About

One afternoon in 1989, Karen Overhill walks into psychiatrist Richard Baer’s office complaining of vague physical pains and depression. Odder still, she reveals that she’s suffering from a persistent memory problem. Routinely, she “loses” parts of her day, finding herself in places she doesn’t remember going to or being told about conversations she doesn’t remember having. Her problems are so pervasive that she often feels like an impersonator in her own life; she doesn’t recognize the people who call themselves her friends, and she can’t even remember being intimate with her own husband.

Baer recognizes that Karen is on the verge of suicide and, while trying various medications to keep her alive, attempts to discover the root cause of her strange complaints. It’s the work of months, and then years, to gain Karen’s trust and learn the true extent of the trauma buried in her past. What she eventually reveals is nearly beyond belief, a narrative of a childhood spent grappling with unimaginable horror. How has Karen survived with even a tenuous grasp on sanity?

Then Baer receives an envelope in the mail. It’s marked with Karen’s return address but contains a letter from a little girl who writes that she’s seven years old and lives inside of Karen. Soon Baer receives letters from others claiming to be parts of Karen. Under hypnosis, these alternate Karen personalities reveal themselves in shocking variety and with undeniable traits—both physical and psychological. One “alter” is a young boy filled with frightening aggression; another an adult male who considers himself Karen’s protector; and a third a sassy flirt who seeks dominance over the others. It’s only by compartmentalizing her pain, guilt, and fear in this fashion—by “switching time” with alternate selves as the situation warrants—that Karen has been able to function since childhood.

Realizing that his patient represents an extreme case of multiple personality disorder, Baer faces the daunting task of creating a therapy that will make Karen whole again. Somehow, in fact, he must gain the trust of each of Karen’s seventeen “alters” and convince them of the necessity of their own annihilation.

As powerful as Sybil or The Three Faces of Eve, Switching Time is the first complete account of such therapy to be told from the perspective of the treating physician, a stunningly devoted healer who worked selflessly for decades so that Karen could one day live as a single human being.

Dr. Richard Baer is Medical Director for Medicare in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. He had a private psychiatry practice for fourteen years and served as President of the Illinois Psychiatric Society.

Switching Time was released in hardcover in October 2007, and will be available in trade paperback on September 9, 2008.

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35 Comments

  1. Dear Karen

    How do you think your childeren were effected by you and your husbands illnesses?

  2. Hello Karen,

    I couldn’t believe you chose my question to answer. Thank you. How interesting your answer was. Tell me. I know I was abused as a child. Since I started therapy I am uncomfortable. I didn’t tell my girlfriend yet. Do you think I should? In one of your answers to another question you said your husband didn’t treat you the same after he found out about your past. I fear this may happen to me to. Should I wait awhile before sharing with my girlfriend? Thanks.

    John

  3. Hello Karen,

    I talked to my therapist and told him about you and this book and he agreed with your answer. I couldn’t believe how right you were. Thank you. I had been reading your answers to all questions and think you could be a advice columist for those of us who are in therapy because you know what it’s like to be a patient and you are not a doctor writing in doctor language. Who are you and what do you do for a living? I think you sound like Oprah. Does Oprah know about you?

    John

  4. Karen,

    I’ve been reading your responses and am so glad there is someone who went through all that you have and are able to help people in return. I’ve also noticed that you are an amazing writer, are you going to write a book? Because I’m sure alot of people would be interested in the patients point of view. It’s obvious that you’ve had alot of input with the book because the way you write and the structure of the book are fairly similar, but it would be intresting to get in your head since we’ve been in Dr. Baer’s already.

    Keep up the great responding and please keep writing because it really touches people and it helps more than I’m sure you know.

