The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective


The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective

“Have you seen The Color Purple?”  A patient of mine asked me. Wearing my psychodynamic-informed hat, at all times, during clinical care, and listening with my third ear, and making sure I engage and meet my patients where they are at, I briefly paused and echoed, “The Color Purple,” while nodding.  I was sending her the message that I heard the question and was answering, but that I really want to hear what was behind the question without avoidance. 

She quickly started talking about it in her efforts to engage me in a discussion, and I explained that I saw the Broadway show about 10 years ago, not the movie.  This did not stop her from continuing the discussion, and I knew then I had to carve out some time to watch the movie, if I was to continue to join in with her, during the next visit with me.

 

The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective

Unlike the Broadway show, watching the movie was rather emotionally laden for me.  Maybe because I was thinking about my patient, as I watched Nettie being beaten by Mister and thrown out of his home for standing her ground, refusing his sexual advances, refusing the sexual abuse.  Or, maybe because, like a colleague once said to me, I empathize too much and that I need to detach at times? Or maybe it was a combination of both.  Regardless of the explanation for my reaction to the movie, The Color Purple amazingly presented what countless of our patients and clients either go through or have been through, and it is worth a watch.

 

Further, while the book has been the object of countless controversies, as clinicians, it may be worth putting aside our assigned categories and see the movie for what it is worth—art that describes the human psyche, human struggles, human dynamics, social constructs, and oppression, as well as art that describes human trauma, survival modes, coping mechanisms, healing, support, hope, and inspiration.

 

They are many points illustrated in The Color Purple.  In this current article, I will only mention two of them, and in subsequent articles, I will go over several additional key points in more detail.

 

1. Child Abuse:

The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective

Celie (played by Woopie Goldberg) experienced sexual abuse by her stepfather, resulting in two children, Adam and Olivia.  She never got to raise or see them, however, until they became adults.  The sexual abuse was ongoing, and there was no one present for Celie, until she left her house through a forced marriage with Mister (played by Danny Glover), who then took the place of Celie’s stepfather, continuing the abuse, both physical and emotional.  Child abuse of any form is a travesty, and in most cases, the perpetrator is not a stranger but knows the child, as in the case with Celie and her stepfather.  This kind of trauma can leave an individual numb and with low self-esteem, which makes it easier to either stay in the abusive relationship or to continue on to another abusive relationship, once again, as in the case with Celie.

 

2. Survival Mode:

The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective

Nettie, Celie’s younger sister of two years, told her, “You have to fight, Celie, you just have to fight back, “ to which Celie responded, “I just know how to stay alive.”  This conversation between sisters regarded how Mister and his children were abusing Celie, someone who never got to stand up for herself.  I must be clear here that Celie was not a “coward,” it was her survival mode and survival instinct for staying alive.  Nettie and Sofia (played by Oprah Winfrey) were classified as “fighters.”  This tells us about how they coped and survived.  Nettie fought Mister, when he tried to rape her.  She fought him when he tried to take her away from her sister, Celie.  “Nothing but death can keep me from it,” she yelled at him, when he threatened that she would never see her sister, Celie again.

 

Just like Nettie, Sofia fought her husband, Harpo, when he tried to beat her; she defied the mayor’s wife, when she tried to disrespect and humiliate her, and she fought the mayor back when he slapped her as punishment for defying his wife.

 

The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective

Shug, too, had to survive, and survived she did, but in a different way when compared to Celie, Nettie, or Sofia.  Unlike Nettie or Sofia, Shug did not fight per se, and unlike Celie, she did not just manage to stay alive either, but she used her charm, glamour, and her fame for survival, to get what she wanted, to then help others, inspire them, and mentor them.



“Have you seen The Color Purple?”  A patient of mine asked me. Wearing my psychodynamic-informed hat, at all times, during clinical care, and listening with my third ear, and making sure I engage and meet my patients where they are at, I briefly paused and echoed, “The Color Purple,” while nodding.  I was sending her the message that I heard the question and was answering, but that I really want to hear what was behind the question without avoidance.  She quickly started talking about it in her efforts to engage me in a discussion, and I explained that I saw the Broadway show about 10 years ago, not the movie.  This did not stop her from continuing the discussion, and I knew then I had to carve out some time to watch the movie, if I was to continue to join in with her, during the next visit with me.



And so, after so many years, I would like to share with you my perspective, as a psychiatrist, a child psychiatrist, a public psychiatrist, who works with traumatized and oppressed individuals, those involved in the criminal justice system, every single day, those like Celie, Nettie, Sofia, and Shug, who are just trying to survive, albeit in different ways, based on the best way they how.



For more in this series of articles, check below!


SWEET Institute- Mardoche Sidor, MD

Dr. Sidor is quadruple board certified in psychiatry, with board certification in General adult, Child and adolescent, Addiction, and Forensic, psychiatry. He also has additional training in public psychiatry, in several treatment modalities, in addition to his teaching, supervision, mentorship, coaching, and management, experience. Some of his passions are public speaking, leadership, entrepreneurship, and research, in addition to program development and project management. His overall goal is to empower all health care professionals throughout the United States and globally, towards ensuring the continuity of excellent patient care, while balancing the need to take care of themselves. Dr. Sidor is the main instructor for the SWEET Institute, and he is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is also the past-Medical Director for CASES (Center for Alternative Sentencing and employment Services), and he speaks and writes fluently in six (4) languages—French, English, Spanish, Creole, and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese and Italian.


References:

  1. Browne, A., &Finkelhor, D. (1986). Impact of child sexual abuse: A review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 99, 66-77.

  2. Davidson, 1., &Smith, R. (1990). Traumatic experiences in psychiatric outpatients. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3, 459-475.

  3. Famularo, R„ KInscherff, R., & Fenton, T. (1991). Post-traumatic stress disorder among children clinically diagnosed as borderline personality disorder. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 179, 428-431.

  4. Kandel, E. R., &Schwartz, J. H. (1982). Molecular biology of an elementary form of learning: Modulation of transmitter release by cyclic AMP. Science, 218, 433-443.