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


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

“I continue to think about The Color Purple.

I could talk about it every day. Really, tell me, what do you think about it?”

 

A patient of mine, whom I will call Maya, asked me this question during her weekly psychodynamic psychotherapy visit with me. In a previous article in this series, entitled, The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective, I explained how Maya had asked me if I saw The Color Purple, how she was eager to talk about it, and so, since I did not see the movie, but rather the Broadway production, if I was to join with her during the next visit, I knew I needed to watch The Color Purple, the movie.

 

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

I also explained that the movie was more emotionally laden for me than the Broadway show had been. Was it because I was thinking about my patient, Maya, as I was watching the movie; was it because I over empathized; or was it a combination of both?  Regardless of the explanation, The Color Purple illustrates the lives of so many patients I have had the privilege to serve in the public sector, in such a way that I felt compelled to write about it.  I then described two salient points, child abuse and survival mode.  



In this current article, I am going to describe two additional salient points.

1. Early Loss:

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

Celie lost her father at an early age; so, she later lived with a stepfather who, instead of helping take care of her, abused her significantly.  She then lost her mother, and later on, lost the only person she had left as someone to love and someone who would love her, her 12-year-old sister, Nettie.  Loss often leads to mourning, something Celie had no time for; there was no time to process; and there was no one to process alongside.  Her daily abuse, in all its forms, was far more overwhelming than anything else she might have wanted to think about.  Loss of your loved object or of the object of your love often leads to anger, directed towards oneself or towards others.  Celie chose the former.  


As stated in the previous article of this same series, The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective, Celie at times appeared numb, as if “frozen,” with no feelings and no fight left.  With no hope and no help, it appeared as if she stopped living.  It was inevitable that Celie would carry her share of anger, but it was hard to see.  For this anger was directed towards herself and not towards others.  This self-directed anger did not take a form of self-injurious behavior or suicide attempts, at least, not directly.  Instead, she acted as if she offered herself up to be beaten, to continue to be abused.  While part of this could be explained by her trauma reactivity, there was clearly a component of depression, resulting from her loss, especially her early losses.

 

2. A Clear Example of Social Injustice:

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

I often explain how it is hard to heal from trauma, unless you feel safe and that many of our patients and clients are victims of ongoing, continuous discrimination, prejudice, biases, and micro-aggressions, which in turn make it difficult for them to feel safe, hence the challenge for them to heal.  

It is no wonder they react, misperceive, and think everyone is out to get them, and feel the need to attack first before they will be attacked.  In the movie, Sofia (played by Oprah) went out with her children. Miss Millie, the Mayor’s wife, started to check Sofia’s children from head to toe, examining them and touching them to see how well they were groomed, all without asking Sofia’s permission.  Sofia was doing her best to control herself, when Miss Millie looked at her and asked, “Can you be my maid?” to which Sofia responded with an emphatic, “Hell no.”  Miss Millie could not believe she heard that the poor black woman was not only declining to be her maid, but also defying her by stating, “hell no.”  So, she then asked, “What did you say?” to which Sofia once more answered, “Hell no.”  The mayor heard this and, in his attempt to save his wife’s face, approached Sofia and asked, “What did you say to my wife?”  Sofia once more responded, “Hell no.”  At this point, without hesitation, the mayor slapped Sofia, as hard as he could.  Sofia, as I explained in the previous article, was far different from Celie.  Her survival mode was different.  Contrary to Celie, she does not try to stay alive, she fights to stay alive, and this time was no exception. 

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

After being slapped by the mayor, Sofia was ready to fight back.  She concentrated all her power in her fist and punched the mayor in his face and he was quickly found on the floor.  Needless to say, Sofia was so beaten by the police that she lost her left eye.  She then spent eight years in prison and after release became the maid of Miss Millie, the mayor’s wife.  A clear message was sent, not only to Sofia, but also to any disempowered group; if you defy, if you fight back, you will be either beaten to death, or almost to death, sent to prison, and released to the custody of your oppressor.  If you think your patients and clients in the public sector or the justice system have not experienced something similar to Sofia, then think again.


“I continue to think about The Color Purple. I could talk about it every day. Really, tell me, what do you think about it?” A patient of mine, whom I will call Maya, asked me this question during her weekly psychodynamic psychotherapy visit with me. In a previous article in this series, entitled, The Color Purple And The Patients And Clients We Serve: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective, I explained how Maya had asked me if I saw The Color Purple, how she was eager to talk about it, and so, since I did not see the movie, but rather the Broadway production, if I was to join with her during the next visit, I knew I needed to watch The Color Purple, the movie.


 

I also explained that the movie was more emotionally laden for me than the Broadway show. Was it because I was thinking about my patient, Maya, as I was watching the movie; was it because I over empathized; or was it a combination of both?  Regardless of the explanation, this movie illustrates the lives of so many patients I have had the privilege to serve in the public sector, in such a way that I felt compelled to write about it.  I then described two salient points, child abuse and survival mode.  In this current article, I described two additional salient points, early loss, using Celie as an illustration of how our patients and clients may be dealing with early loss, and a clear example of social injustice, what it meant for Sofia, and what it may mean for our patients and clients.

 

My patient, Maya asked me, “Have you seen The Color Purple?” Using the parallel process, albeit consciously, let me ask you, “Have you seen the Color Purple?”  If so, what do you think it means for your patients and clients?



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. Bozorth-Campbell, A. (1982). Life is goodbye, life is hello: Grieving well through all kinds of loss. Minneapolis, MN: CampCare.

  2. Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life's changes (2nd ed.) NY: Da Capo Press.

  3. Rando, T.A. (Ed.) (2000). Clinical dimensions of anticipatory mourning: Theory and practice in working with the dying, their loved ones and their caregivers. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

  4. Social Justice: Cultural Origins of a Theory and a Perspective By Carl L. Bankston III, Independent Review vol. 15 no. 2, pp. 165–178, 2010.