NJ Med Students Learn About Psychiatric Disorders by Watching Seinfeld

Psy-feld course is ‘unconventional’ but ‘effective’

• January 6, 2015 12:15 pm


Some New Jersey medical students are learning about psychiatric disorders by watching reruns of Seinfeld and analyzing the antics of the four main characters of Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer to determine their afflictions.

The assignment for students in Dr. Anthony Tobia’s class at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School includes watching two episodes of Seinfeld a week, and discussing the disorders displayed in the episode occurs the following day.

Tobia, associate professor of psychiatry at RWJMS, created the Psy-feld program and told the Free Beacon the program has been an "overwhelming success" since its inception.

Tobia said he is planning on an expansion of the program. He is going to create podcasts and a website of actual conversations about the show. He may also telecast the discussions to other Rutgers schools for undergraduates, and possibly to other undergraduate schools outside the state university.

"The use of the sitcom is for educational purposes only, and we ensure that our students understand that in no way do I (or Rutgers-RWJMS) condone promoting the stereotype that ‘mental illness is a joke,’" said Tobia.

The impetus for incorporating Seinfeld in his curriculum came naturally to Tobia.

"I found myself more and more putting Seinfeld into my lectures," Tobia said. A lot of residents were also watching the popular show’s reruns, and discussions about the show eventually ensued.

Aside from making rounds and the usual lectures, roughly 400 to 600 total students have participated in Psy-feld. "Universally, they have highlighted Psy-Feld as a positive."

The professor keeps an extensive database of the show, which he updates weekly with new disorders discovered by both him and his students.

An academic paper penned by Tobia and others on delusional disorders focused on Elaine’s relationships with men and was published in Academic Psychiatry.

"Students found the didactic to be of high quality, believed it enhanced their learning, and thought that it prepared them for their final SHELF exam. Students also found it enjoyable and preferred the didactic to more traditional forms of teaching such as large group lectures," the paper concluded.

Students have embraced this part of the curriculum. Many who are in their residency have even indicated it has helped them diagnose patients, according to Tobia.

"Students have texted me or contacted me and indicated what they see in residency is something that we talked about," he said, and they referenced Seinfeld.

"Our teaching objectives have been clear for over a decade," Tobia said. Now, he has found a way to meet the objectives in an innovative way.

"I can put an experience to a teaching thing and get to those objectives," he said.

For fourth-year med student Ralph Fader, the Psy-feld course has been quite beneficial.

Fader said aside from the great deal of reading in textbooks, Psy-feld allows students to see people "with mental illness" and how it plays out in their lives.

"While it’s over the top with Seinfeld, there is still a lot of applicability," Fader said. "I think watching these characters interact with each other, you see patterns of behavior, and you can identify these patterns in patients. It makes it easier to narrow down what may be happening in their lives."

Fader acknowledges Psy-feld may be "unconventional" but said it’s "effective" and "more engaging."

"It’s awesome to derive something meaningful and personal out of it," said Fader.

What are the main psychiatric disorders displayed on the hit show? Jerry has obsessive compulsive personality traits, and he is focused on orderliness and being in control. They are debilitating to his life and "he can’t maintain meaningful relationships because of this trait," Tobia said.

George, on the other hand, is egocentric and self-centered. He has the incapacity to view anyone’ else’s perspective aside from his own. Elaine, who had a difficult upbringing, has the inability to attain meaningful relationships with men. Tobia said her attraction to these men displays object relations.

Kramer has some qualities of schizoid personality, according to Tobia, and is a "loner that operates in a fantasy world."

New students starting in Tobia’s class week watched Seinfeld last night, and today were expected to take part in a discussion on the episode.