Theory of Mind: the Movie Magic in You

Film stands out as a particularly effective medium in conveying psychology to the public. This year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture provide numerous examples of psychological phenomenon—PTSD in American Sniper, adolescent development in Boyhood, and psychological control in Whiplash.  These films will make you laugh (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman), make you cry (The Imitation Game; Selma; The Theory of Everything), all while temporarily pulling you into the respective world each film creates. Although…

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I’ll take one Lassie, no wait…make that an Air Bud

While those of us who own pets may like to think we picked our own special Fido because he was the friendliest dog at the shelter, recent research shows there may be some subliminal media forces at play.

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Woody Allen’s Latest Film Explores the Intersection of Mental Illness and Social Status

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is a wrenching and thought-provoking film that finds the legendary auteur taking on very atypical material. Whereas his typical works burst with neurotic humor, whimsy, and exotic settings, his latest film emphasizes drama over comedy and focuses on the harsh realities of present day America. It is a bold divergence for the director and the risk pays off – Blue Jasmine is his best film in nearly 28 years. Allen’s later…

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The “Side Effects” of Big Pharma as Examined by Hollywood

[Warning: The following article contains major spoilers of the film Side Effects. If you have not seen the film and do not wish to have key plot points (including the ending) revealed, do not read further.] In the last two decades, enormous shifts have occurred in health care, but few (if any) have had the economic or social impact of the proliferation of psychiatric drugs. According to the American Psychological Association, the rate of adults…

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“Silver Linings Playbook” Makes a Hit Film Out of a Risky Concept: A Romantic Comedy about the Mentally Ill

[Warning: The following article contains spoilers. If you have not seen the film and do not wish to have key plot points and character dynamics revealed, do not proceed further.] As discussed in all of my previous posts, dramatizing mental illness and mental health treatment is a risky pursuit. Sometimes the resulting product richly moves and informs, while other times it exploits and misleads.  Perhaps an even riskier venture than dramatizing this topic is milking…

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“Shame” Makes a Compelling Case for the Legitimacy of Sex Addiction as Psychopathology

Every so often, a high profile person claims to suffer from “sex addiction.”  Usually it is a Hollywood star, a professional athlete, or an alleged criminal. Typically this is followed by a media blitz dominated by interviews with self-proclaimed experts who weigh in on the legitimacy of this diagnosis. No matter how compelling their arguments are, attempts to legitimize “sex addiction” as bona fide psychopathology are most often met with dismissive eye rolls at best…

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A Dangerous Method? Film Tells the Story of the Rise of a Controversial Practice

When asked what comes to mind when they think of psychotherapy, the most common answer people give is some variation of the following: A person lying on a couch talking about their earliest memories while a mostly silent figure takes notes. This image of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic method has been burned into our schemas and colors our conceptualization of clinical psychology despite the fact that it bears little resemblance to the method of most modern practitioners. In fact, those…

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Recent Film Provides Insight into the Terror and Complexity of Prodromal Schizophrenia

  [Warning: The following post discusses key plot elements of the 2011 film Take Shelter.  Although the post purposefully does not give away the ending, be advised that potential spoilers abound.] Portrayals of schizophrenia in film go back to the earliest days of the medium.  Throughout the past century, countless films have shown us individuals who are either in the process of losing touch with reality or are far past the breaking point.  Charles Boyer famously…

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Hauntingly Accurate Portrayals of Severe Mental Illness at a Theater Near You

[Warning: The following post discusses key plot elements of two films currently in theaters – Melancholia and Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Although the post purposefully does not give away the ending of the films, be advised that potential spoilers abound.] In October, I wrote a well-received post about the inaccurate and downright offensive portrayal of clinical psychology in the film 50/50.  As that film continues to rack up praise for its screenplay (including being named the best…

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New Movie Portrays Cancer Perceptively but Psychology Offensively

[Warning: Although the ending is not revealed, some spoilers from the film 50/50 follow in the article] Few people go to the movies expecting or even wanting to see reality.  More often than not, people go to the movie theater or reorder their Netflix queue in order to escape and to be entertained.  In fact, the highest grossing genres for years have been science fiction and animation, with documentaries usually coming in dead last.  Even widely…

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