Monday, March 7, 2011

Therapists on The King's Speech

Traditionally, the theory behind trauma treatment is that you relieve the pressure of haunting memories when the individual talks about it. Yet research shows that Developmental Trauma Disorder affects a part of the brain words can't reach-the limbic system, specifically the amygdala and hypothalamus, all lower in the brain and far from the cortex, the seat of thinking, logic and reason. This is why the understanding and insight produced by "talk" and behavioral therapy doesn't fix trauma. The patient doesn't hear it. The traumatized brain cannot process the words.

Consider Logue's methods: singsong, guttural utterances and curse words, physical movements such as rolling on the floor. The patient's intellectual grasp of his condition is irrelevant. Although Bertie eventually opens up about the childhood abuses he endured: humiliation and criticism, harsh disapproval of his father, King George V, the leg braces he was forced to wear and sexual abuse by a nanny. Yet healing is the product of the developing trust between him and his therapist. Since trauma involves a psychological injury resulting from multiple, chronic, prolonged, developmentally adverse events, treatment requires the establishment of intimacy. Logue knows he has to create a "safe place" for his patient: "I will call you Bertie, and you will call me Lionel."

In the movie's last scene, Hitler's shadow looms, and an entire country awaits reassurance. "Speak to me," Logue commands his patient in a calm, firm voice that breaches the canyon and places this momentous speech in the safe place of intimacy.

The red light flashes. Bertie begins to speak. The trauma has been overcome- by the trust and security of his friendship with the man who understands his problems and treats his deep, underlying issues. The King has entered the safety of a world that makes room for the goodness that was inside him, waiting for a chance to emerge. I work every day to establish this kind of trust with my patients. If only the outcome of trauma therapy were always as beautiful as the end of this poignant Hollywood movie.

- Frederick Woolverton, Ph.D.

Understanding Prince Albert's ("Bertie") nonverbal language of stuttering and body twitches, Lionel has him practice relaxation exercises sing, roll on the floor, shout obscenities and feel his emotions, probe painful childhood repressed memories and finally feel a growing friendship between two equal human beings. Using seriousness, rhythm, play and improvisation in the "transitional space" between them, Lionel bridges Bertie's negative self-talk with positive glimpses and new narrative of his future as a respected and self-determining king.

- Ilene Serlin, Ph.D.

Logue uses Socratic means to re-shape Bertie's long-term irrational core beliefs: Stuttering is irreversible; I am weak of character; I am defective; I cannot be a competent king. In the course of working with his coach, King George VI discovers that he has far more strength of character than his older brother; that he is able to meet the challenge of war with Germany; that being left-handed and knock kneed as a child are not signs of inferiority or defect. Perhaps the biggest revelation is that in contrast to remaining brow-beaten by the words and teachings of his pompous and hypercritical father, and intimidated by his inept and insecure brother, the new monarch, King George VI, reshapes his personal narrative and discovers his own inspirational voice.

- Harvey Milkman, Ph.D.

Lionel Logue, the speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush, lacked credentials, fame, a posh office, success in his own acting ambitions and a home that was sufficient for hosting royalty. What he had was the ability to both believe more in the King than the King did himself, while also creating an equal relationship, insisting on calling him Bertie and setting ground rules that he chose.

Rush's character held his own, believing in his own worth and what he could offer (even in the midst of vast inequality). He also never lost sight of how human the King really was, seeing him with his imperfections and wounds. He saw him-his amazingness and his insecurities.
Isn't that what we all crave?

And the final line of The King's Speech came onto a black screen before the credits rolled, attesting that it can work: "Bertie and Lionel remained friends through out their entire life."

- Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

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