The impact of a psychiatrist's personal life on his or her practice, the
decision to disclose a personal tragedy to a patient, and the isolation
psychiatrists experience were some of the themes raised in an illuminating and
personal discussion by psychiatrists after viewing "The Son's
Room" at the American Psychiatric Foundation's first Psychiatry Film
Fest. The event was held in Atlanta during APA's 2005 annual meeting in
This slow-paced, character-driven film in Italian with English subtitles
won best picture in the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. It explores the life of a
psychiatrist, Giovanni, and his family after the tragic death of their
teenaged son in a diving accident.
During the 45-minute discussion after the film's viewing, moderated by
Steven Hyler, M.D., attendees shared a variety of perspectives. The experience
of the psychiatrist's grief and how he copes with his loss, as well as"
the burden of living with what our patients share," as one
audience member put it, resonated with the audience.
As the film unfolds, viewers learn that Giovanni is tormented by the
thought that he might have prevented his son's death had he spent time with
him instead of responding to a patient's crisis. These events impact the
doctor-patient relationship, raising the issue of personal disclosure to the
patient and whether it is an appropriate component of therapy. Audience
members weighed in, advocating both for and against self-disclosure.
Giovanni returns to work almost immediately following the tragedy, a
decision that led the audience to question the ethics of returning to work so
quickly, what is an appropriate length of leave, and how to do so, as well as
to comment on the need for psychiatrists to accept that they need to take time
for themselves during a crisis. Many in the audience identified with Giovanni
and his inability to recognize his own need for time to grieve.
"As an organization focused on awareness of mental illnesses, we
recognize that the public's perception of mental illnesses, treatment, and
psychiatry is shaped by popular culture, which often means portrayals in film
and television," said Jackie Feldman, M.D., a member of the foundation
board and Psychiatry Film Fest host.
"By bringing a high-quality film to the annual meeting, the
foundation acknowledges the work of a filmmaker who raised rather than lowered
the bar with regard to the public's understanding of mental health."▪