Musings about “Mr. Brooks”

•April 27, 2010 • 1 Comment

-by Alex

Mr. Brooks is a movie about a man who obviously has some sort of psychological disorder, but it is not clear exactly what it is. This movie shows how Hollywood takes advantage of the public’s ignorance about psychological disorders in order to make a movie.  Mr. Brooks seems to display symptoms from three psychological disorders: Dissociate Identity Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Antisocial Personality Disorder, but it is not too conclusive which disorder he has.

First, the movie is about a wealthy business man who is haunted by his alter-ego or evil imaginary friend, Marshall (the movie is not entirely clear which it is).  His “friend” encourages him to kill, seemingly random people, for fun. One night, Mr. Brooks obeys his killer impulses, and murders a couple.  However, he is caught killing the couple on film by somebody, and the rest of the movie is devoted to Mr. Brook struggling with this disorder and trying to best deal with the man who had caught him on film.

One can make an argument that Mr. Brooks suffers from Dissociate Identity Disorder.  There is an argument that Mr. Brooks seems to have split personalities: the compassionate man who is a loving father, a generous philanthropist, and hard-working businessman and on the flip side, the cold-hearted, meticulous serial killer who randomly chooses people who he would “enjoy” killing and then after killing them, arranges the bodies in some artistic fashion.  However, the problem is that, unlike most people with DID, Mr. Brooks has complete recollection of the things that he does, and at times he is able to control his other half, able to suppress it and not obey it. Most people with DID do not remember when their alter personality takes control and what their other identity does and rarely, if ever, are they able to control that personality.  For that reason, it seems doubtful that Mr. Brooks suffers from Dissociate Identity Disorder.

Another disorder that Mr. Brooks may have is Antisocial Personality Disorder, yet ultimately, this is unsatisfactory as well.  Mr. Brooks in his altered persona show absolutely no remorse for killing people.  In fact, he seems to get a high from murder.  He has no trouble lying and he mocks his victims as they scream in fear.  However, the problem is that he is only like this in his altered personality.  In his normal persona, Mr. Brooks struggles with the guilt of killing all his victims.  He has a understanding of what is good and what is bad, and he understands that what Marshall tells him to do is morally bad and that he should be punished for his crimes.  Because of this, I would say that Mr. Brooks does not have Antisocial Personality Disorder, since his behavior is not always consistent with people who have Antisocial Personality Disorder who have complete disregard for the rights of others.  Because he shows compassion at times and does show remorse and guilt after his murders, behaviors that people with Antisocial Personality Disorder do not have, I do not think that Mr. Brooks has this disorder.

If any disorder, I would argue that Mr. Brooks has Schizophrenia, but this is inconsistent as well.  Mr. Brooks can talk with Marshall and he knows that nobody can hear and see Marshall.  It is clear that Marshall is some created delusion by Mr. Brooks, and having hallucinations and delusions is a characteristic symptom of people with Schizophrenia.  However, he is missing some of the other symptoms of Schizophrenics.  People with Schizophrenia usually have disorganized thinking, decrease emotional expressions, depression, and inconsistent thoughts and actions.  However, Mr. Brooks is missing all of those.  He carefully plans his murders and meticulously carries them out so that no trace is left, thus showing that he does not have unorganized thinking.  Mr. Brooks also has a full display of emotions.  He feels fear, guilt, happiness, and sadness, meaning that it is unlikely that he is depressed or has decreased emotional response.

All in all, Hollywood seemed to hand-pick some of the symptoms of psychological disorders, but this hodgepodge of symptoms does not point to what disorder Mr. Brooks has.  Mr. Brooks psychological disorder is simply a plot device used to drive the story forward and create his character, and it is not an accurate representation of any psychological disorder.


Sybil and Dissociative Identity Disorder

•April 27, 2010 • 1 Comment

-By Fang

The 1976 film Sybil, based off of a book by the same name, is perhaps the most complex and powerful portrayal of DID that cinema has to offer. The dark ambiance is carried throughout the movie, and Sally Field’s depiction of Sybil truly emphasizes the fear and anxiety that come attached to such a disorder.

The movie starts off with Sybil as a teacher who is taking her students on field trip at the park. As her class is about to get back on the bus, she sees an old lady pushing a little girl on the swings, which immediately prompts a violent, unexplainable image of another little girl being hung by her hands in a barn. When the scene shifts back to the park, Sybil is standing in a pond, without any idea of how she got there. With no further explanation, the audience is left to wonder what might be wrong with Sybil.

