‘As Good As It Gets’ Psychological Review
Psychological conditions can detrimentally affect the life of an individual. Such conditions influence how a person interacts with others as well as the quality of life. There are numerous different movie depictions of psychological disorder. However, Oscar winner Jack Nicholson provides one of the greatest performances in the 1997 psychological drama, ‘As Good as It Gets.” Thus, based on this backdrop, this paper provides a psychological review of the movie’s protagonist Melvin Udall.
Melvin Udall is depicted as a successful actor suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, forcing him to live a life of a recluse. An obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis has to be made based on two visible characteristics. Obsession is the first aspect, and it appears as the persistent thoughts, ideas, and impulses that cause distress or anxiety to the individual. In the movie, Udall repetitively has thoughts about diseases and pathogens. (Hyman & Pedrick, 2008) Even though he seems aware that they are fabrications of his mind, he is still greatly distressed and obsessed with cleanliness. Compulsion is the second aspect, and it refers to the repetition of unreasonable or excessive behaviors. Udall checks the locks and washes his hands several. Compulsive behavior is a coping mechanism for the obsessions that the individual has. Udall is obsessed with germs, and he washes his hands numerous times with different bars or soap to cope with his obsession.
OCD is normally caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance leading to abnormal levels of dopamine, serotonin and glutamine. Additionally, certain advanced illnesses have been known to cause OCD in advanced stages, but such cases of OCD are temporary. In Udall’s case, the cause seems to be an imbalance in the neurotransmitters, and that is why the prescriptions he decided to take at the end of the movie help him overcome his OCD. Only two treatments seem to have been tried. The first is the direct use of medicine prescribed by the psychiatrist. Second is the exposure and response prevention where the psychiatrist tries to influence Udall’s behavior by specifying visits at specific times. However, indirect interpersonal psychotherapy helped Udall realize that his OCD was affecting others.
Different etiological factors can explain the symptoms and the progression of OCD, but the most effective is the cognitive theory. The cognitive theory provides the best explanation of how people suffering from OCD get obsessions and compulsions. Cognitive theory’s perception of OCD is the development of irrational thoughts about a certain stimulus or situation. In Udall’s case, the stimuli in question were bad luck and pathogens (Clark, 2012). Most people have the same misconceptions, but people with OCD have a catastrophic perception about the stimuli leading to obsessions about the different problems. Cognitive theory proponents believe that obsessions are developed and maintained by five main beliefs. First is the exaggerated responsibility that misfortunes can be avoided by performing certain tasks. Udall believes he can prevent bad luck by avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. Second is the belief in control. Udall assumes that his actions can control his luck and prevent germs from occurring. Third, failure to do something or performing a certain action increases the chances of the problem occurring. Fourth, is the overestimation of danger caused by the obsessions and fifth is the belief that once should maintain perfection in actions and slip-ups are intolerable. The cognitive theory explains the varying symptoms in OCD patients, and the progression of the symptoms as the obsessions become reinforced in the patient’s mind.
Unfortunately, cognitive theory fails to explain certain aspects of Udall’s symptoms. The cognitive theory may explain the relationship between stimuli, obsession, and compulsion. However, it fails to explain the reason why stimuli became an obsession. In the movie, you can explain Udall’s fear of bad luck and pathogens. However, the theory does not explain what caused an unhealthy obsession (Rego, 2016). Additionally, the cognitive theory does not explain the reason why some of the symptoms dissipate when exposed to stimuli. Udall is afraid of germs. However, he ends up caring for his neighbor’s dog despite interrupting his routine. Anholt and Kalanthroff (2014) found that OCD clinical trials found that ERP treatments are not effective without the use of psychoactive prescriptions. This destroys the premise that OCD is a purely cognitive problem. Even though some form of cognitive discordance explains OCD symptoms and progression, it does not constitute a holistic treatment because it does not address the cause of the problem, the neurotransmitter imbalance. Additionally, the cognitive theory fails to highlight another dimension of the problem, the self-oriented nature of Udall. Critically, this Udall’s greatest change because he starts to care for others, the dog, and Carol.
Numerous empirical studies have been conducted on OCD. One of the most prominent, by Moutaud (2011), provides an insightful account of how the brain – neurochemistry influences some of these patients. He reviewed the neurochemical balance of certain patients with chronic OCD and Parkinson’s diseases and found that those who never responded to conventional cognitive treatments had neurological imbalances. His research greatly explained why psychological treatment does not work for all OCD cases. Moreover, Andersen (2015) investigated the prevalence of intellectual disability among people with personality disorders such as OCD. Her findings suggested that intellectual disability among people with personality disorders is more prevalent than in the general population. However, she found that most of those with intellectual disabilities develop personality disorders at an early age. She suggested early detection can help prevent learning problems at later stages. On the other hand, Mudrack (2004) found that workaholic normally have some form of obsessive-compulsive personality traits. Such individuals develop multidimensional obsessions with their work. He found that workaholics tend to have orderliness, obstinacy, parsimony, rigidity, perseverance, and superego traits common in individuals suffering from OCD. This is an instance where OCD seems to be an advantage. It explains why Udall in the movie was a successful author.
The movie provides one of the most accurate depictions of people suffering from OCD. It provides a clear picture that both behavioral and medical interventions are required to alleviate patients with obsessive-compulsive traits. Exposure to the dog helps reduce Melvin Udall’s compulsions, but he ultimately agrees to take prescription medication to have a normal life with Carol.
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Rego, S. A. (2016). Treatment Plans and Interventions for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Boston: Guilford Publications.