Baer, Richard K.
Baer, Richard K.
Education: University of Illinois College of Medicine, M.D.; Northwestern University, master's degree.
Office—National Government Services, 225 N. Michigan Ave., 22nd Fl., Chicago, Illinois 60601-7601.
Psychiatrist and writer. Practicing psychiatrist, Chicago, IL, beginning c. 1978; AdminaStar Medicare Services, Chicago, IL, medical director of Medicare Part A. Former faculty member of the department of psychiatry at the University of Illinois Medical Center.
American Psychiatric Association (distinguished fellow), Illinois Psychiatric Society (former president).
Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Richard K. Baer's first book, Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities chronicles his treatment of Karen Overhill. Karen first came into Baer's office in 1989 complaining of vague physical pains and depression. Even more disturbing, Karen tells Baer that she suffers from a persistent memory problem typified by "losing" parts of her day and finding herself in places she does not remember going to or being told about conservations that she does not remember having. She also often does not recognize people who say they are her friends, and she cannot even remember when she has been intimate with her husband.
"The remarkable medical journey that ensued is the subject of Baer's new book, Switching Time," wrote Anne Underwood in a review on the Newsweek Web site. "It recounts the seventeen-year course of Karen's therapy in all its painful detail and sheds new light on multiple personality disorder (MPD), the controversial illness that afflicted her."
As he recounts his book, Baer recognizes that Karen is on the verge of suicide as he begins a series of treatments trying various medications designed to keep her alive while he attempts to discover the root cause of her strange complaints. Eventually, after gaining Karen's trust, Baer discovers that the woman had a childhood involving abuse and unimaginable horrors, all suffered at the hands of not only family members such as her father and grandfather, but also at the hands of so-called family friends. Even Karen's mother abused her, scrubbing her face with a wire brush for wearing makeup and burning her with a curling iron. Supposedly, Karen's parents abused her because she had surgery after her birth to remove a tumor on her head. A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to Karen's story as "a compelling account of abuse so repellent as to sometimes defy credulity."
Writing in Booklist, Donna Chavez commented that "there's a lot of grim experience to get through before the happy-ending unification arrives."
After uncovering her story, the author wonders how Karen has kept even a tenuous grasp on reality and sanity. Then one day he receives a letter in the mail with Karen's return address on it. However, the letter is not from the Karen he knows but rather from a little girl who tells Baer that she is seven years old and lives inside of Karen. Soon other letters began to arrive from several other personalities residing within the woman. Portions of some of these letters are included the book. Via hypnosis, Baer eventually discovers that Karen has a number of personalities, each with individual and readily identifiable personality traits, and that many of these other personalities exhibit a shocking variety of behavior, including a young boy with frightening aggression, an adult male who is Karen's protector, and a flirt who seeks to dominate others.
The author takes the title of his book from his discovery that it is only by compartmentalizing her pain, guilt, and fear—by what the author calls "switching time"—among her alternative selves that Karen has been able to function since childhood. The book follows doctor and patient as Baer tries to create a therapy that will make Karen a whole person. In the process, he must gain the trust of each of Karen's various alternate personalities in order to convince them that they ultimately must be integrated.
"This riveting first-person narrative … reads more like a novel than a case study," wrote Lynne F. Maxwell in Library Journal. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews wrote that "the author builds a dramatic, novelistic account of the years he spent treating … Karen.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Baer, Richard K., Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
Booklist, September 15, 2007, Donna Chavez, review of Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities, p. 12.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2007, review of Switching Time.
Library Journal, August 1, 2007, Lynne F. Maxwell, review of Switching Time, p. 104.
SciTech Book News, December, 2007, review of Switching Time.
False Memory Syndrome Foundation,http://www.fmsfonline.org/ (November 9, 2007), Pamela Freyd, review of Switching Time.
Healthgrades, http://www.healthgrades.com/ (June 20, 2008), brief profile of author.
Newsweek,http://www.newsweek.com/ (October 20, 2007), Anne Underwood, "Inside Karen's Crowded Mind," review of Switching Time.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/ (June 20, 2008), brief profile of author.