At home, Sybil dissociates multiple times, waking up each time to a room of scattered and overturned furniture. Finally, she wakes up at a psychiatrist’s office, being told that she cut herself on some broken glass. The audience is introduced to Dr. Wilbur, who through her diagnostic tests elicit multiple identity shifts within Sybil. Sybil confides in Dr. Wilbur about her problems, and after she leaves, meets with her father to ask for money to pay for treatment with Wilbur. When her father refuses, she dissociates violently and storms out.

One night, Dr. Wilbur gets a frantic call from a girl named Vicky, who says that Sybil is going to kill herself. When Dr. Wilbur gets up to Sybil’s apartment, she witnesses several more identity shifts, and decides to take Sybil under her care without payment. A few days later, Vicky (a split identity of Sybil) walks into Dr. Wilbur’s office, claiming that she is Sybil’s friend. When she reveals that there are “others” who live with Sybil, Dr. Wilbur takes the opportunity to extract more information from Vicky. Over the next few months, Dr. Wilbur establishes her relationship with both Sybil and “Vicky”, and is able to make significant ground on her patient.

Finally, Dr. Wilbur confronts Sybil about her problem, and convinces her to undergo hypnosis so she could discover her other personalities. Things seem to be going thoroughly well, until she meets the identity of her mother, upon which she screams and soon after dissociates into a baby. However, she recovers, and the next time she undergoes hypnosis, she recalls an incident when her mother drags up her up to the roof of her barn by her hands, and then locks her in a cabinet.

When Sybil wakes up, she tells Dr. Wilbur that she was making the whole thing up, and that she doesn’t really have multiple identities. She appears to not act negatively towards certain cues, and is a lot more lucid about her own past. However, Dr. Wilbur theorizes that all the identities have “banded together” to keep her from uncovering what is underneath. She decides visits Sybil’s old town and speaks to the doctor that resided over Sybil when she was a child. There, she discovers that Sybil’s mother had paranoid schizophrenia, and the doctor admits that he simply ignored the vast and peculiar nature of injuries that Sybil had received.

When Dr. Wilbur returns and confronts Sybil about these things, she admits to having tried to deceive her before. They undergo their last session of hypnosis, where Sybil recalls her mother having sexually abused her by cutting her vagina with a knife. She awakens to rage and bitterness, which Dr. Wilbur tells her to accept. The movie ends with all the different identities of Sybil walking towards her and embracing.

As with typical cases of DID, Sybil’s disorder spawned from extreme childhood abuse and trauma. Her violent, psychotic mother and neglectful father leaves such a scar in her past that her mind tore itself into several different pieces to isolate the pain. The film is accurate in its portrayal of DID as a psychological coping method; Dr. Wilbur mentions many times that Sybil’s different “friends” are there to protect and take action when she herself cannot. Moreover, the movie does a great job of depicting the symptoms of DID. Sybil’s auditory hallucinations, which the audience can hear, pervade throughout the majority of the film. Furthermore, she is extremely anxious about her amnesia and loss of time – “Once, I went to sleep, and when I woke up, I was two years older”. Sybil also has several negative reactions towards unexplainable phobias, including the color purple, induced by the crayon that she had with her when her mother locked her in the barn. Finally, the film incorporates several brief traumatic flashbacks by shifting from the third person to Sybil’s view; these split-second clips, especially the earlier ones, help set the troubled and ominous tone of the entire film.

The interaction between Dr. Wilbur and Sybil’s different identities presents a fairly accurate portrayal of the diagnosis and treatment of DID. The initial screening tests that Dr. Wilbur performs encourage the young girl’s mind to dissociate; she does this by presenting her with a myriad of questions, pictures, and scents that Sybil might have associated with trauma. In the psycho-therapeutic sessions, she confronts Sybil’s old experiences with questions such as “Why can’t you talk about what happened in the green kitchen?”. Finally, she employs the use of clinical hypnosis to aid Sybil in unlocking her past and her repressed anger and anxiety.

All in all, Sybil is an emotionally charged and highly powerful film that accurately portrays the suffering and eventual treatment of DID. It’s critical acclaim and public recognition gave a face and a story to DID, and shortly after the release of the film diagnoses for the disorder exploded. Whether or not these diagnoses were spurred mainly by media frenzy is still a matter of controversy, but it is undeniable that Sybil played an important role in helping DID victims gain the respect and empathy of the public.

Dissociative Identity Disorder – General Facts

•April 24, 2010 • Leave a Comment

-by Fang

In brief summary, dissociative identity disorder, commonly referred to as DID, is a psychiatric disorder in which the sufferer displays multiple split personalities that each behave differently under similar environments. Non-psychologists often confuse DID with schizophrenia, which have separate symptoms, but may occur in victims of DID. For a patient to be recognized as having DID, at least two distinguishable identities must be found present within his or her behavior; furthermore, the memories formed by one identity is not accessible to other identities within the individual.

