people and frightens others. She refers to herself as "we" and calls her various personalities "The Troops."
Small wonder she travels with her therapist.
Actually, Robert A. Phillips Jr., PhD, is a marriage and family therapist at the Human Sexuality Institute in Washington, and he specializes in treating sexual abuse victims and offenders. He is traveling with Chase to lend moral support and to provide the professional explanation of her problem. He has diagnosed her as having multiple personality disorder, similar to that experienced by other "multiple personalities," such as Sybil, Eve and Billy Milligan.
There are probably thousands of people in the world with multiple personalities, says Edward Bliss, a psychiatrist at the University of Utah who has treated many cases. "It's not that uncommon," he says. But he is reluctant to estimate how many people are afflicted with the disorder that was first described in medical literature in the 1800s. He does say the vast majority of the cases seem to develop in response to some sort of child abuse.
Two weeks ago, Chase and Phillips appeared on the Sally Jessy Raphael show, where the audience appeared sympathetic and interested in her well-being.
"How many of you come out in one day?" someone asked.
"We counted as many as 16 one day," Chase responded, looking nonplused.
Raphael's show stands in marked contrast to her appearance on Phil Donahue's show, which aired the following day.
"We called it the New York chain-saw massacre," Chase said.
Throughout the hour, Chase wrung her large, sinewy hands. Her expression was alternately blank, apprehensive, or angry with head bowed and eyes squinting. As always, she had a small stuffed animal with her -- "for the children." The well-worn little bear was pressed close to her hip, concealed by her jacket.
When Chase found herself at a loss for words, she rolled her head toward Phillips, who looked every bit the unperturbed therapist.
Donahue was bemused by it all. Ninety-two personalities ... I only have one ... Can you believe it?" he asked at the opening of the show.
While most of the audience seemed curious, many also seemed unconvinced.
"Do you have a job and if so, what do you do?" one woman asked.
Another inquired, "What's Mean Joe Green's (one of the Troops) favorite ice cream?"
The road show came to a halt this week, at least for the time being. Chase has gone back to Dallas, where she moved 18 months ago. She lives there with boyfriend, of four years, and a Doberman named Lurch. She has quit her secretarial job at the Southland Corp. and is working on a second book.
While Chase hears voices in her head, she is far from crazy, says Phillips. In her book "When Rabbit Howls," she writes of the acts committed against her and animals on the farm where she was raised in Upstate New York. In order to deal with such atrocities -- and to deal with the fear, pain and guilt -- Phillips explains, Chase's original self died and over the years, her psyche shattered into scores of new personalities.
"We are not a list of names, we are people," she said defiantly during a recent interview at the Human Sexuality Institute.
"The Troops" are male and female, adults and children. They have different voices, different handwriting and, until a few years ago, did not acknowledge each other. The Troops made the chain-smoking, coffee-chugging Chase confused and volatile, someone who often lost track of time and had a hard time concentrating on conversations.
Some people accept her story, but for many others, the pieces just do not fit.
Through the years of public discussion about her problems, Chase says, she has been accused of fakery, of being possessed by ungodly demons, of suffering from hysteria and severe PMS.
Most people have been supportive of her book "written by the Troops for Truddi Chase." It is part fictionalized autobiography and part therapeutic tool for banishing the skeletons from her past. "Somebody said we had an obsession, somebody said we had a dream," she says about writing the book. "It was both," she continues and now that it's done, "we can do anything."
It seems odd that the book is written in the third person and often from Phillips' point of view, though he insists that besides writing the introduction and epilogue, he never laid a finger on the main manuscript. Chase reads minds, he jests.
The early adult years of Truddi Chase are a mystery. She says she does not remember much and seems to have destroyed records that would give her clues. She has a daughter who is now 21, but she does not remember being in labor. She does not know which of her 92 personalities gave birth to the child. Nor does she know what became of her parents and siblings.
In the 1970s, she lived in Wheaton with her husband and their daughter. But Chase's erratic behavior eventually brought the marriage to an end. Chase, or perhaps the take-charge personality she calls Ten-Four, opened a real estate firm in the Maryland suburbs. When that folded, she became a free-lance artist.
In 1982, after unsuccessful drug treatment for manic depression with other mental health professionals, Chase was referred to Phillips. At their first meeting she told him she suspected her anxiety was somehow connected to her abusive stepfather, but she could not remember details.
She allowed him to help her search her memory banks through hypnosis and talk therapy, but she insisted that their videotaped sessions be used to train other therapists. Eventually she gathered the courage to speak to groups of sex offenders and mothers of abused children.
"You think about all the kids out there with no defense against anything, including the adults who are brutalizing them. We figured we could help," Chase said sadly.
What emerged during her sessions with Phillips were fragments of memory and different demeanors. Sometimes she whined and spoke like a small child, other times she cursed like a sailor or spoke in a husky Irish brogue.
At first Phillips said he was sure he was only seeing one, moody person, but over time he became convinced there was something else at work. Although he is a family therapist -- and not a psychiatrist or a psychologist -- he ruled out what he knew about schizophrenia and hysteria. "The more I found out, the more multiplicity seemed to fit," he said.
Phillips acknowledges that his training is not in diagnosis, so, "I had to trust my own clinical judgment ... I have been convinced by the Troops that there is not just one person."
Many professionals who treat multiple personalities believe their patients strive to integrate their personalities into one. Phillips said he is not convinced of that conventional wisdom. Says the therapist, "Who am I to have a definition of health that I apply to everyone? My job is to help people find what is healthy for them."
These days Chase says she likes her Troops; they are much more at ease with each other. She still seems to change personalities several times during a conversation, but the changes are much smoother than they were several years ago. She doesn't blank out for long stretches of time and she does not cry as readily as she used to when she talks about her past.
She expects good things in her future. "The old fear is not here to stop us," she said, adding that the last six years have taken her on a journey that few "normal" people experience. "Most people are scared to look inside."