Oct 10

“Hector and the Search for Happiness”: A Shrink Needs Help

IMDB‘s headline-worthy description of the new film Hector and the Search for Happiness: “A psychiatrist searches the globe to find the secret of happiness.” Tagline: Everyone wants to find it.

A sampling of some actual headlines from the critics:

  • …Simon Pegg Woefully Miscast in This Imbecilic Waste of Time (The Wrap)
  • Search for happiness turns up pap in cloying ‘Hector’ (The Detroit News)
  • ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ not a blissful encounter (Los Angeles Times)

Hector and the Search for Happiness is based on a bestselling book by François Lelorda psychiatrist himself.

The Story

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: [It’s]…”about precisely what its title indicates. Hector (Simon Pegg), a London psychiatrist, has a successful practice, a lovely apartment and a charming and successful girlfriend named Clara (Rosamund Pike), and yet he’s dissatisfied with his life. So off he goes, on a trip that encompasses China, Africa and Los Angeles, in search of what it is that makes us happy.”

Some of the critiques have focused on the simplicity and unoriginality of the script. Well, maybe, as director Peter Chelsom has suggested, audiences just don’t understand how it’s being told—that it’s “kind of like a fable,” as star Simon Pegg points out to Nick Patch, 680News. “…(T)here’s a reason why it’s told in archetypes…It’s like, this is how a kid would tell you the story.”

The Characters

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post, introduces us to some of the people Hector meets in his travels: “…a hot Chinese hooker (Ming Zhao)” as well as “a rich, cynical banker (Stellan Skarsgard); an old friend of Hector’s who has become an aid worker after coming out as gay (Barry Atsma); a ruthless drug lord (Jean Reno) with a mentally ill wife; a woman dying of cancer (Chantel Herman); and a wise old monk (Togo Igawa).”

Before going back to Clara, he also sees old flame Agnes (Toni Collette), who’s now married with kids.

The Trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness

More About Hector

Peter Keough, Boston Globe: “So why is he not happy? In part, as a montage of whining clients indicates (Hector sketches unflattering pictures of them in his notebook as he listens), it’s because he’s not making his patients any happier. Although his indifference and contempt might explain that failure, he decides he must search the world and ask random people whether they are happy and why.”

About Happiness

Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post: “Spoiler alert: Happiness has to do with loving others and self-acceptance. If that’s something you have to fly to Shanghai to find out, save yourself the airfare and see this movie instead.”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: [The film] “…treats happiness as an easily-digestible cross-stitched homily, the kind hung as harmless decorations in people’s living rooms. It’s chain-mail wisdom, sprinkled with balloons and kitty-cat faces, forwarded by people with too much time on their hands. It’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-lite, and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ was already ‘lite.'”

Selected Reviews

Justin Chang, Variety: “Happiness means steering clear of ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness.’ A supremely irritating marriage of picture-postcard exoticism and motivational uplift…(L)ike an “Eat Pray Love” remake for men with too much time, money and existential ennui on their hands. Trite, flat-footed, culturally insensitive…”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “As beautifully filmed as the worldwide tour often is (the film was shot by Kolja Brandt), ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’ has an undeniable strain of poverty tourism, mixed with the insulting belief that those who have nothing somehow hold the secret to life.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “In its conflation of happiness and self-knowledge, ‘Hector’ often feels like the visual approximation of a therapy session. And just as therapy is work, enduring this mess is exertion, too.”

Aug 08

Definition of a Psychiatrist (Urban Dictionary)

If psychiatry is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders” (Free Dictionary), then the definition of a psychiatrist is one who practices in this field. Right?

Kind of surprisingly, given the iffy track record on behalf of social workers, therapists, and psychologists, one top entry in the Urban Dictionary seems to agree:

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD or DO, NOT a phd) who has graduated medical school and undergone at least 4 years of specialized training in mental illness and its treatment – be it pharmacological, therapeutic or otherwise.

A psychiatrist can practice in a hospital with very sick patients, or in an outpatient setting, such as a private practice or clinic.

Psychiatrists out there, I must warn you not to get a swelled head—there are many worse ones yet to come. Close by, in fact, is a definition of a psychiatrist that’s much less flattering: A dandified drug dealer.

An idea commonly held. Take, for example, the long-winded number three:

A modern-day cultured witch doctor who administers drugs and other ‘cures’ for mental conditions which more often than not only alleviate a patient’s symptoms mildly or at the very worst damage and cause irreparable harm to their brains. Most seem to be nihilistic misanthropes who are primarily concerned with their paychecks and the daily quota of Big Pharma untested drugs they can sell to misinformed and desperate people. In privacy, many of them likely sacrifice kidnapped children to evil spirits which ensures the continuation of their rotten and dehumanizing stranglehold on the psyches of those who have often times been subjected to quite enough pain and suffering in their lifetimes. The entire ‘science’ of psychiatry has dark ties to the elitist-backed philosophy of eugenics, which is obsessively focused on ridding the world of those people which are genetically ‘unfit’ by the ruling classes’ own godless standards. All around psychiatry is mostly a gigantic demonic sham and legal drug-pushing designed to rob willing victims of their money and remaining sanity and brain power.

Then there’s four: “A head doctor who gets paid to judge you. They love to make psycho babble comments to get you riled, then defend themselves with more psycho babble to make themselves sound more intelligent than they actually are. They like to affix imaginary disorders to people so they can write prescriptions for unnecessary meds.”

And it doesn’t stop there. Number five definition of a psychiatrist:

A modern-day version of a witch-hunter. In medieval times they used to burn recluses or anyone else they considered ‘different’ for being witches, werewolves or vampires. These days we have psychiatrists to put away people who are just trying to get on with their lives. They seem hell-bent on handing out drugs like they’re sweets, probably because they have shares in the drug companies. Psychiatrists also make a fortune by finding excuses for thugs, murderers, rapists and thieves.