    Azkadelia

  5. Hello Karen,

    Therapy is going well for me. It’s not fun by far but is helping. Since reading your book helped me recognize that I needed professional help I can understand how certain things from the past stay with you as an adult. Such weirdness to imagine that something that happened to me as a child can cause me a problem as an adult. I haven’t gone through anything like you have. I expect my therapy to be short term. I didn’t share my going to therapy with my girfriend at this time but our relationship is becoming stronger. I think it’s because I can see where my strengths and weakness are. I would like to encourage others to go for help when something doesn’t feel right inside yourself. When you talk to someone not related it’s helpful and you can get a much better understanding of yourself. This is what I’ve come to know.
    Thank you, Karen for your abilty to share. Dr. Baer must be proud of you.

    John

  6. Hi Karen!
    I’m still reading the book (actually listening to it as book on CD) and finding it very, very interesting! I’m at the part where Katherine is about to be integrated. I AM SO SORRY THESE THINGS HAPPENED TO YOU! I’ve been wondering through this whole book if anyone was ever punished for what they did to you. The priest, the men who worked for your father and grandfather, the policeman, some of them have to still be alive. What happened to your friend Scott, and the little girl who lived near you, the one who was whose house you were at when the bad guys through the dead bird in the air? Why weren’t your brothers abused? I also wonder if your mother read the book. You are an amazing woman to make it through all you did. Thanks for reading my letter and taking the time to reply. Cathy

  7. Dear Karen,

    Have you ever been in love with anyone since integration? I found a copy of this book in the library and read it with awe. In times like this when so much sadness reaches each of our lives in some shape or form it was an awakening to read about a true life struggle as yours. It has me believing in life more than ever. Who are we? What do we need to survive? What really is important to each of us? What is in each of us that causes us feel lost? If you gave up what would your reason be? As we enter difficult times we all need to think back to why we are here? I pray you have found someone to love you. Love at this time is of utmost importance.

    The best to you and yours,
    Roberta K.

  8. Hi,

    What is your favorite color? favorite candy? favorite fast food restaurant? favorite actress/actor? favorite car? favorite homecooked meal? favorite old movie? I am in highschool and read your book after my mom left it on the table. I don’t know that she’d approve I read it but it’s too late. My mom never reads books and she did yours. When she finished she took a deep breath and cried. I asked her why and she said you were the most inspiring woman she read about and took my sister and I out to dinner. All she kept saying was you girls would tell me if anyone ever hurts you wouldn’t you? My sister jenny and me said yes but I still didn’t understand. I think I know why? I am fifteen.

    Julia

  9. […] Answers Roberta Comment by Roberta K. on October 10, 2008 12:39 pm Dear […]

  10. […] Answers Julia Comment by Julia on October 10, 2008 12:57 pm […]

  11. Karen,
    I just finished reading the book about your healing journey. It was so very touching. I admire your strength, and the persistence with which your system stuck to the task of healing. I also have DID. I am not a survivor of Ritual Abuse, but there were some aspects of your history that I could identify with. I really, really like the artwork provided by Jensen at the end of the book. The picture of Karl speaks volumes!!! And the one with the stars is heartwarming. How awesome that must be for you to have this record of your journey! I can’t even imagine what it is like for you to look back on it all. I am at the beginning stages of my therapy. I was diagnosed a little over a year ago. I wasn’t totally new to the idea. I had been diagnosed “dissociative” in the past, but never had it clarified, and wasn’t really treated for it. I was mostly just stabalized at the time. I read the chapters on integration of the alters, and I was just in awe. I wonder how that;s even possible, but I know it is. It’s really hard when that’s all you know. I could identify, some, with the feeling at the end of being “alone”. I worry about that myself, but I know I am very far from that point and may feel differently when I get there.

    Your story is an inspiration. I just wanted to come here and let you know how I felt about reading your story, and tell you that you are definitely reaching people with this text.

    Secret Shadows

  12. Hello Karen,

    How are you? Really? I’ve been checking this site on and off for a few months now. I am fascinated in how you manage to do this after all you went through and worried at the same time. I thank you for helping me through some tough times a few months ago. I respect you. I am checking in on you and letting you know my life is going well. Keep this blog up, you helped me and really are helping others, believe it or not.

