Mental Illness on the Screen

Psychiatric TimesPsychiatric Times Vol 24 No 8
Volume 24
Issue 8

Dr. Harvey Roy Greenberg briefly discusses the inaccuracies of psychiatry in today's movies and television shows.

I find absolutely no evidence that the portrayal of psychiatry in movies or on television has become substantively more accurate (Mental Illness on the Screen: No More Snake Pit, Psychiatric Times, April 2007, page 1). Gross distortions and downright errors still abound (eg, using propranolol as a "forgetting pill" in the courtroom on Boston Legal). No ethical practitioner would want a patient to watch A Beautiful Mind and think that the movie's portrayal of electroconvulsive therapy or insulin therapy was accurate. The Sopranos' Dr. Melfi is often held forth as a role model, but her "treatment" of the series' mobster antihero is riddled with egregious mistakes, and she intermittently betrays a startling lack of empathy.

I'm not acquainted with Dr Wolz's or Dr Zur's work in "cinema therapy," but I am generally dubious of such enterprises. Film and television drama is mainly crafted to tell a good story and to make money, not to educate a viewer on diagnoses, psychodynamics, or the management of mutual funds. Psychoanalytic criticism, among other critical strategies, does have a recognized place in the interpretation of cinema. Beyond this, one ventures onto very slippery ground indeed.

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