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Fictional characters, fictional problems

The Wall Street Journal has a story on psychology professors using examples from fictional characters to teach their students. The title of this article is Fictional characters, real problems.

Sigmund Freud named the Oedipus complex for Sophocles’ tragic character and was fascinated with Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. Increasingly, professors from Psych 101 to medical schools and psychoanalytic institutes are using fiction and film in classroom assignments or outside electives.

Fictional prejudice, after all, isn’t quite up there with real prejudice. Wonder why we differentiate between the movies (Hollywood) and reality? Think, before movies, it was pulp fiction. I’d say, given this kind of education, you need to make the same kind of distinction when it comes to psychology and reality.

The use of books and movies in teaching is growing in part because fictional characters obviously aren’t protective of their privacy the way real patients can be. Even when their names and identifying details are disguised, patients must give consent to have their case histories written about or discussed with others, and many are reluctant to.

Gee. This one makes you wonder how much of ‘reality’ is diluted and edited out of fiction, cut from the movies, and just closeted from experience. True realism seems to remain a somewhat elusive ideal. Oh, Dostoevsky, if you only knew! It was merely the surface you scratched. No wonder people undergoing therapy are fain to confess to total strangers.

This is where it gets spooky.

Mental-health students even explore children’s literature for buried psychological themes. Analysts have had a field day in the “Hundred Acre Wood” with A.A. Milne’s characters. While the world of Winnie the Pooh seems innocent on the surface, “it is clear to our group of modern neuro-developmentalists that these are in fact stories of seriously troubled individuals, many of whom meet DSM-IV criteria for significant disorders,” wrote Sarah E. Shea and colleagues in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2000, referring to the handbook of diagnoses.

Analysis of Winnie the Pooh looks like it could get Christopher Robin in some deep therapy.

Piglet clearly suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, the authors noted. Eeyore has chronic dysthymia (mild depression) and could benefit greatly from an antidepressant. Tigger is hyperactive, impulsive and a risk-taker.

Do they mean by ‘a risk-taker’ reckless? He said raising his pen to place another check mark beside the symptom of a severe disturbance.

Pooh is a bundle of comorbidities that may include cognitive impairment, as he is often described as a “bear of very little brain.” “Early on, we see Pooh being dragged downstairs bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head,” the authors write. “Could his later cognitive struggle be the result of a type of Shaken Bear Syndrome?”

Back to Christopher Robin…You aren’t suggesting Dissociative Identity Disorder, are you? Yes, or he could be possessed of ‘a bundle of comorbidities’, or both? Or, is Christopher actually a ‘gifted’ child blessed with an imaginative and creative intelligence? Another possibility, less far fetched, and more advantaging perhaps.

Hello, future mental health goons and thought police rookies. I’ve got another idea. Let’s let children be children. Withdraw and withold your diagnoses until Christopher approaches his 21st birthday and, if everything is not alright, at least it isn’t a forgone conclusion. It would be a real shame to lose Winnie the Pooh and company to “serious mental illness”.

Just imagine, if they’d caught A.A. Milne early enough there might never have been any Winnie the Pooh and company and, of course, that would make the world a much safer and more comforting place for everyone.