Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is one of the most commonpsychological disorder displayed in an estimated 10% of individuals but is veryrarely explored in cinema. Tom Hopper’s historical drama film the King’s Speechexplores the development and effect of SAD in the adult life of Prince thenKing George VI and then his treatment by Australian speech therapist LionelLogue. Through dialogue and onscreen actions, it presents a fair and accuratedescription of the symptoms and partial treatment of SAD.SAD is where an individual experiences an excessive fear ofobservation or scrutiny in general or discrete situations which leads tosymptoms like trembling, blushing, stammering and in severe cases nausea anddiarrhea (Heimberg & Schneier, 1995). Those effected bySAD tend to avoid social interactions due to their fear of judgment and theirlife is based around this principle of avoidance which can hamper their socialdevelopment (Stein & Yu, 1996). In the King’s Speech, King George is in sucha situation where by being part of the royal family he cannot avoid speechesand social interactions where his constant stuttering and sweating during theseinteractions is affecting him deeply. Throughout the film he displays many symptomsof an individual with SAD such as constant stuttering, avoiding eye contact,getting very sweaty and anxious before speeches and trembling while talking.
Another sign of SAD is that throughout thefilm he is very self-critical of his actions and doesn’t believe that he willbe a good king as he says “The nation believes that when I speak, I speakfor them. But I can’t speak.”.
This sort of self-doubt and negative viewof himself as a poor socializer is very commonly found in individuals with fromSAD (Heimberg & Schneier, 1995). These symptoms leadto possible conclusion that King George VI has SAD however further differentialdiagnosis may be required to know the exact condition. There are many causeswhich could have led to this development.
SAD is thought to develop in early childhood of individualsand if it is not discovered and properly treated it can have significantconsequences in future life. Hobart Mower’s two factory theory encompassingClassical and Operant conditioning can be used to explain the development andmaintenance of phobias throughout an individual’s life. This theory states thatan individual first begins to associate neutral stimuli with a feared stimulusto incite an unconditioned response. After some time, he develops andunconditional response to the neutral stimuli as well and this unconditionedresponse in maintained by negative reinforcement of avoidance (Buck, 2010). In the case of SADan individual begins to associate social interactions with unpleasantunconditioned responses and then begins to avoid them by which he avoids theunconditioned response, and this eventually spirals leading to furtheravoidance. Although the exact conditions which lead to SAD in King George VI arenot fully explained it is discovered while he undergoes therapy that he had avery unpleasant childhood in the hands of his dominant and highly demandingfather. King George at an early age was placed in the care of a nanny whophysically abused him to the state where he was becoming dangerouslyunderweight and extremely sick. His father King George V was a very demandingman who as he states said “I was scared of my father and so will be mychildren” and was angered by George’s inability to speak fluently oftenexclaiming loudly “Come on spit it out”.
Further on he says that he was forcedto change his dominant hand from his left to his right. The above conditionscould all have led to the development of SAD as studies conducted in Swedenshowcased that 58.1 % of patients recall the direct traumatic event which leadto their development of phobias (Heimberg & Schneier, 1995). A cognitivebehavioral model can further help in understanding the development of SAD. It assumes that individuals with SADinherently believe that other people are very critical of their behavior andactions and due to this they form mental impressions of themselves in socialsituations and this leads to enhanced anxiety response and awareness, which interfereswith their behavior (Heimberg & Schneier, 1995). This is exhibitedin King’s Speech where King George while talking with his brother startslooking at others facial expressions in the room, such as his brother’s mistresswho appears to be grinning, and due to this his stuttering worsens to such anextent he is barely able to speak in the situation which leads to his brothermaking a mockery of him. It is situations like this which lead to avoidance infuture of these situations as he is reluctant further in the film to meet withhis ministers when he is anointed King of England.
Luckily, he is able toreceive treatment later in life which helps him overcome some of these issues.Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a modern approach toSAD which has shown significant improvements in social skills and confidence ofpatients. Recent studies have indicated that a 12-week session of CBT leads tosignificant improvements in severity of CBT in comparison to control subjects (Spence, March, & Hearn, 2017). In comparison topharma logical drugs like phenelzine CBT resulted in maintained improvementover a time while phenelzine produced more rapid but short termed response (Heimberg & Schneier, 1995). It has also beennoted that in some cases this can led to drug addiction which can be overallharmful for the recipients. It relies onmodifying safety behaviors and trying to remove self-focused attention into externalques.
It uses techniques like video and audio feedback to correctself-perception and to violate the individual’s social norms leading to removalof safety behaviors. As the King’s Speech is set in the early 20th century tomake an accurate judgment on the treatment earlier models need to be studied.Earlier models of CBT used Social Skill Training which involves use of facialexercises and improving non-verbal gestures like eye contact and stature (Heimberg & Schneier, 1995). Lionel Logue thespeech therapist in King’s Speech heavily uses this earlier model in histreatment course. He initially uses facial exercises and tongue twisters to getKing George to speak more freely. He then proceeds to get the King to speakloudly into windows further removing safety behaviors. At the end of thetherapy he uses verbal techniques to reduce the stuttering by introducingspacing and making the speeches into songs.
The therapy given in the filmdoesn’t differ much from earlier models of CBT and some parts of the therapypresented in the film are still used today.Overall the King’s Speech gives an accurate account for thesymptoms of SAD and an earlier model of treatment which improves overallunderstanding of such disorders and engages the audience in a dramatic way. Thefilm explains details of SAD including its development and treatment showcasinga very account of an individual with SAD.