    John

  13. Hey Karen,

    When you think about how your life was in the old days when people may have only needed to make three o five decisions in a day, when times were simplier and defined, how are you when bombarded with information and questions after integration of the alters who kept things separate? How do you deal with the constant noise of information and choices that may be difficult to get away from? In todays world with constant picture taking, cell phones, sound bites, computers and all the rest, how did you transfer alter ways into modern day ways? You must have had an incredible amount of shit to sift rhough. Are you done yet?

    Claudia
    Beverly Hills

  14. Dear Karen,
    Like many others I was diagnosed about six years ago. My husband and I have been dealing with it together for the last two years. It has been a tough road for me. I am just an alter who was created just for the sole purpose to have a “normal life”. (Whatever normal is) I fuctioned remarkably good for eight years. Once my father passed away my internal world that I didn’t know existed came crashing in. I was diagnosed not long after that and have been in therapy every since.
    I now have a wonderful therapist after many tries and am grateful. The problem now is I want my own life but insiders say I am not ready for integration. I am so mentally exhausted and physically drained. I don’t know that I can see it through. I feel that I may never intergrate because I have such a complex system.
    I struggle with the horrific memories I recieve these days and I in good moral feel my alters even though did what they did to survive are wrong. It makes me question my reliigon. I fight with if I will go to heaven or hell when I die.
    The reason I am telling you all of this is because I feel like you know what I am going through. This is the first time that I see my struggles in black and white and I feel they are real. There are some days I just feel it isn’t real and any mintue this horrible dream will be over. It isn’t though, I never wake up.
    How did you find the strength? I find most of my strength in wanting to be here to watch my sons grow up. I just worry that will not be enough strength to get me through the rest of my journey. I have so many more miles to travel and I am down to a mere crawl. Thank you for Listening.

  15. Hi Karen!

    This is great, you providing insight to your life before and after integration. I loved the mind tease your book gave me. It’s so interesting to read about how your mind set you up for survival purposes. I have these questions regarding memory. Do you believe in false memory syndrome and the possibilty it might have pertained to you? I don’t see anything that would suggest this and know how trauma experienced can make an ident in your mind. How would you explain your remembering all the details so vividly? Is this unusual or talent? Also how has your memory been seen integration? Do you have lapses or continue to remember all?

    Thank you,
    Karla W.
    Indiana

  16. Dear “Karen”,

    I wanted to thank you for giving me “Switching Time”. There are some elements in it that shed new light on my own life. The specificness of your memories are like what his memories are. My memories are much more impressionistic. The writing style you have allowed me to step outsdie of myself at a time when I really needed a break from my inside management. I love you even more now!

    Some favorite moments:

    I could relate when Holdon was saying how stressed he was trying to keep things functioning. The constant worry that someone inside would ‘out them’. The disputes about who was going to do what.. and the inevitable prefernces of someone who preferred to be ‘out’ or ‘in’. The gender issues when someone knew they were the opposite gender of the body and how frustrating that was.

    When you found the tie to give to D. Baer.

    AGreement is soo precious. To find something that everyone liked and appreciated is such a treasure. What it made me do was enjoy all over again, the wonderful gifts you gave me and the girls. How completely appropriate.. how full of love and appreciation. *smile* I get all teary just remembering all over again.

    The ending
    That’s the you I’ve met. The one after all the tears and stress and challenge of healing. I can enjoy you more now because I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet all the ones who kept you safe all those years. And I can appreciate you more because I’ve been blessed with healing too. I know the struggle to keep it all together and the bewilderment and the weariness of getting from one day to the next.

    Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.
    *hugs*

  17. Dearest Karen,

    One powerful journey! One amazing book! One great doctor! One particularily amazing patient!
    One question? Why do you believe God chose you to stay?

