Reel Therapy

Unraveling the mind through film

Movies, Mel Gibson and Depression: Treatment

Cinematic discussion of depression-related treatment

With the presence of depression firmly established and assessed it is now time to turn to treatment. "The Beaver" interprets treatment of depression in a satisfyingly creative and unorthodox way and there are many elements of it that map on to real-life treatments (and if you didn't already know this, depression is always manageable and often completely curable).

The philosophy behind treatment is systematic and, at times, simplistic. For instance, one symptom of depression is loss of pleasure or engagement in routine tasks. Increase engagement and the depression will loosen, which makes more engagement easier, and so on. Attacking each symptom in this way is the crux of clinical treatment.

It's about identifying the many different bridges that exist between the depressed voice and the healthy voice, and gently but firmly guiding the depressed individual over those bridges. A useful, sometimes critical first step is anti-depressant medications. These drugs turn down the volume of the negative emotions that incessantly crash around in a depressed mind, providing a little more space to adhere to the following therapeutic interventions.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Interventions can be done:

Behaviorally: A therapist might say to Walter: Even if you feel crappy, you are still physically capable of doing things like showering and talking to your friends. You need to force yourself to do these things because, first of all, odds are that you've stopped doing them and haven't even realized it, and, secondly, this is your way out. The "doing" may be painfully dissatisfying at first but it gets more fulfilling the more you do it. It's a long-term thing. We do things every day that we don't want to do, like brushing our teeth and eating our vegetables. Showering, meeting with friends and a host of others things need to be met with the same approach. This is a strategy called behavioral activation.

Cognitively: A therapist might say to Walter: You keep telling yourself that you're a lazy loser and a horrible father. These are just thoughts; mean and meaningless labels that you're flinging at yourself like a bully. Yes, you've been neglecting your work and your kids recently but that's because of the depression not because of innate character defects. Depression is not your fault but it is your responsibility to fix. You are, in fact, a lovable and worthwhile person. You need to recall the ample supportive evidence that you are a good father and boss. Consciously reminding yourself of these facts about yourself and depression needs to become a mantra in your mind. These strategies are called cognitive diffusion and restructuring.

Insights-based: A therapist might say to Walter: You're now depressed because your mother habitually chanted that you were an idiot all throughout your childhood and, quite naturally, you've come to believe it. It's not a fact, it's just the predictable consequence of being born into a critical, unhealthy caretaker. I (the therapist) believe in you, will help you to replace these internalizations with fairer assumptions about yourself, and help you forgive your mother for unknowingly derailing your psyche during childhood. These are psycho-dynamic approaches that establish connections between past and present patterns of functioning and re-parent the patient through the therapy relationship.

We all have the healthy voice inside of us, as evidenced by our ability to effectively moderate our emotions and give balanced, rational advice to friends in need or in trouble. Even depressed people who can never do this for themselves can always do this for others. It's just a matter of becoming more aware of and nurturing this voice so as to believe, say and do the things that we all need to believe, say and do to live out a healthy and happy life story.

In the film treatment comes in the form of "the beaver," or a hand puppet that Walter presents to others as a "prescription puppet designed to help him distance himself from his old mindset." This beaver is the healthy part of Walter and the essence of the beaver's "interventions" maps onto the aforementioned treatments. This healthy part of Walter re-engages him with his family and work life. An infectious engagement in fun, meaningful activities like wood working with his youngest son and lots of sex with his wife (behavioral activation) is promoted by the beaver. Numerous tough love pep talks help Walter to get out of bed in the morning and repair interpersonal failings at work (cognitive reframing).

All in all, "The Beaver" promotes a realistic portrayal of depression and although the intangible of treatment is missing (i.e. sometimes depressed people have to be taught skills to be un-depressed, or receive hopefulness and encouragement from a loving therapist - Walter needs none of these things it seems), the basic tools of the treatment toolbox are present in the voice of the beaver.

 

 

Jeremy Clyman, Psy.D., attained his doctorate in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University.

more...

Subscribe to Reel Therapy

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?