Mar 17

“Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” (A Preview)

Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian is that rare movie that apparently has a positive representation of a therapist, in this case a real person, George Devereux, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst who in 1951 wrote a book, Reality and Dream, on which writer/director Arnaud Desplechin based his script.

Also rare in filmdom: making day to day therapy sessions between two main characters the main story.

The Sessions with Jimmy P.

Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com: “…Jimmy and his analyst…form a great movie friendship, unlike any you’ve seen. Its specialness is rooted equally in the men’s culturally specific yet emotionally similar experiences (they’re both sensitive, wryly funny cultural outsiders) and in the old-school Freudian ‘talking cure’ that they pursue together.”

The Patient, Jimmy Piccard (Benicio Del Toro)

He’s a Native American Blackfoot World War II veteran who sustained a head injury that’s been healed—or has it? This man’s experiencing a myriad of symptoms that include severe headaches, dizziness, hearing loss, temporary blindness, and recurring nightmares. It’s in the Topeka Military Hospital in Kansas in 1948 that Jimmy P. gets referred to Devereux due to his specialization in Native American culture.

Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter:

…Happily, breaking another tedious film cliché, he doesn’t resist his doctor in the least and analysis rolls on briskly. Yes, there’s a traumatic Oedipal moment when little Jimmy sees his recently widowed mother in bed with another man, and on another occasion he gets a thrashing after being caught playing in the hay with a little girl. Then there’s the war and the accident in which he suffered a severe head injury. But ultimately, his greatest trauma involves his own mistreatment of his mistress and the daughter she bore him. Once that guilt is peeled away, a whole other level opens up of repressed anger over the prejudice and discrimination he is subject to as a Native American – another source of his blinding headaches.

The Shrink, George Devereux (Mathieu Amalric)

Deborah YoungHollywood Reporter: “…(H)e’s the analyst everyone dreams of – penetrating, sympathetic, every word a direct hit. For once the dreary, cinematically overused drama of transference takes a back seat to pure intellectual detective work as he sets up a relaxed dialogue with his patient.”

Selected Reviews

Matt PatchesHollywood Reporter: “A milestone case in the world of ethnographic psychoanalysis may not sound like fodder for great drama, but it’s all about who’s the ‘psycho’ and who’s conducting the ‘analysis.’ In the case of Jimmy P…(t)hese guys could read the phone book and make it interesting.”

Scott Foundas, Variety: …(F)ew films have focused so intently on the minutiae of psychoanalysis as Desplechin does here — an uncompromising strategy that will undoubtedly distance some viewers while drawing others further in.”

The Movie Trailer

Oct 31

“High Anxiety”: Suspense and Silliness By Mel Brooks

“High Anxiety”—as in intense fear-ridden anticipation? As in what many felt recently as the powerful storm Sandy approached? As in what many feel about the upcoming elections?

Or how about, as in an old movie? High Anxiety, a 1977 comedy directed by and starring Mel Brooks, parodies the genre of suspense films made by Alfred Hitchcock and takes place mainly in a mental hospital. Although back in the day it wasn’t highly rated by the critics, many viewers over the years have disagreed.

What we know at the start is that the head of a psychiatric facility has gone missing. Wikipedia describes the rest of the plot: “Brooks’ character, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, arrives as new administrator of The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous to discover some suspicious happenings. When he’s framed for murder, Dr. Thorndyke must confront his own anxiety disorder, ‘high anxiety,’ in order to prove his innocence.”

What exactly is this high anxiety that afflicts the esteemed psychiatrist? Exactly how it sounds (in one interpretation)—he has a fear of heights.

Who frames him for murder? Dr. Montague, a psychiatrist played by Harvey Korman, who’s in cahoots with Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman).

I saw High Anxiety when it was playing in theaters, and what stays with me the most, you ask? Ryan Gilbey, New Statesman, seems to know my mind: “When High Anxiety was released, viewers were familiar enough with the babble and buzzwords of psychoanalysis to respond instinctively to the film’s wittiest sequence, when Brooks’s speech at a psychiatric conference has to be spontaneously modified so as not to impinge upon the innocence of two young children who have joined the audience. ‘Penis envy’ becomes ‘pee-pee envy’; the womb is temporarily rechristened ‘the woo-woo.'”

Pure silliness.

I won’t give it all away, but Dr. Thorndyke does eventually achieve insight regarding his high anxiety—and said insight is faux-psychoanalytically oriented, of course.

The trailer’s below:

Sep 12

Over-Labeling: David A. Levy Spoof Gives It a Label

In the spirit of recognizing that things often defy easy categorization, I present an over-labeling (spoof) “diagnosis” proposed years ago by psychologist and professor David A. Levy in an article called A Proposed Category for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM): Pervasive Labeling Disorder.”

The main symptoms and features of PLD are as follows: “(1) an uncontrollable impulse, drive, or temptation to invent labels and to apply them to other people, (2) a repetitive pattern of trying to fit people into preconceived categories, (3) an increasing sense of fear or inadequacy before committing the act, (4) an experience of overwhelming triumph or relief at the time of committing the act.”

