Reel Doctor Talk

This boat is workin' out just fine

by Smitha R. Chadaga MD

I grew up on Steven Spielberg films.  E.T.  Indiana JonesJurassic Park.  But it took me a while to see Jaws.  I’m kinda glad I waited. It was an intense experience for me. And I’m not the only one. In the July 1st issue of Entertainment Weekly, in an interview with Anthony Breznican (@Breznican), Steven Spielberg recounts how filming Jaws was such a traumatic experience that he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In order to get over his PTSD, Spielberg would visit the actual Orca fishing boat on the Universal lot and work through his experiences. 


Could making a movie cause PTSD? Yes. Under the right circumstances.


Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs in some people after witnessing or experiencing a life threatening or traumatic event.  Not every person who witnesses or experiences such an event will go on to get PTSD but some do.  Symptoms tend to begin within six months of the event and last for over a month.


To make the diagnosis of PTSD, a patient needs to have one or more symptoms from each of the following categories for over a month to the point where it interferes with normal life:

1.  Reliving or re-experiencing the event - such as through flash backs or nightmares

2.  Avoiding the event – including avoiding thoughts and conversations that reference the event, or avoiding places and objects that are reminders of the event

3.  Change in mood – including feeling alone and losing interest in enjoyable activities

4.  Reactive affect – including not being able to relax, always feeling on guard and problems sleeping


Once PTSD has been diagnosed it can be treated with different types of therapy and medications. The two main types of therapy are cognitive therapy and exposure therapy.  Cognitive therapy involves understanding how a patient thinks about their trauma and working on changing that way of thinking.  Exposure therapy involves working with a therapist to face the memory and event causing the stress and finding ways to deal with them. 


Whether or not Spielberg's symptoms met the strict criteria for PTSD is not clear but one thing is.  He's moved on to bigger things.