Wicked Smart Will Hunting

Name: Will Hunting
Age: 20
Education: Some high school
Occupation: Between jobs
Date of Report: December 5, 1997
Therapists: Katie Gordon, Ph.D., Brandon T. Saxton, M.S.

good-will-hunting

Presenting Problem
Will was punching a man who had bullied him in kindergarten when three police officers showed up and tried to stop him. As they pulled Will away, he responded by kicking one of them. After Will appeared in court for this incident, the judge ordered a psychological evaluation. When Will arrived at our office, he made it clear that he was disinterested in meeting with us. He told us that he had read our website and listened to our podcast before coming in, and he was not impressed. He then lit a cigarette and told us to “go #$%&” ourselves. After being reminded that his timely release from jail was dependent on his cooperation with our evaluation, he said, “I’m pumped. Let the healing begin!”

Family/Social History
Will did not want to share his history with us, but we were able to obtain information from medical and court records. We learned that Will was an only child whose parents died when he was a young boy. He was then placed in the foster care system and was removed from three homes due to severe physical abuse (e.g., being stabbed with a knife and burned with cigarettes). Tragically, these early childhood experiences disrupted Will’s ability to form healthy attachments and trust people. He also developed a persistent fear that people would abandon him once they knew the truth about his past.

According to one of Will’s previous therapist’s notes, Will tended to act in an arrogant, cocky manner to push people away and protect himself from getting hurt. There were some exceptions to this pattern, however. Will had a close group of friends (including his best friend, Chucky) that he grew up with in South Boston (“Southie”). They spent time together driving around, watching local little league games, and hanging out at bars. He described them as “good guys” and “loyal.”

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Educational/Employment History
Will dropped out of high school due to disinterest, but actively pursued self-education through reading materials on a wide range of topics including history, chemistry, art, physics, and literature. He also chose to work as a janitor at MIT in order to gain more exposure to advanced mathematics. Based on Will’s verbalization and impressive knowledge, he appeared to have superior intellectual functioning. After explaining his educational history to us, Will stood up and looked at the diplomas and degrees on our walls and said, “You wasted $150,000 on an education you could’ve got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.” He then made his way to our bookshelf, eyed a history book, and said, “If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. That book will #$%&ing knock you on your #$%.” We thanked him for the advice and turned to his employment history, which consisted of working a string of different jobs including custodial work and construction.

Legal History
Will’s criminal records revealed the following charges: Assault (June, 1993; September, 1993), Grand Theft Auto*(February, 1994), Impersonating a Police Officer (January, 1995), Mayhem, Theft, and Resisting Arrest (dates unknown).

*He had this charge dropped by arguing that it fit within Free Property Rights of Horse and Carriage from 1798.

Diagnostic Impressions & Treatment Recommendations
Based on his presentation and behavior in Good Will Hunting (available on Netflix!), we decided to evaluate Will for antisocial personality disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While he exhibited some PTSD symptoms in response to severe childhood abuse (e.g., persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world), he did not appear to meet full diagnostic criteria for the disorder (e.g., he did not appear to exhibit signs of recurrent, intrusive memories of the trauma).

According to the DSM-5, antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15. Will clearly met at least 4 of the 7 criteria (3 are required for this diagnosis): 1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest (see legal history section), 2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure (e.g., lied about having 12 older brothers: Marky, Ricky, Danny, Terry, Mikey, Davey, Timmy, Joey, Robby, Johnny, and Brian; had Chucky pretend to be him during a job interview), 3) irritability or aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults (see presenting problem and legal history sections), and 4) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations (he quit at least two jobs without providing notice to his employers). While we can’t be completely certain that some of these behaviors were present by age 15, it seems reasonable to suspect that in light of his criminal record dating back to age 16.

A subset of individuals with antisocial personality disorder also exhibit psychopathic traits, including extreme callousness with regard to other people’s feelings. While Will displayed antisocial patterns, including criminal behavior, he did not appear to lack in conscience or concern for others. He experienced genuine and deep feelings for Skylar (a woman he dated) and his friends from Southie. Therefore, Will did not appear to be psychopathic. That is important for treatment planning, because there is evidence that individuals with psychopathy do not tend to improve or actually become worse with therapeutic intervention. Treatment research on antisocial personality disorder has not clearly identified effective treatments for this disorder. Most effective treatments for these types of behaviors target adolescents in family-focused, multicomponent treatments, which draws attention to the importance of early intervention for antisocial behavior.

Though he did not appear to meet criteria for PTSD, many of Will’s problems likely stem from, or were exacerbated by, tragic and traumatic childhood events. Therefore, he may benefit from a therapeutic approach that addresses the negative impact of these experiences while teaching him healthy emotional coping and behavioral strategies. Because this particular approach has not been scientifically-tested, his therapist should regularly monitor Will to ensure that he is receiving benefit from it. If he is not improving or becoming worse, this approach should be discontinued. Will has a number of strengths including his insight, knowledge, and desire for interpersonal connections – all which suggest that he may benefit from therapy, if he is willing to participate in it.

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Status at Follow-up
We contacted Will’s therapist, Sean Maguire, to follow-up on his status. Sean informed us that their therapy had a rough start, but they ultimately formed a strong, meaningful rapport and made substantial progress. Sean said that he last heard from Will through a letter that said he “had to see about a girl,” meaning that he had finally left his comfort zone in Southie and went to California so that he could continue his relationship with Skylar. We viewed this as a hopeful sign of progress for Will.

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THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

  1. Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?

Some aspects of antisocial personality disorder were accurate, as specified above. Will’s intellect is atypically high, and that fact is recognized with the fictional world of the movie.

  1. Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?

Yes, Will was written and portrayed as a nuanced and sympathetic character who effectively evoked compassion.

Overall rating:
On a scale of not liking them apples to very much liking them apples, we love them apples.

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