Example of Abnormal Behavior in Media Term Paper

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Abnormal Psych in Media

Disorganized Schizophrenia in Cronenberg's Spider

Wedding, Boyd, and Niemiec (2005) write about David Cronenberg's film Spider (2002) that "This dark and dreary film maps out the psychological terrain of a man with schizophrenia" (p. 109). They continue, saying, "This is also a good depiction of childhood schizophrenia as we see the young boy distort reality, express paranoia that his father and his father's mistress killed his mother, and the boy's complete isolation from social contact" (Wedding, Boyd, and Niemiec, 2005, p. 109). This assessment of the character of Dennis Cleg or "Spider" (played by Ray Fiennes) seems accurate. The portrait of Spider clearly replicates many of the symptoms common in schizophrenia. This essay will show what symptoms lead to this conclusion and will discuss the film's main character using a cognitive approach to schizophrenia. It will show how a cognitive approach would analyze and explain Spider's mental illness, and what kinds of therapeutic interventions it would use to help him.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Example of Abnormal Behavior in Media Assignment

The DMS-IV-TR defines schizophrenia as "a disorder that lasts for at least 6 months and includes at least 1 month of active-phase symptoms (i.e., two [or more] of the following: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, negative symptoms)" (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 298). It understands delusions as "erroneous beliefs that usually involve a misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences" (APA, 2000, p. 299). When hallucinations occur, they are usually auditory (hearing voices), but can be visual. Disorganized thinking means any range of incoherence that impairs communication. Disorganized behavior encompasses things like silliness, unpredictable agitation, inability to perform daily tasks, dishevelment or unusual dressing, and inappropriate sexual behavior. Further, there are negative symptoms such as affective flattening, alogia with brief empty replies or silence, and avolition or the inability to initiate and persist in activities due to lack of interest (anhedonia). In addition, other associated symptoms may occur like abnormal psychomotor actions (rocking, pacing, or immobility), anxiety and phobias, depersonalization, and suicidal tendencies. All these symptoms create social dysfunction and detachment.

Spider's character shows evidence of schizophrenia given these diagnostic criteria. Spider shuffles slowly and awkwardly, distracted by objects on the ground. Often he looks expressionless or afraid. His dialogue is sparse, disorganized, and mumbling. Throughout the film, it is difficult to understand anything he says. He is characteristically unclean and unkempt. He wears four shirts at once. Even his smoking is indicative, since according to the DSM-IV-TR, 80-90% of schizophrenics are nicotine dependent (APA, 2000, p. 304). Spider is virtually dependent on others for the basic needs of life. He is emotionally flat except when he breaks out unpredictably in anger when he rips up a puzzle. Much of his time he spends writing things comprehensible only to himself in a small notebook, which when shot up close is illegible, almost a foreign language. There are symbolic images that suggest his schizophrenia -- webs and shattered windows. While there are no auditory hallucinations, he demonstrates paranoia by not letting the caretaker touch him or his suitcase, and by imagining her (in hallucinations) as the prostitute. He eventually tries to kill her with a hammer because he believes she is a different person. There are some signs of catatonia, such as lying still in the fetal position in the bathtub or sitting for hours on a bench. Among the various forms of schizophrenia, he fits best in the Disorganized Type of schizophrenia, with elements of the paranoid and catatonic.

