An interesting short film about Sue Morgan’s artistic way expressing and processing her experiences, as well as some of the science helping us to understand these experiences from a neuroscience perspective (in terms of changes in levels of oxygen in the brain, BOLD, the thing we think we measure with functional MRI).
As someone with a fair bit of experience in brain imaging, two things thing struck me straight away about this film. The first is the power of imagery, the second is how, it seems to me, imagery is working in very different ways for Sue Morgan and for the clinical researcher and the film maker.
For Sue Morgan, getting her thoughts out of her brain and down on to paper is a perhaps a means by which she can reduce the power of her experiences and make sense of them. For the film maker, images of brain scans and MRI machines perhaps help to convey a sense that the research is important, that it is ‘real’ and ‘scientific’. For psychiatrist and researcher Sukhi Shergill, seeing the activation on a brain scan, helps him to say that he believes that these experiences are real, and do so genuinely.
The film also makes me wonder about the strange tricks that filmmakers like to play. What we see here is not an image of a real MRI scanner, but a fake scanner. Putting a laptop into a real scanner would result in nothing less than a very unhappy laptop, and possibly, carnage. When Sukhi Shergill points at his bank of computer screens, he is presumably supposed to be in the middle of some serious hardcore scientific thought, while he’s probably mostly feeling a bit uncomfortable about having to make gestures at a touch screen whilst being filmed (conjecture of course). The visual language here is presumably supposed to make us take the message more seriously, to engage more with the film. Personally, if there’s no pictures of the scientist walking moodily down a long corridor, I don’t buy it. Or with less sarcasm, please filmmakers, more content, less nonsense.
There is however, a very important message in this short film, the experiences of people with psychoses are real. They are not made up, the person is genuinely hearing voices, seeing things, or experiencing the feeling that people are out to get them. This is why, when these experiences are appraised as negative, they can be genuinely terrifying. Out clients, have of course, been telling us this forever. All too often, professionals fail to grasp this, and this leads to a collapse in the relationship. In a sense, we should not need MRI scans to tell us this, they are simply correlates of our ‘lived experience’, they help us understand at another level, but they are no more valid that what the person is telling us about their experience. Yet, if brain scans can help professionals develop more empathy and understanding, great.