    Mary Jo

  18. […] Comment by Mary Jo on November 2, 2008 3:25 pm […]

  19. Karen,

    Please explain more about the gray rooms. Why was everything gray? How did your alter Jensen change this color and why? When you see the color gray nowadays what comes to your mind? The section in the book on this color changing experience facinates me.

    Lois

  20. In your early childhood years were any of the alters known to other people? What were your interests as a child? What did you wish to become? Were any other parts of you interested in art? What kind of art did you remember working on as a child? Anything left from those days? I find you inspiring and am interested in what fond memories you experienced through the magic of the many artists in you.

    Love the book, love your willing to share, love you.
    Violet

  21. Hi Karen,

    I have been diagnosed with DID and have three small children. My days are filled as you may predict. I try to set aside private time when my children are in school. This has worked in someway. My husband berates me every night when things don’t get done. I can’t do all and can’t explain why. I feel very worn. Is it worth even trying? The book gave me hope. I wish you could see all I’ve done after reading it. I am now on my own road to getting well. Thank you for sharing.

    Lynda

  22. Dearest Karen,

    During our church service today I thought of you. The message of the day required deep thought of how a child’s life can be changed with careful interventions. A catholic girl thrown into the mist of unbearable trauma. Where did your heart of kindness come from? A nun? A priest, pastor or deacon? Who inspired your survival? How could you find true love and happiness after the pain endured? Do you believe in an higher power?

    Rose

  23. Karen,

    This book tapped into my own past. I knew I was abused but never dealt with it. I am fifty six years old and don’t believe I could correct anything now. The problem is I have been ill from a physical back disabilty. The pain caused depression. The depression caused my past to come out. I need to take care of the depression but don’t want to address my past. What would help me, therapy or no therapy? Why dig it up? Is there a point? I am too old for this shit!

    I trust your advice because I read your answers to other people and know you won’t tell me off.

    Mike

  24. I read Switching Time in two days. Unbelieveably a harrowing story for you, Karen. The title should of read Karen’s harrowing story. What possessed the publisher to title it this way? Or did Richard Baer title the book? Was Switching Time the first choice title?

    I read with sorrow and awe. Richard Baer must have been an amazing doctor to take care of you. Karen, you must have been an amazing patient for Richard Baers practice. The two of you make up an amazing team. I admire you both. Will there be a second book?

    Betsy

  25. Hello Karen,

    The published version of Switching Time written by Richard Baer didn’t tell the whole story, did it? There must be more? If you were to write this book yourself would it have read the same? How would it differ? What would you eliminate and what would you include? It’s an interesting book but who chose how to represent your story? Was it you or the author, Baer? Was this book written in your best interest? I don’t think so. Has anyone ever asked you for your version? I believe there is another story here, isn’t there?

    Anonymous Author

  26. Dear Karen,

    I am writing this in response to your comment on my IMDb page. You’ll know me there as Talking_of_Michelangelo.

    As I can’t find a copy of Switching Time, I’ve placed an order for it.

    I am a survivor of another type of abuse, and although I don’t have DID/MPD, I have been involved in running a support group for abuse survivors, many of whom did.

    I’ve noticed above some concerns expressed that alters, once integrated, can return.

    Whilst I am not a qualified person, I have studied abuse and the various things it does, and I have never heard of alters being ‘resurrected’. I suspect therefore that this is not a problem.

    What does appear to occur, however, is that sometimes there may be alters hidden away that do not appear until much later. The difficult integration process may not succeed in integrating all alters, especially if they have not all been found.

    Thus if any symptoms reappear, it is very important to make an appointment with your therapist.

    I really applaud your attitude that alters and MPD are healing processes. I have the same view of post traumatic memories.

    I am in the early days of writing my own book on the subject of abuses by mental health professionals (I am a survivor of abuse by a debriefing counsellor) and so I wonder if it was nervewracking for you to await the publication of Switching Time?

