MIND Reviews: June/July 2008

Reviews and recommendations from the June/July 2008 issue of Scientific American MIND

Although synesthesia might seem alien to those who do not have it—Ward himself admits that he cannot fathom its more bizarre experiences—the bottom line, he says, is that we are all endowed with richly intermingling senses. “Whatever synesthesia tells us, it tells us that our own way of sensing the world is precious,” he writes.


My Three Shrinks
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You’re dining out when you notice that the rowdy crowd at the next table is having a most unusual conversation—debating the merits of a new antidepressant and chattering about the controversial diagnosis of e-mail-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder. You realize you are overhearing psychiatrists talk about some juicy stuff, and that’s exactly the appeal of the podcast My Three Shrinks. Every couple of weeks the shrinks—Roy, a general- hospital psychiatrist, Dinah, who sees outpatients, and the doctor known only as “ClinkShrink,” who spends her days with troubled inmates—arm themselves with mics, a few bottles of wine and plenty of polemic, and you get to listen in.

A typical recent episode focused on benzodiazepines, a class of depressants used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Roy kicked things off by comparing a prescription of three milligrams of Xanax (alprazolam) a day to a prescription of three beers a day. He explained that both alcohol and Xanax increase the effects of GABA, a chemical messenger in the brain that tells neurons to slow down or stop firing. Dinah and ClinkShrink agreed but argued that three milligrams is equivalent to many more beers than that.

Although the shrinks occasionally fall into shrill bickering or irrelevant tangents, their spirited conversations never fail to untangle the ethics and issues of psychiatric practice—so go ahead and eavesdrop sometime.

Recommended Rentals
In Hollywood scientific accuracy is rarely a priority, but, as with everything, there are exceptions. If psychiatrists could give out Oscars for a day, these films would make the short list for providing authentic glimpses into the mind.

What is it like to have a mental illness? The 1993 drama Clean, Shaven (DSM III Films) tells the story of a schizophrenic named Peter Winter who searches for his adopted-away daughter after leaving a mental institution. Heralded by psychiatrists as the best ever on-screen portrayal of schizophrenia—better even than Universal’s A Beautiful Mind (2001)—the film uses special effects to mimic Winter’s hallucinations, showing the audience how he experiences the world. Another day-in-the-life must-see is 1945’s Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend (Paramount), one of the first films to explore the dark side of substance abuse; previous movies had typically made fun of it.

On the more upbeat side, 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite (Access Films) is a comedy about a geeky teenager who becomes immensely popular despite his social awkwardness. Though never mentioned outright, experts say that Napoleon probably has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Finally, few movies portray therapy accurately, but the 1980 film Ordinary People (Paramount) is a gem—some psychologists say it should be used as a teaching tool. Judd Hirsch plays a psychotherapist who helps a suicidal boy deal with the death of his brother and his dysfunctional family.

This article was originally published with the title "Read, Watch, Listen."

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