Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Psychiatrists on the Silver Screen

By Rhys Bevan-Jones, Hywel Dda Health Board and Cardiff University (Institute of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences)

Psychiatrists in Film

I have a special interest in the relationship between psychiatry and the visual arts, film and multimedia, and I often use film clips when teaching psychiatry to medical students at Cardiff University School of Medicine. Films can engage students and can help demonstrate mental health issues, for example various mental states and disorders. It is important to be cautious and selective however when using films as teaching aids as there are many poor or inaccurate portrayals of mental health difficulties, although these examples can help promote discussion as well on issues such as stigma. The practice of psychiatry and psychiatrists have also been a focus of many films, and these may influence people’s perception of psychiatrists.

Whilst there are many ways in which to categorise the depictions of psychiatrists in film, some (e.g. Schneider in ‘The American Journal of Psychiatry’ in 1987) suggest lumping them into three categories. The first category includes the evil psychiatrist, sometimes referred to as ‘Dr Evil’. This representation dates back to the early 20th century German Expressionist films, such as ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (1920) and the ‘Dr Mabuse’ series. A recent example of ‘Dr Evil’ is Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins (another Welsh connection) most famously in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991), and by Brian Cox in ‘Manhunter’ (1986). A second category is ‘Dr Wonderful’, the psychiatrist who does everything to help his or her patients, although often becoming involved in their personal lives as a result. Examples include Madeleine’s Stowe character in ‘Twelve Monkeys’ (1995) and Bruce Willis in one of his more sensitive roles in ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999). The third category is not as well-defined, but could be described as the humorous eccentric, and is sometimes labelled as ‘Dr Dippy’. These representations are seen in the Mel Brooks film ‘High Anxiety’ (1977).

In which category would the psychiatrists in ‘A Dangerous Method’ be placed? It may be argued that they could go into all three. Whilst Jung does not accuse Freud of having ‘evil’ intentions, he argues that Freud is too controlling and authoritarian as the father of psychoanalysis. Others might see both Jung and Freud as ‘Dr Wonderful’ as they work tirelessly to develop their ideas and practices and help their patients. Freud also expresses his fear to Jung in one scene that he might be mocked (possibly as a ‘Dr Dippy’) and that psychoanalysis might be seen as unscientific, especially if he incorporates Jung’s ideas.

A crucial difference between ‘A Dangerous Method’ and the films referred to above is that the characters in those films are fictional, whilst Freud and Jung are of course two of the most famous and influential psychiatrists in history. The film might well influence people’s perceptions of psychiatrists (perhaps as therapists who analyse dreams and have impressive facial hair), even though psychoanalytic psychotherapy does not have a central role in mainstream psychiatry in the UK today. However it has influenced a number of other psychotherapies and some of its ideas resonate in today’s medical practices. Psychoanalytic theory has also permeated the arts and culture in general and remains influential in these fields.

Freud’s Welsh connection

Another important figure in the history of psychoanalysis is Dr Ernest Jones (1879 – 1958), one of the most distinguished psychiatrists to come from Wales. Jones was a close friend to Freud and his biographer. I refer to him because my SciScreen talk landed on St David’s Day and the evening was sponsored by the Welsh Psychiatric Society.

Jones was born at 12 Woodlands Terrace, Gowerton, near Swansea, and there is a blue plaque to commemorate this. After qualifying at University College Hospital, London, he became interested in psychiatry. In 1907 he came across Carl Jung, and shortly afterwards he met Sigmund Freud who soon became a colleague. Jones was president of the International Psychoanalytic Association for many years, and had a great influence on the development of psychoanalysis in the English-speaking world. In 1938 he helped to rescue Freud and his family from Vienna and brought them to London. He wrote Freud’s definitive biography, which is a major source for the history of psychoanalysis. Ernest Jones died in 1958, and his ashes were laid in the family grave at Cheriton church, Gower near Swansea.

1 comment:

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