Sit Coms and Schizophrenia

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In 2004, David Roberts, then a second year clinical psychology student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had a summer job teaching social skills training to a group of individuals with schizophrenia who resided at the state hospital. Roberts was frustrated that his group was unresponsive to the social skills training curriculum that he was using. He found a group of patients watching the show "Friends" and laughing at the humor. Roberts observed that the patients he thought were unresponsive were laughing at same things which made him laugh. He tried an episode of "Monk" with his patient group and again noted that they all laughed at the humor conveyed by the actor, Tony Shalhoub, who portrays a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Similarly "Curb Your Enthusiasm" brought equal laughter. Roberts thinks of Larry David as the perfect proxy for a schizophrenic person. His character misreads social cues, mistakes the intent of other people, jumps to conclusions and reads things out of context: many of the problems experienced by individuals with schizophrenia which causes them problems in their daily interactions.

Roberts and his UNC adviser, Dr. David Penn, formalized these findings into a teachable technique which they called Social Cognition and Interaction Training (SCIT). The television skits helped patients to decipher difficult social situations. Unable to use the actual television shows in training, Roberts and Penn developed a series of video clips to produce what they called "cringe worthy situations". Therapists in Germany, Portugal and China are now watching TV with their patients and seeing the positive results of the unusual training material.

We all laugh at the situational humor of sit coms. The awkward situations, embarrassing relationships and misread cues which make up much of the skits must serve to address a common human need we all share, to look at ourselves and learn through laughter.

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