Sufferers from DID exhibit a wide range of symptoms, many of which are related to the cohabitation of distinct identities. Such symptoms include unexplainable headaches and pains, unfounded phobias, memory loss, and distortion of time relative to the sufferer. Moreover, DID is associated with an array of other psychotic illnesses, including depersonalization, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. Furthermore, there exists a strong link between DID and depression, and it is generally agreed upon that there is a causal relationship between the two. Interestingly, although there are strong amnesic barriers between the identities, they often interact with each other; this often leads to auditory hallucinations in which other personalities might speak directly to the personality currently inhabiting the individual.

To diagnose DID, psychiatrists often perform screening structures, such as SCID-D or DDIS. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV for Dissociative Disorders, abbreviated SCID-D, evaluates the patient’s past experiences to uncover possible dissociative psychoses. DDIS, which stands for Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule, is another structured screening process which distinguishes between the type(s) of dissociative disorders within the individual. Most of these interview processes attempt to elicit an identity shift during the screening; to encourage such shifts, questions are often geared towards areas of the brain in which hidden personalities have evoked amnesic barriers. Furthermore, to complement such interviews, psychiatrists will oftentimes facilitate such identity shifts through the use of drugs or hypnosis.

Causes of DID are most often associated with, but not limited to, childhood trauma. Most notably, the disorder can be onset by abuse from a trusted caregiver, whether physically, mentally, or sexually. While these experiences may not lead immediately to DID, they may be stored within the subconscious and later arise to induce multiple identities. Under stressful situations, sufferers will involuntarily use dissociation as a coping mechanism; the walled-off experiences later manifest themselves as separate identities.

The most popular treatment for DID is psychotherapy; psychiatrists gradually ease the patient into the unpleasant or traumatic experience, such that they are eventually able to reconcile themselves with it. Such therapy is done with extreme wariness and care, so that anxiety does not overwhelm the patient and evoke identity shifts. Oftentimes, therapy is supplemented by hypnosis, which can be used to unlock amnesic barriers and give the patient more familiarity with his or her identities. Finally, medication and ECT may be used to relieve the patient of secondary symptoms of DID, including depression and anxiety.

A disorder with as remarkable of symptoms as those of DID has inevitably caught the interest and curiosity of the public. Sybil, a 1976 film about a girl with sixteen different identities, gained widespread cinematic praise and the character has arguably become the face of DID. More recently, the 1999 film Fight Club, which reveals the main character and his friend to have been the same person all along, has become a cult favorite. The character of Gollum from the prominent Lord of the Rings series seems to split into two personalities, symbolically illustrating man’s struggle between his good and evil.

Musings about “A Clockwork Orange”

•April 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

-by Alex

Going into the movie, I didn’t know much about this movie except that its main character, Alex DeLarge, has often been described as having Antisocial Personality Disorder, and that the late Heath Ledger had used this movie as inspiration for his role as the Joker in the “Dark Knight.”  As it turns out, the movie not only had an interesting, though very disturbing, portrayal of a person who has antisocial personality disorder, but it also was a movie about psychology, more specifically a critique of Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism.  There is a lot of violence and nudity in this film and it definitely is rather bizarre.  However, it’s an interesting take on the potential dangerous effects of behaviorism on humanity and it has an accurate portrayal of a person with antisocial personality disorder, so I would recommend it on those two levels.  If you do plan on watching it some time in the future, stop reading as there will be spoilers below.

In this movie, we first meet Alex DeLarge, a teenager who leads a gang who is just about to begin a night of the “old ultra-violence.”  As his friends embark out, they first meet a homeless man and mercilessly beats the man simply because the man annoyed Alex.  Afterwards, Alex and his gang stumbles in on another gang gang-raping a young women, and simply engages the rival gang in a fight for the sake of fighting not, as one would expect, to rescue the young women (he in fact seems to even make fun of her plight as a way to spur the other gang to fight).  After savagely beating up the rival gang and Alex and his friends steal a car and driving down a country road at reckless speeds play “hogs of the road,” which as you may guess involves driving in the middle of road and pushing other drivers to the side.  Eventually, the gang reaches a house where after tricking the homeowner to let them in, they savagely beat the man and rape the man’s wife all the while singing “Singing in the Rain.”  Another night, Alex murders another women (during the fight he had with her, he seemed to toy around with her until he finally had enough fun and then brutally bludgeoned her to death), and shows little emotion (except joy) until he hears police sirens and begins to fear that he may be caught.  Alex is caught and placed in prison, and the rest of the movie describes his conditioning process and how he is conditioned to pair violence with feeling of nausea and pain.

