Annual UofL Depression Center dinner spotlights ‘Psychiatry and the Movies’


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Tickets are still available for the University of Louisville Depression Center’s annual dinner on Friday, Nov. 6, featuring Glen O. Gabbard, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, speaking on “Psychiatry and the Movies.”

    Cocktail hour gets underway at 6 p.m. with dinner to follow at the University Club, 200 E. Brandeis St. Admission is $125 per person with proceeds going to support the UofL Depression Center. For information on tickets, email or call 502-588-4886.

    The University of Louisville Depression Center is Kentuckiana’s leading resource for depression and bipolar disorder treatment, research and education. It is a charter member of the National Network of Depression Centers, a consortium of leading depression centers that develops and fosters connections among members to advance scientific discovery and provide stigma-free, evidence-based care to patients with depressive and bipolar illnesses.

    Gabbard is the author of more than 300 journal articles and 23 books. He is known for his works on psychoanalysis, psychodynamic psychotherapy, personality disorders, psychiatric evaluation of professionals and more.

    The son of professional actors turned a hobby of examining psychiatry in the movies into his first book on the subject and today has something few other psychiatrists can cite: his own listing on the Internet Movie Database. He is author of two books that examine how the profession is portrayed by filmmakers – Psychoanalysis and Film and Psychiatry and Cinema. A third book looks at one of the most dysfunctional families ever created in The Psychology of ‘The Sopranos’: Love, Death, Desire and Betrayal in America’s Favorite Gangster Family.

    While filmmakers continue to be fascinated by psychiatry, Gabbard said, they don’t always accurately portray the profession or its practitioners. Hollywood has mostly preferred distortion and stereotype over more true-to-life representations.

    “People don’t make distinctions between what’s reality and what’s on the great silver screen,” Gabbard said in a New York Times interview.

    Yet inaccurate as such portraits are, they are also compelling. In the same interview, Gabbard recalled a 1980 encounter with a patient who wanted to introduce hugs into the therapy he provided. Why? She had just seen Ordinary People and the psychiatrist in the movie portrayed by Judd Hirsch hugged the patient played by Timothy Hutton. “It helped (Hutton’s character) a lot,” she said, so she was certain it should be part of her sessions with Gabbard.

    Occasionally however, he said, screenwriters and directors who tackle the subject of mental disorders and their treatments get it right. In Gabbard’s view, The Sopranos is the best depiction of psychotherapy “ever to appear on film or television.” And A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard’s award-winning drama chronicling the genius and the battle with schizophrenia of the mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994, is as accurate a portrait of the illness as Hollywood has produced.

    Yet most on-screen portrayals fall short, Gabbard said. “The technique depicted is … simplistic and similarly naïve about therapeutic change,” he wrote in an essay in Psychiatric Times.

    “While (psychiatrists) can commiserate with one another about the impact such depictions have on our public image and potential patients, we also can learn something about the image we project to those outside our field,” he said. “…no profession likes the way they’re depicted. We may actually take heart from the old Hollywood axiom that there’s no such thing as negative publicity.”

    Jill Scoggins is Director of Communications at UofL's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. She has been at UofL since 2010.