As important as these clear symptoms is that Spider's mind is fraught with delusion and hallucination. It is not till the end of the film that the audience realizes that most of his recreation of his own childhood is fiction. He imagines that his father has an affair with a prostitute and kills his mother with a spade when she finds out. Then the prostitute lives with them, becoming a surrogate mother. As the older Spider watches the recreated scene, the young Spider yells, "Murderer" and is chased away with a belt. There are several reasons for believing this view is delusional. For one thing, the father Bill (played by Gabriel Byrne) is shown explaining a different point-of-view to the child in which the mother is not dead. The father tells him, "I don't know where you get your ideas from; you're by yourself too much, you need some mates." The audience suspects that the boy is deluded. The father cannot understand why the boy is so angry. The most compelling reason comes toward the end. After the boy has rigged up a twine device for pulling the gas stove on, the prostitute dies from gas inhalation. Yet when the father pulls her out into the street, it is his real mother, and the father cries, "You did you mum in." It is significant that the older Spider is not there to witness this scene. It is not a hallucinatory flashback, but the real past. Spider's belief that his father killed his mother is false. It is significant as well that his "memories" are not memories -- they are hallucinations. This is clear because they involve imagining situations that he could not have experienced as a child, such as the scene at the prostitute's house. The young Spider could not have been there or known what happened. When he is in a bar, for example, he is not remembering seeing his parents. He is hallucinating them. This puts him clearly into the category of schizophrenia.

There are a number of explanations for the development of schizophrenia. Virtually every psychotherapeutic approach recognizes there to be a genetic component. Beck et al. (2009) write, "Eighty years of behavior genetics research in the form of twin, family, and adoption studies indicate that schizophrenia is highly heritable" (p. 11). It seems to run in families, but the precise mechanism for this is still unclear. Other approaches stress neurochemical imbalances or brain dysfunctions alongside this. In these approaches, schizophrenia is primarily something to be understood and treated by anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals that antagonize serotonin.

The cognitive or cognitive-behavioral approach stresses biological vulnerability combined with environmental factors. Kingdon and Turkington give this perspective: "The vulnerability-stress hypothesis of schizophrenia simply states that vulnerabilities and stresses combine to produce the symptoms characteristic of the disorder" (Kingdon & Turkington, 2005, p. 8). As the same time, it prioritizes thought formation. The cognitive paradigm for understanding schizophrenia stands on the major assumption that intellect comes first and influences what emotional and behavioral patterns follow. While recognizing biological vulnerabilities, it explains emotion and behavior as the result of intellectual processes such as beliefs and interpretations. In other words, there is some underlying distorted cognitive process that gives rise to the disorder of schizophrenia, even though this thought process emerged in a social environment. Dudley et al. (2009) say, "The defining characteristic of CBT is the cognitive model, which emphasizes the deceptively simple notion that the way a person makes sense of an event determines how he or she feels and behaves" (p. 267). When explaining schizophrenia, cognitive psychology does not decontextualize these beliefs and thoughts, but keeps them linked to the social context even while focusing on them. When looking at Spider's case, it would attempt to understand the social factors that contributed to schizophrenia.

One environmental factor that has been well explored is the family. The cognitive approach does not ignore family communication patterns as an important context which may contribute to schizophrenia. Stierlin (2009) has outlined some of the important family-oriented explanations. He points to communication problems in the family of origin. The family may be so distorted and skewed in its features that it makes it impossible for the child to communicate successfully. Irrationality is transmitted when family relationships are undefined or ambivalent. Communication deviances have confirmed that "an unclear, odd, confusing or strange way to communicate was the most noteworthy feature of the schizophrenic's family" (Stierlin, 2009, p. 235). What this means is that family dynamics must be accounted for in treatment.

From this point-of-view, Spider's schizophrenia can be understood as developing out of inadequate communication in the family. In the film, the father says very little to the son and is often absent, drunk, or angry. It is the mother that Spider knows and loves. But this attachment is strange. It verges on Oedipal and would be good for a psychodynamic interpretation. Spider looks on his mother several times with almost lust as she tries on a dress or applies make-up. He runs away angry when she mentions his father. He looks on with jealousy as they go out, leaving him alone, and he sinks down in disgust when he sees them acting affectionately. While the cognitive approach would not go in this direction, it would point out that something confusing was in the young boy's environment. There were mixed messages perhaps, and a blurring of identity between the boy and his mother. Spider was never given to understand the relationship, and the mother maybe acted too affectionately toward the child. There… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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