The interesting thing about the gang Alex is part of is that Alex seems to be the only one who has the disorder.  The other gang members engage in violence, but mainly they are simply his goons, mainly doing whatever that he asks them to.  They are shown caring about other members of the group, trying to appeal to Alex to be fair and not treat another group member so badly, and do not engage in the reckless driving or the rape of the woman, instead simply standing by and helping Alex do those things.  It is clear that it is Alex that is the one prone to violence and sex and the other members are simply there to tag along.  Another thing that I thought the movie did extremely well was portray Alex as a compulsive liar.  In the beginning, he is seen lying to just about everyone whether it be the people at the home he is about to rob, his parents, the girls that he seduces, his social worker, the police, and even the chaplain at the prison.   By the end of the film, I was never sure if the words that came out of Alex’s mouth were lies or not even after he had been “cured”.

Drawing it all back to Antisocial Personality Disorder, we see that Alex displays all the symptoms of the disorder.  He is prone to violence and actually enjoys inflicting pain on others and does not feel any remorse or guilt afterward, and he is a compulsive liar and thief.    He is reckless on the road and does not mind that other people have to drive off the road in order to avoid him, thus showing his complete disregard to the rights of others or the rules of society. The movie does an excellent job of showing all of this and accurately portraying Alex as a person who has Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Of course, as I mentioned above, this film is much more than simply a movie about a psychological disorder, which admittedly is only in the beginning.  The movie does have things to say about radical behaviorism, free will, and morality, and it is an interesting piece of film.  The movie was creepy and disturbing at times (there is definitely good reason why it was rated X for a while), but as I said above, it certainly does give the viewer things to think about.

Antisocial-Personality Disorder General Facts

•April 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

-by Alex

-What is Antisocial-Personality Disorder

Antisocial-Personality Disorder is a mental disorder that causes the person to be unable to distinguish between right and wrong and the rights of others. The behavior is typically criminal as people with the disorder often will manipulate, exploit, and violate the rights of others with little remorse and guilt.

-What are the symptoms to Antisocial-Personality Disorder

These are a few common symptoms of Antisocial-Personality Disorder: breaking the law frequently, persistent lying, stealing, disregarding the safety of others, not showing any guilt or remorse for harming others, repeatedly violating the rights of others, and having a lack of behavioral controls (easily becoming irritated and annoyed and quick to aggression and anger)

Symptoms usually peak late teens and early adulthood.

-Who gets Antisocial-Personality Disorder?

There does not seem to be a common trend of who develops this mental disorder.  Usually, there is evidence of the disorder before the age of 15, but experts do not diagnose people until at least the age of 18.  It is hard to quantify how many people have Antisocial-Personality Disorder.  It is estimated that 3% of men have the disorder and 1% of women have it.

-What are the causes to Antisocial-Personality Disorder?

As with most Personality Disorders, the causes of the disorder are still unknown.  The currently held model is that there are both genetic (people are more likely to develop the disorder if one of the parents have it) and environmental factors (such as growing up in an abusive environment).  It is believed that one may have a genetic predisposition toward the developing the disorder but the actual development of the disease is triggered by one’s life situation.  This model, though, is not strongly supported.

-How is Antisocial-Personality Disorder treated?

Currently, there is not an effective way to treat Antisocial-Personality Disorder, and most patients do not actively or voluntarily seek help.  Psychotherapy is commonly used to help treat the disorder.  Patients are sometimes asked to take medications to relieve some of the symptoms of the disorder such as mood-stabilizing medications or anti-anxiety medications.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder General Facts

•April 19, 2010 • Leave a Comment

-by Alex

-What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that is characterized by unwanted thoughts that produce anxiety and repeated behaviors that try to remove the anxiety.  Obsessions are defined as intrusive and irrational thoughts (example: constantly thinking that one left the stove on) that may cause anxiety in the OCD patient, and compulsions are repeated rituals meant to decrease the anxiety.  Although everybody may exhibit these symptoms at some point, OCD patients are plagued with obsessions and compulsive to the point where it begins to severely interfering with one’s life (example: taking a two hour shower everyday in order to stay clean).

-What are the symptoms to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The symptoms of OCD are uncharacteristic amount of obsessions and compulsions that usually take up over one hour per day.  Several common obsessions include: a fear of harm to yourself or a loved one, a need to do things perfectly, and a fear of getting dirty and infected.  Some common compulsives acts include: washing and checking over things multiple times despite having done so already, counting while doing another compulsive action, moving things in a “perfect” order, hoarding, and repeating things verbally.

