Darth Vader Has PTSD: Using Star Wars As A Diagnostic Learning Tool

Star Wars Psychiatric Diagnosing

Psychiatrists Ryan C. W. Hall and Susan Hatters-Friedman discussed how they use analyses of Star Wars characters as diagnostic tools during the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting (APA 2016) in Atlanta, Georgia.

For students of psychiatry, it can be hard to take textbook definitions of psychopathology and imagine how they manifest in real people. So, Hall and his colleagues diagnosed psychological disorders displayed by the Star Wars characters, which they say can be used as tools to teach how psychiatric illnesses affect behavior.

Me and my co-author, we found out that we were both Star Wars fans. We picked up on little clues like us making references from the movie’s dialog things like that. And then, one day, after one of these meetings we’re just kind of talking at a reception, she commented she thought that C3PO had obsessive compulsive personality disorder… then I thought about it for five minutes and came up with twelve other diagnosis on the other major characters, and that kind of started us of,” said Hall.

Darth Vader suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, according to the duo. Vader spent most of his childhood as a slave, so he has grown into adult detached from the society, who often projects his own negative feelings onto others. They suggest these traits, along with a few others, show Vader may be suffering from borderline personality disorder.

The duo was trying to find a way to use pop culture as a teaching tool, as an augmenter. Since Star Wars is so beloved and everybody knows it, they decided to use the characters from this movie for their analyses.

They published three papers on it and received positive response when giving the lecture.

Hall says scholars have been using fictional characters to model real-world psychiatric disorders like this for centuries. For example, Freud referred to Hamlet in some of his things, and the Oedipus complex comes from Greek tragedy.

Their method is meant to be a fun way to teach normal people, patients or medical students who are interested in this subject, he said.

So the notion of using ‘pop culture’ of its day to teach concepts or personalities, and how things are going to relate. Star Wars was greatly influenced by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Carl Young. So, I mean there’s some under pending of psychiatric thought and heritage to the top of it,” he added.

Ariel Jacoby
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