Melvin Udall is a prolific author, who lives in seclusion from other people in the neighborhood. He dislikes women openly, he is homophobic and an anti-semantic racist. He resides in his Greenwich Village apartment from where we also learn of his intense dislike for dogs and poor relations with neighbors (Brooks, 1997).
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The movie begins with an illustration of the hatred. One can see the character throwing out the neighbor’s dog down the garbage chute. After that, he gets to his usual restaurant where he is served the meal in his own plastic-ware by his constant waitress called Carol. He uses insulting language on all those around him; he disregards people until a sequence of events begins to alter his life. An incident in which robbers assault his gay neighbor, Simon, forces him to take care of Simon’s dog, while the hospitalization of Carol’s child evokes his affection for her.
At a particular point, he offers money for the medication of Carol’s son in return for her usual service at the restaurant that leads to the fact that the two arrange a date. Melvin is challenged thinking of the attire to wear; at the appointment; however, he relieves his frustrations by insulting Carol’s attire. She gets angry and wants a genuine compliment from him. Melvin takes advantage of his medication for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and says that such behavior is his way of trying to be a better man in order to be with her. Carol’s response is marked with affection and admiration for Melvin.
Melvin has the tendency to avoid meetings with neighbors on the street and to get into contact with people, in general. He ensures he always wears gloves at any time to keep off germs. Moreover, he has to clean door handles before using them; he has the same meal served at the same table in the same restaurant and by the same waitress. Due to such an abnormal behavior, his psychotherapist diagnosed him with OCD.
In accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), individuals diagnosed with OCD experience either intermittent obsessions or persistent compulsions (Dziegielewski, 2010). Alternatively, one could suffer from both. These obsessions or compulsions result in a patient’s experiencing considerable misery in his/her social ties at the workplace and in public. In Melvin’s case, the OCD does not affect his writing career as he is said to have written a staggering sixty-two romance novels while being in his hard condition. His condition affects his relationship with the people around him, hurling insults at them.
Obsessions and Compulsions
In psychology, obsessions are perceived as unwarranted and improper recurrent thoughts and imaginations that arouse feelings of anxiety and discomfort in a person. Efforts to call them off are countered by their unrelenting, domineering and disturbing presence. Such experiences are parallel to ordinary worries related to real-life issues. They are not triggered by such problems as financial pressure. Rather, they occur independently. Patients are suffering from this disorder attempt to “suppress these thoughts by neutralizing their obsession with alternative ideas or actions” (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2010). The familiar obsessive thoughts include imagination of violent incidences, fright due to germs or infection, insecurities about another character’s behavior. It is crucial to note that most OCD patients understand that these visions are the result of their own thoughts.
Melvin Udall’s obsession is intermittent thoughts about germs and infections. He considers that plates in the restaurant are contaminated, and other waiters besides Carol are not suited to serve him because he regards them as dirty. There are many other realistic instances in the movie that depict his obsessions, for instance, holding the dog at arm’s length wearing his gloves. Ordinarily, it is normal for an individual who is obsessed with cleanliness to go to such extremes. Being aware of his situation, Melvin counters these inappropriate thoughts by engaging in compulsive practices. His reflections with Carol give the indication that he is well aware of the thoughts to be a product of his mind.
On the other hand, psychology defines compulsions as extreme behaviors adopted by victims of OCD in an attempt to counter their obsessions. These behaviors range from excessive cleaning of items carrying or wearing by others, demand for assurance when transacting with others, to mental practices, such as repetitive silent utterances in some situations. Such actions are often guided by rules set in place by the patient that must be followed consistently at all times. This behavior incorporates the feeling of discomfort and anxiety resulting from one’s obsessions. However, it is not possible to find an instance in which there is no direct relationship between the compulsions and the obsessions (Sarris et al., 2012).
Melvin associates, stepping on the gaping cracks on the sidewalk with a bad omen. He, therefore, avoids stepping on them on his way to the restaurant. His obsessive thoughts about cleanliness make him avoid using the restaurant utensils, so, instead, he prefers to carry his own. To avoid getting into contact with germs from different people, he is wearing gloves all the time. Moreover, he does not trust the service rendered by other waiters at the restaurant. He insists on being served by the only waitress, Carol. He even offers to lend some money for her son’s medical bill in return for her service at the restaurant. At the restaurant, the way he lays out his utensils in a ritualistic manner gives him the impression the world is in the right organization, and thus calms his anxiety.
After some time in the course of the disorder, the victim may come to the revelation that their actions are unreasonable. Their sense of self begins to disagree with their thoughts and behavior. They begin to recognize how much time they lose getting engrossed in their obsession and compulsions only to reap distress in the end. In the process, they realize how much these intrusive thoughts have disrupted their work, social relationships, or academic performance (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2010).
In the movie, Melvin has already come to this realization; in his conversation with Carol, he admits visiting the psychiatrist and agrees to receive the continued medication for his predicament. His obsessions do not seem to distract him from his writing career as he continues to write bestseller romance novels that appeal to the public. In some instances, he considers his neighbors to be a distraction though his performance remains steady. After taking care of Simon’s dog and visiting Carol at her house, he begins to recognize his feelings of affection and the effect of his compulsions on others (Sarris et al., 2012).
There are alternative methods that can be used in the treatment of OCD patients like Melvin Udall. They include the following:
Exposure and response prevention
Tests with such a behavioral approach have had positive responses in the management of compulsions. For instance, Melvin, who tries to avoid contamination with germs, can be exposed to contaminated surfaces, such as door handles; he may also be instructed not to wash his hands. Sanitization can be pictured in his mind using his imagination to help him overcome his dread for germs (Sarris et al., 2012).
If Melvin believes his obsessions and compulsions are realistic to some extent, the exposure and response technique may not be successful. An alternative procedure would be cognitive behavioral therapy that aims at gradually modifying one’s behavior through identification and testing the cognitive distortions.
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Recreation and body-focused techniques
Most OCD patients are extremely bright and are always pondering at the expense of their bodies. They often lack the connection with their bodies and, therefore, body-focused approaches would often come in handy (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2010).
Medications for OCD
Presently, there are some particular psychiatric medications that have been advanced to help counter the effects of obsessive and compulsive behaviors. A large majority of these drugs are antidepressants that are used to boost the levels of serotonin in the patients’ bodies. Patients suffering from the obsessive-compulsive disorder are said to be deficient in the chemical serotonin. Therefore, any drug that compensates this deficiency in their body helps reduce the effects of OCD. According to studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is sufficient scientific backing to indicate that antidepressants are beneficial in the treatment of OCD patients. They have provided a list of the approved depressants, which include Clomipramine, Fluvoxamine, Fluoxetine, and Paroxetine (Dziegielewski, 2010).
Brooks, J. (Director). (1997). As Good As it Gets [DVD]. Gracie Films.
Dziegielewski, S. (2010). DSM-IV-TR in Action. New York John Wiley & Sons.
Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2010). Abnormal psychology. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Sarris, J., Camfield, D., & Berk, M. (2012). Complementary medicine, self-help, and lifestyle interventions for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the OCD spectrum: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 138(3), 213-221.