Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Director David O. Russell and an amazing cast brought to the screen an adaptation of Matthew Quick's novel The Silver Linings Playbook. Briefly, this movie is about Pat Solatano Jr., who gets out of a mental institution after a court ordered 8 month stay. Pat has bipolar disorder, which we discover he has probably had most of his life but it was not until he caught his wife cheating on him and he beat up the man she was cheating with, that anyone truly noticed he had an illness. After Pat gets out, he lives with his parents and focuses on trying to get his wife back, but at the same time he meets Tiffany who struggles with depression and they form a friendship and ultimately fall in love. It is a serious, funny, and cute movie. Heartbreakingly sad at times, yet with enough humor and hope so as to not portray mental illness as completely tragic.

Photo from IMBD

One of the things I really liked about Bradley Cooper's portrayal of Pat is that he actually was able to accurately show how the mood swings and outbursts of bipolar are not something we do on purpose. There is a scene where Pat gets upset in the doctors waiting room and throws over the magazine rack. He then realizes what he did, says he is sorry and they have a close up shot of his face where you can see the pain in his eyes and the realization that he scared people and was acting out. He was embarrassed, ashamed, and confused. At another point with his therapist Pat says he is sick of his illness and wants to control it. Don't we all feel this way? The movie is just a real representation of how mental illness is truly an illness and not some behavior we choose. I should add that director David O. Russell made the movie for his son who has bipolar disorder. His son also has a part in the movie as a teenager who wants to interview Pat for a school report on mental illness.

I also liked the part where Pat thinks Tiffany is crazier than he is. When I was watching the movie I was thinking "I don't act like Pat does. I am not that crazy." But when we got home I asked my husband "Do I look and act like that?" and he said "Of course. Why would you think you didn't?" I guess it is always hard to see our own crazy.  

This is only a movie and so it can not get to all aspects of mental illness. The movie really captures one episode of breakdown, struggle, and treatment that ultimately becomes successful. There is what seems to be a turning point when Pat chooses to take his medication (which he was refusing to take before), as if just taking the medication and finding love with Tiffany was enough to cure him. This does not show the full spectrum of living with this illness and the fact that for many of us medication works for a little while, then doesn't, and even on med's there can be many relapses. While I like the love story, at the same time I always remember thinking, ever since I was a child, that if I found someone who loved me just the way I was that I would be cured. Well, I found the love of my life at sixteen years old, and have discovered that love alone can not conquer all. Many couples struggle with this issue and have to come to terms with treatment being long term. Even though love and care does help tremendously, it is not the ultimate silver lining. That is why I really like the musical Next to Normal because it shows the illness over a longer period of time and addresses the many issues with treatment. Of course, the ending of the musical is not as happy as the ending of this movie.

I do think the movie is very helpful for people who do not quite understand or who really need to emotionally experience mental illness. It helps combat the stigma against mental illness and shows people with mental illness as not just violent, scary, and hopeless. It shows how a community, a whole group of family and friends, really need to pull together to help someone with mental illness thrive.

The movie also shows that mental illness and the triggers for it are not only part of the patients brain, but profoundly affected by the environment around them. Pat's family is quirky with his father having some Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anger issues, and superstition that clearly does not help Pat's illness very much. But they work with everyone's quirks and accept each other and try to help each other. In a way all of their "issues" make them understand each other better and come closer. The movie is a great example of how everyone has issues and if we recognize them we can go a long way to figuring out how to live a happy life rather than families who deny that they have any dysfunction going on at all.

Overall, this is a really great movie and I encourage everyone to see it. It is a more human experience of mental illness rather than a completely sensationalized view of it, which the media so often likes to portray.


Rev. Katie

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How Negative Reinforcement Dog Training is Detrimental For People with Mental Illness

Trigger Warning: This post contains descriptions of what may be considered by some people to be violence to an animal and a description of what the experience of PTSD is like, which both may trigger PTSD or traumatic memories. 