Furthermore, “Persons with PLD operate under the fallacious belief that, by having named something, they have therefore explained it. Research indicates that many persons with PLD are exceptionally adept at seeing in other people the flaws they cannot see in themselves…”

And here’s the kicker: “…(M)any people have found a means to obtain reinforcement for this disorder in socially acceptable ways by becoming psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychologists, astrologists, Scientologists, evangelists, cult leaders, authors of self-help books, politicians, and interview guests on radio and television shows.”

Usually people with PLD remain undiagnosed until they’ve reached “a position of social power.” Furthermore, “(r)ecovery from PLD rarely occurs once the person’s annual income exceeds six figures.”

Other David A. Levy Quotes

On a somewhat related idea to over-labeling, David A. Levy is also known to have said, “There are two types of people in this world — those who think that there are two types of people in this world, and those who don’t.”

And let’s not stop there. Here’s a collection of other quotes from Levy’s lectures on “Humor in Psychotherapy” (2007):

  • There are three things needed to eliminate human misery. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.
  • When a psychoanalyst takes on the role of a blank screen, all he really learns is how the patient responds to people who try to act like they’re a blank screen.
  • To the optimist, pessimists are neurotic; to the pessimist, optimists are deluded.
  • I used to fear that taking medication would change my personality; now I fear that it won’t.
  • To be neurotic is to spend one’s life perpetually replacing one worry with the next.
Aug 23

The World Capital of Psychotherapy May Be Argentina

Is Argentina the world capital of psychotherapy? According to the New York Times:

The number of practicing psychologists in Argentina has been surging, to 196 per 100,000 people last year, according to a study by Modesto Alonso, a psychologist and researcher, from 145 per 100,000 in 2008.

That compares with about 27 psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association.

And that’s just the psychologists, only one of several disciplines in which psychotherapists practice. In other words, what about clinical social workers, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, etc.?

Another (now unlinkable) source gives a broader breakdown. Stating that “Argentines are officially the most analyzed people in the world,” the report says there are 15 therapists for every 1000 residents.

Psychoanalysis has apparently found much popularity ever since Freud’s ideas emigrated there in the early 20th century. However, the other end of the spectrum—cognitive-behavioral therapy and other of the shorter-term approaches—is also represented in Argentina.

Apparently high fees don’t necessarily pose a big issue. From the NY Times article: “Andrés Raskovsky, president of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, recently asserted that psychoanalysis had little risk of extinction in Argentina since seeing a psychologist twice a week is still viewed as being affordable for much of the population.” When people can’t afford it, sliding scale fees and other types of arrangements are often offered; also, public insurance covers it for some.

One analyst interviewed about the wide acceptance and use of therapy in Argentina says that it’s basically about their people liking to talk—as well as liking having someone to listen.

Could it really be that simple? Probably not.

Maybe Argentinians are more in need of therapy than other folks? Unlikely. In one article last year (update 2018: source no longer available), two therapists who were both originally from the U.S. but now practice in Argentina observe that people have essentially the same types of problems there as anywhere. As stated by one, Steven Nissenbaum: “It doesn’t make a difference what the culture is – people are people. Problems include life transitions, relationships, family, health or addictions.”

Therapy is also big in their popular culture, with the TV show In Treatment, starring Gabriel Byrne as a shrink, currently being quite popular. In addition, on the “Broadway of Buenos Aires” you can now find a staging of “Freud’s Last Session,” last year’s winner of New York’s Off Broadway Alliance award. It’s about the conversations that take place when the seriously ailing Freud invites writer C.S. Lewis to his home in London.

Michael Tanenbaum describes the play for The Argentina Independent:

As the two men carry on their debate – Lewis equating psychoanalysis with intellectual religion and Freud swatting away God as an infantile fantasy – the conversation and circumstances take multiple turns in subject, intensity, and competitive edge, bringing the men together at a historically fateful moment…

God, love, sex, and the meaning of life may be suitable tag words for this play, but overwhelmingly it is a display of the walls we build up and break down in dialogue with ourselves and others.

Another hit play “Toc Toc,” about six characters with obsessive-compulsive disorder who meet in their psychiatrist’s waiting room, is also currently playing.

World capital of psychotherapy? Certainly in the running.

Jun 29

Nora Ephron, Heroine Known For Her Humorous Writing

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron

This is just one of many serious quotes that have been attributed to writer Nora Ephron (1941-2012), who died this week after a secret battle with leukemia.

But Nora Ephron was also known for her sense of humor. And one of her friends has publicly noted that even as Ephron was dying, she was still cracking jokes. Not that she wasn’t also showing sadness. She could do both.

“My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.”

I don’t know if she was ever in therapy, but she did seem therapy-oriented in some ways. For example, in her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Heartburn (1983), group therapy figured prominently. The movie version, which featured Meryl Streep as lead character Rachel, contained a scene in which she and others get robbed during a session.

Actually, it’s quite possible that in real life Nora Ephron spurned shrinkage in favor of something else. According to the New York Times, she once said about her choice to engage in twice-a-week professional blow-drying of her hair:

“It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis and much more uplifting.”

Also on the topic of hair, she had stated:

“…the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”

Other Nora Ephron quotes of interest:

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.

[A successful parent is one] who raises a child who grows up and is able to pay for his or her own psychoanalysis.

When you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious, subconsciously. So what we think of as fate is just two neuroses knowing that they are a perfect match.

Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is faking it.

Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.

You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were, or back into the people they used to be.