-Who gets Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2% of the US population will suffer through OCD at some point in their life and according to the International OCD Foundation about 2-3 million American adults currently have OCD.

OCD typically begins to appear in people either when they are a child between the ages 10 to 12 or during their late teens and early adulthood, but OCD can start at any time from preschool to adulthood.

-What are the causes to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Scientists still do not know the exact cause of OCD, but there are several hypotheses.

There has a lot of research showing a link between OCD and abnormalities with serotonin machinery.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which plays a part in regulating anxiety and communicating between neurons.  The current proposed model is that OCD patients have defective serotonin receptors where the receptors are unable to bind serotonin, which results in those receptors being understimulated and thus unable to regulate anxiety.   It has been proposed that a brain injury may result in this condition, but the results have been far from being conclusive.

There also seems to be a genetic component to OCD as people with OCD typically had someone before them who had the same disorder (if you have OCD, there seems to be 25% chance that one of your immediate family members will have it).  It has been proposed that there may be a mutation in the genes that encode for serotonin machinery.  However, mutated genes do not explain the entire picture, and some scientists have proposed that environmental factors such as illnesses and ordinary life stresses may combine with these mutated genes to lead to OCD symptoms.

-How is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder treated?

There is treatment available for people, but unfortunately, there is no cure.  OCD is a chronic disease, but the symptoms, if the disorder is properly treated, may be decreased dramatically, enough so that OCD no longer severely interferes with the daily lives of the patients.

The most common form of treatment is to take medication, usually SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which prevents serotonin from being reabsorbed in neurons.  This allows more serotonin to bind to the serotonin receptors, which researchers believe allows greater regulation of anxiety.  Patients who take medication usually see an improvement in their symptoms by 10 weeks.

Another common form of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which involves the patient learning to cope with their anxiety without doing something to relieve the anxiety. For instance, the patient may be asked to touch a dirty object and then be restrained from washing their hands for several hours. This is done with the hope that the patient will eventually experience less anxiety from their obsessive thoughts and thus become less preoccupied with performing compulsive behaviors meant to relieve those anxieties.

Usually a combination of both treatment methods leads to the best results


Musings about “The Aviator”

•April 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

-by Alex

Aviator is an amazing movie (directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio) that tells the story of Howard Hughes, an engineering mastermind in the first half of the 20th century, in two parts: his rise to fame and fortune and then his downfall as his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) rapidly consumes him.  I really liked how the movie portrayed how Howard’s OCD destroyed his life, which detailed just how devastating the effects of OCD are and how if left untreated can bring down anyone, even the richest and most powerful people in America.  The movie portrays OCD in a very realistic way and drops several cleverly placed hints in the beginning of the movie that foreshadow Howard’s demise.  When Howard’s OCD fully sets in, we see many of the symptoms that are typical of an OCD patient and see how frightening the disorder can be.

Howard’s OCD starts off simply.  We see him, in the first scene, being lectured by his mom of the dangers of germs, setting in motion a future fear to germs.  As an adult, in one scene, when Howard gets uncomfortable, he goes to bathroom to wash his hands and he continues to wash his hands long after what most people would call sufficient and necessary, indicating his obsession with absolutely clean and sterile hands (stemming from his fear of germs I would expect).  His OCD continues to get worse and worse as the movie progresses.  Later in the movie, Howard becomes disgusted with a business partner for having an almost unnoticeable speck on his jacket, and refuses to speak to and look at the man until the man has taken a clean handkerchief, wiped off the speck with that handkerchief, and then thrown the handkerchief into a specific trashcan.  This reflects another symptom of OCD, an obsession with order and exactness, and this scene is rather strange to watch and is perhaps the scene where the movie moves to the second act, where Howard’s OCD begins to cripple his life. These scenes are the most chilling scenes in the entire movie and ones I won’t spoil for the reader.  Other symptoms Howard displays that are common in OCD patients include: an inability to control what he says (constantly repeating the same phrase and being unable to stop saying it), collecting completely useless things (empty milk bottles full of his urine), refusing to shake hands and touch doorknobs, being fearful of seemingly insignificant things (afraid that his accountant is wiretapping his phone lines), and a need for order and symmetry (refusing to eat a plate of food after someone took a pea from it, which ruined the exact placement of the other peas).

This is a great movie to learn about OCD, since the movie’s main goal is to show the devastating effects of OCD on an individual.  It is a exciting and chilling ride through the life of one of America’s most influential men and I definitely would recommend the movie regardless of one’s interest in OCD.