Most of us have heard that in order to train a dog, the "owner" needs to be the dominant one, "leader of the pack." Most trainers use negative reinforcement (causing discomfort to the dog to get it to do what you want) and insist that it does not hurt the dog, it just shows who is in charge. This means you yank on the dog, may use shock collars, yell "no!," use choke collars, some pushing or even swatting, and electric fences. Most dogs I know are trained this way and it is a decision that the owner needs to make as to what training method they want to use. There are articles and books all over the place that argue the benefits or disadvantages of both negative reinforcement training and positive reinforcement training. (Positive reinforcement is rewarding for good behavior.) Feel free to look them up and make your own decision. I am not a dog trainer so will not claim to know what is best for the dog. (I will say that I will never use anything other than positive reinforcement clicker training with my dogs as I do know dogs who have become more aggressive using the other methods.) I will give you advice though for what I think is best for a person with mental illness who is a dog owner and/or a possible Psychiatric Service Dog handler.
Positive Reinforcement Materials

I do not believe negative reinforcemnt training is appropriate for dog handlers who have mental illness. Many of us with mental illness have trauma in our backgrounds and training a dog with negative reinforcment means using methods that, even if you argue are safe for the dog and they like it, is still technically hurting another living being. Asking us to do this is extremely traumatic, whether or not people say it is "proven" that it really does not hurt the dog. For those who have expereinced trauma, even what other people consider "moderate violence" is a trigger for us. For instance, I can not watch slapstick humor like The Three Stooges. Other people find that funny, but I find it so upsetting that I can't even look at it and it triggers a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder response. This is what can happen to us if we are asked to use negative reinforcment with our dogs. Let me give you an example.

I went to a dog store and Rosie is still learning to be calm when greeting other dogs. When she saw the owners dogs, she immediately started jumping around, bowing to the other dog to say she wanted to play, barking, and pulling on her leash. The well meaning owner, wanting to help me, took the leash from me and told me I had to be forceful to train her. So he yanked on Rosie's leash, yelling no,  which yanked Rosie up into the air dangling from her leash with her front feet off the ground. Her ears went back, her tail went between her legs, and she was scared. She stopped barking and playing, and the person was explaining that this was showing Rosie how she was supposed to act. He pulled, yelled at, and yanked on my dog until I got what I needed and left. At one point he even put the leash in my hand with his hand over mine and yanked on her leash to get Rosie to know that I was in charge. He was very nice and helpful and to him, and most trainers and owners, he was doing the right thing. He was NOT trying to be mean or hurt my dog.

However, to see Rosie dangling in the air by her back (fortunately not her neck because we use a halter rather than attach the leash to her collar,) was extremely traumatic for me. I was shaking the whole time, felt sick, and was scared. I could not speak up for myself to even ask him not to handle Rosie. Not only did it make Rosie scared of him, but I was scared of him as well.

When we got into the car I could not drive because I was crying so hard. Not only could I not get the scared look and body language of Rosie out of my mind, but I felt disgusted that he had shown Rosie that I would yank on her and hurt her by putting the leash in my hand and making me pull on it. I was a wreck and my son was scared seeing Rosie handled aggressively.

For me, this was hurting another living being who is trusting me for their care, who clearly was scared and hurt by what was happening to her. I looked into her face and saw fear and was so immobilized with fear myself that I let it happen to her. There is no describing not only how terrible it is to watch pain being inflicted on someone else in order to control them, but to also be part of that process. Every time I think about that event, I see my son afraid and the picture of Rosie's fear and pain over and over in my head.

Due to the trauma background of many people with mental illness, I do not advise negative reinforcement training. Even without trauma, we tend to be more sensitive to feelings and aggression than other people and it is really not safe for us to interact with our dogs in this way.

So what kind of training do I recommend? Positive reinforcement such as clicker training where you capture good behavior and reward for that. To see the difference between negative and positive reinforcement, check out this video by Kikopup. (Don't be misled by the title.) She has great training videos for any issue you have.

Rev. Katie