The woman who is 17 people in one: Karen Overhill

Many of us have heard of MPD or multiple personality disorder. There have been films made about the disease and it has become a popular culture trope.

In 1989, Chicago’s top psychiatrist, Richard Baer met a new patient, who had come to seek treatment for depression. Karen Overhill was suicidal and claimed to have lapses in memory.

Over numerous sessions, Baer discovered the essential truth:

Karen Overhill had MPD. She has 17 distinct personalities in her own psyche.


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Initially Baer opined how Karen was just a depressed mother, but he did not take any chances. Two particularly terrifying incidents besides her fainting thrice during her own marriage that led her to seek help were: her winning $25000 at a casino she had no memory of visiting on New Year’s Eve, 1989, and her inability to recognise her own husband and mother-in-law after a particularly traumatic C-section delivery.

One of the first “other” personalities that Baer met was a seven-year-old named Claire who claimed she “lived inside Karen” and wanted to talk to him.

It was after this that he took three years to study and know Karen better before medicating her.

It is more often than not that present psychological conditions are predicated on past trauma.

The case scenario here too, was more or less similar.

child abuse


Karen was on the butt end of child abuse, physical and sexual.

Perpetrated by her father and grandfather, it left marks on her consciousness.
They were the leaders of a cult that abused children. Karen’s father was later arrested in 1993, for 19 counts of sexual abuse, after he did what he did to Karen’s niece.

The most gruesome part of this entire thing was that the torture perpetrated was systematic and very ritualistic, which means it happened more than once.

gruesome part

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After presenting Karen with the Clair letter, he saw a shocked Karen who had no recollection or memory whatsoever of having written the letter; but she sure understood well how it was her who wrote it.

Most people develop other personalities or psyches to come to terms with trauma and pain, Karen’s case was no different either.

After receiving the Claire letter, she became more self-aware of her personalities.
She would often take the time to let them out freely for observation which of course was beneficial to Dr Baer.

She would have no memory whatsoever of everyday chores as they would be perpetrated by her other selves.


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Protection/immunity against pain comes at an expensive price however.

Karen was living a life shielded from her past thanks to her other personalities. But it took a toll on her memory and recollections.

She kept forgetting being married to her husband or things about married life.

Using hypnosis therapy, Dr Baer started talking to the personalities, only to meet a disastrous result: it was causing further damage to Karen’s memories.

Integration of the voices seemed like the only solution Baer and Overhill agreed on.

To quote Karen: “I began trying to identify the different voices I could hear, and came up with a list that I gave to Dr Baer. They included four children under ten (three girls and a boy), two teenage girls (Julie and Sandy), a 21-year-old woman, myself, a man and a woman aged 34 (Holdon and Katherine) and another very angry man.”

The personality named Holdon, claimed to be the leader and handed a memo to Dr Baer in 1996, suggesting an integration method.

Each exhausting integration ended with Karen unlocking some of her memories and also some qualities, like femininity or sensitivity.

Despite taking a long time, since 2001, Karen has not been into therapy and has been living life as a normal individual.

Her story is a true testament to just how much about the human mind is still unknown.



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