If the practitioners of psychiatry aren’t generally well-regarded on the Urban Dictionary, psychiatry as a field fares no better. From that relevant page, here’s a part of one entry:

A profession that is seemingly obsessed with enforcing the status quo. Genuine emotional understanding, empathy, and deep interactions have been replaced by some supposedly ‘objective science’; a mere attempt to ignore the talent that some have with relating to others and medicalize emotions. Whether a person has a ‘disorder’ or ‘disease’ is not determined by whether someone has a visible ailment that has a specific biological cause, but by a system of observed behaviors that can wildly vary from psychiatrist to psychiatrist.

Another excerpt: Psychiatry is pseudoscience (fake) and a waste of money in society. It serves to control people, like religion, feeding them lies and absolute bullshit that they are expected to believe.

And another: A medical specialization satanized by people who have nothing to talk about and/or write self-help books. Usually they need mental counseling themselves, they just don’t have the IQ required to know who a good psychiatrist is.

Amazing how such unintelligent creatures can get through the required medical school. Then again, here’s one contributor’s dim view of said type of educational experience: any prolonged experience that includes alcohol, 8am clinics with rectal exams, lab coats with unexplainable stains, and unsurmountable [sic] debt.

Smarties need not apply.

Sep 13

Thomas Szasz: The Real Man and His Theories

It may be for any number of personal or professional reasons, including that one of my relatives was involuntarily hospitalized repeatedly for paranoid schizophrenia during my younger years, that I was drawn to the work of Thomas Szasz a long long time ago, even before I became a therapist. A psychiatrist and academic who wrote prolifically about the rights of those with “mental illness,” a term he rejected famously in his classic 1961 book The Myth of Mental Illness, Szasz died this week at the age of 92.

From his Manifesto, written in 1998 and made available on his website:

Mental illness is a metaphor (metaphorical disease). The word ‘disease’ denotes a demonstrable biological process that affects the bodies of living organisms (plants, animals, and humans). The term ‘mental illness’ refers to the undesirable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of persons. Classifying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as diseases is a logical and semantic error, like classifying the whale as a fish. As the whale is not a fish, mental illness is not a disease. Individuals with brain diseases (bad brains) or kidney diseases (bad kidneys) are literally sick. Individuals with mental diseases (bad behaviors), like societies with economic diseases (bad fiscal policies), are metaphorically sick. The classification of (mis)behavior as illness provides an ideological justification for state-sponsored social control as medical treatment.

He was against not only involuntary mental hospitalization but also “psychiatric slavery” and the insanity defense. He was for the separation of psychiatry and state as well as the presumption of competence of psychiatric “defendants.” For more detail on any of these, click on the above Manifesto link.

Although Thomas Szasz continued to write throughout his life, A Lexicon of Lunacy (1993) is the most recent book I have of his. In it, he talks about the misuse of psychiatric language and states that “the entire vocabulary of psychiatry is pseudoscientific slang.”

Yes, I did stop keeping up with his writing—but his views on the words we use as well as his efforts against psychiatric coercion and the over-medicalizing of mental issues (or what he called “problems in living“) always stay with me.

The truth about mental health and psychiatry, I believe, is somewhere between Szasz and the current medical model. Jeffrey Oliver wrote an article called “The Myth of Thomas Szasz” that appeared in The New Atlantis in 2006. Interestingly, when asked to reflect on his legacy, Szasz tells the journalist that he really didn’t expect to have a significant impact on the field of psychiatry. He certainly knew, moreover, that conventional psychiatry had pushed him aside a long time ago. States Oliver:

Although Szasz’s critique often became a caricature, his intuition about the limits and deformations of modern psychiatry cannot be ignored. Many sick people have surely benefited from psychiatric treatment, both ‘talk therapy’ and pharmacotherapy. But psychiatry’s long history of error — from snake pits to ice baths to spinning chairs to electroshock to lobotomy — should give us pause. Skepticism is not backwardness, even if Szasz often took his skepticism to rhetorical extremes…

After forty years of comparing psychiatrists to the scum of the earth, Szasz now stands as one of the biggest obstacles to his own ideas. It is simply too easy to dismiss him as an axe-grinding zealot, a ‘musician who does not like music,’ as one critic put it. ‘The atheist who cannot stop speaking about God.’ But perhaps a new generation of critics will arise — aware of psychiatry’s achievements but also its limits, leading us not to extremes but to a much-needed reformation of psychiatry from within, and a much-needed de-medicalization of human life in the culture as a whole.


If you talk to God, you are praying. If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If God talks to you, you are a schizophrenic.

Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic.

Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.

The concept of disease is fast replacing the concept of responsibility. With increasing zeal Americans use and interpret the assertion “I am sick” as equivalent to the assertion “I am not responsible”: Smokers say they are not responsible for smoking, drinkers that they are not responsible for drinking, gamblers that they are not responsible for gambling, and mothers who murder their infants that they are not responsible for killing. To prove their point — and to capitalize on their self-destructive and destructive behavior — smokers, drinkers, gamblers, and insanity acquitees are suing tobacco companies, liquor companies, gambling casinos, and physicians.

Suicide is a fundamental human right. This does not mean that it is desirable. It only means that society does not have the moral right to interfere, by force, with a person’s decision to commit this act. The result is a far-reaching infantilization and dehumanization of the suicidal person.

He who does not accept and respect those who want to reject life does not truly accept and respect life itself.

It is easier to do one’s duty to others than to one’s self. If you do your duty to others, you are considered reliable. If you do your duty to yourself, you are considered selfish.