    Cheers,

    David

  27. Merry Christmas, Karen and Richard!

    I read Switching Time and became fascinated with all of your accomplishments. How the both of you managed all that you had simply is unheard of. People really don’t care for that length of time.

    I wish you both a safe and happy holiday season. Karen, do you believe in Santa Claus? I had to ask for you seem to be the kind of person that survived on belief in the greater good of people. What makes you different will determine you future success.

  28. Hi Karen,

    Perfect answer to the question about Tara’s legs on the IMDb. It puzzled me. I picked up your book yesterday and started reading it late. What a tormented life you had, even your relationship with your therapist wasn’t all that great. I am half way through the book and felt concern for you. I never felt this way while reading a book and knowing the end is clear that the patient is alive. Knowing the ending is a relief.Hearing your wise and thoughtful answers has me wondering if your therapist is still there for you. If not, shame on him! Can’t wait to finish the book. Need to put it aside for today, it’s I-Day.
    Is it possible to add your answer about the legs here in your column?

    You go girl!
    Marcella
    LA

  29. Karen,

    What is the difference between multiple personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder? Why do you prefer to say you had multiplicty, use the name alters, and the words switching and losing time? Curious? Why is the medical field so adament about refering to this illness as DID?

    Psych. Major.

  30. Dear Karen,

    I have DID and two of my alters are causing me problems, seven are okay with therapy , one doesn’t like our therapist and the other one left a poem titled—— How to get rid of your therapist without killing him. I have a appointment in two weeks. Did any of your alters dislike and want to hurt your therapist? What would you do? Should I call and talk to him before our next appointment? I like my therapist. I am afraid of what could happen. Did any of your alters physically attack your therapist? Is a poem a threat? The poem read in a way for us to accuse our therapist to get him in trouble so that he’ll never counsel again, like falsely accuse him of something. I won’t share the poem.

    Name not necessary

  31. Karen

    Question: Who drove the car when the others were out? What would happen when an uninsured alter drove without a license to drive? When your alter Holdon drove you all around where did he learn to drive? I am trying to understand how the knowledge of something like driving a car transfers to the entire bunch? Can you or Baer explain? Did you ever get a ticket and blame an alter? Which alter is insured? I know my questions seem foolish. I’m just trying to figure out the driver part of you. Crazy illness but a fascinating mind boggling way to live. Great book.

    Thank you very much.

    Derrick from Detroit

  32. Karen, you lived in the Chicago area right? I think we were from the same neighborhood? After reading your story it made me cringe. I think you changed some things for maybe some protection reasons but if you were living in the Bridgeport/Brighton Park area than your grandfather tried something on me. I got away, sorry you couldn’t because you had to live with them. I lived down the block and we were childhood friends. My entire life had been spent wondering if you were alive. If this is you and you can’t reveal your self I understand why. I would be afraid to. If this is you write something in your answer to me that only I would know. If you can remember ? I think you know who I am. I never forgot you.

    R

  33. Hello Karen,

    In episode 9 of USoT Dr. Ocean freaked me out! What is your opinion of the therapy between Dr. Ocean and Tara? Did you therpaist behave in such a way? Loved your book, Love you, Love that you are here answering questions your therapist should be answering.

    Good luck always,
    Fred

  34. “Karen” Nice to see you after all these years. It was great catching up with the real you. I had a question that needs to be asked. Remember in High School, during our Sophmore year when a group of us took the test to see if we were MENSA qualified. None of us made it but YOU DID! Was that you or an alter? Have you been tested since? How about your children? That was a time, during the test, when I looked at you and swear you were different the norm. A program this morning prompted my question.

    Congratulation on your success!
    Love you, Take care!
    James

  35. Hey Karen, i read your book and its amazing how you overcame everything…i’m doing a report on DID for speech..i was wondering if you had information i could possibly use for that speech…if you could email me that would be awesome.!

    -Kristi!


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