The “yellow jackets” in therapy: Mental health experts give advice

The yellowcoats suffer, hallucinate, and show an increasing interest in blood sacrifice. We spoke to therapists and they have some advice.

Nobody in the Yellowjackets is doing well.

It seems harsh, but who would expect teenage survivors of a plane crash, lying in the wilderness, to be doing well? Those who didn’t die hunted down and ate their own teammates – and that’s all we know so far.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Robin Gibbs told IndieWire that when someone experiences a shock, such as a plane crash. The “thinking brain,” which handles problem solving and judgment, “goes kind of offline.”

“It’s like the old story about mothers who can lift a car when their child is trapped under it,” he said. “You don’t think about doing it; this other part of the brain takes over.”

After the crash, the cast of “Yellowjackets” can’t really process what happened to them because it’s still happening. One shock after another, each stressor piling on top of the last. According to Gibbs, terrible events happen in quick succession, and the emotions associated with those events don’t necessarily go away. They are stored elsewhere in the mind, leading to “numbness and difficulty making decisions or typically rational behavior.”

As Yellowjackets continue to navigate incredibly stressful situations, mental health therapist Jayta Szpitalak said the nature of their fears and anxieties changes — and becomes increasingly difficult to treat with traditional therapy techniques.

“It really shows up differently in your brain,” he told IndieWire. “When you have thought-based anxiety, it’s called top-down, and it’s really effective with psychotherapy. You can rationalize and logic appeals to this type of anxiety. But if you’re anxious because of a traumatic event, it’s more fear-based. You don’t actually process the information, mentally. You don’t intellectualize it.”

A teenage girl writes a journal in some sort of outdoor shed, dressed in makeshift winter clothing;  Opposite her is the corpse of another teenage girl wearing a blue and yellow varsity jacket;  still from it "Yellow jackets"

Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) with the dead body of Jackie (Ella Purnell) in “Yellowjackets”.

Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

In most TV shows, viewers can capture the true nature of a character to the point where they feel free to express how someone would or should behave. “I wouldn’t do that” or someone acting “out of character” are phrases that come with familiarity and balance, but “Yellowjackets” is the rare show that offers neither. The adult Shauna (Melanie Lynskey) is the or in character when she seduces her husband in the murdered man’s studio? Is teen Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) as unbalanced as her teammates think? Are any of these the real Shauna, or did this person figuratively die in the accident – effectively disappearing after Part 1?

“When you think about someone who’s had to deal with that kind of prolonged stress, people often don’t,” said Gibbs, who specializes in trauma. “People who have some internal capacity (or resource) that enables them to cope and live on.”

As IndieWire’s Ben Travers noted in his review of Season 2, “Yellowjackets” does lean toward hallucinations—an old TV tradition of visual storytelling, but in this case potentially used to illustrate the characters’ deteriorating mental states. In real life, Gibbs said, hallucinations are “stress beyond what someone can handle,” especially among teenagers living in the wild, which Hospitals said can also stem from depression and grief.

“Starvation destroys psychological functioning,” Gibbs noted, pointing to Season 2’s ongoing storyline of running low on groceries. “I’m sure (the hallucination) is a technique for the show, but it’s a way to express what happens in those extreme conditions.”

Sam McMillen, a psychiatry resident at Harvard University, explained that hallucinations occur in various psychotic disorders, but can also be a form of the disease. excessive vigilance — constantly detects security threats based on previous experience (often seen in combat veterans).

“What would they address clinically: What makes them feel unsafe or hypervigilant about past threats or things that represent past threats?” he said. “Maybe you’ll notice.” a wolf like a bizarre hallucination of an animal, but if it indicates that it feels targeted or represents something that violent or aggressiveit may suggest that this makes you feel emotionally unstable – as if you have to brace yourself for this aggression to happen again.”

A woman in a white sweater looks into the mirror, her reflection restless;  still from it "Yellow jackets"

Tawny Cypress in “Yellowjackets”.

Colin Bentley/SHOWTIME

Season 2 alone heralded the arrival of the wild winter, Jackie’s (Ella Purnell) body was frozen because it cannot be buried in the frozen ground. As the characters focus solely on survival—temporarily abandoning all rescue efforts to live through the spring—they find unique ways to cope. Misty (Samantha Hanratty) makes a new friend; Shauna talks to Jackie’s body and does her makeup; Taissa (Jasmin Savoy Brown) keeps sleeping through the night; and many of the others are loosely supportive of Lottie’s (Courtney Eaton) growing interest in blood sacrifice.

“Sometimes when you’re faced with such an extreme traumatic event, your mind can try to justify it to itself in incredible ways,” Szpitalak said. “You can tell a whole backstory to make yourself feel good… when people lie a lot, they can start to believe their lies — it’s like that. When you have an event of trauma and it’s so extreme … you fill in the gaps in the story to make yourself feel better.”

Not only are girls starving and malnourished, but the basic insecurity of their daily lives also affects bodily systems. “Even the toughest and healthiest of us,” Gibbs said, like these young athletes, can’t live like this.

Over the course of the show, more and more characters find solace in Lottie’s rituals, which begin to reflect religious or spiritual practices (and emerge in the cult she runs as an adult).

“It feels like it comes from hope,” Szpitalak said. “When you feel lost and have no answers… creating rituals and creating community can help you make sense of a senseless situation.”

McMillen agreed, noting that traumatic experiences are inherently unexpected, and that Lottie’s growing influence may stem from trusting the acute state of trauma. “Mysticism and the things that come from it can help alleviate anxiety around the unexpected,” he said. “You would kind of want to make yourself vulnerable and trust someone else just to restore that interpersonal dynamic,” she said.

A teenage girl places her hand on the chest of an anxious teenage boy, a reassuring gesture;  still from it "Yellow jackets"

Courtney Eaton and Kevin Alves in “Yellowjackets.”

Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Viewers don’t know much about how the Yellowjackets coped after being rescued, other than Lottie being institutionalized by her parents and subjected to electroshock therapy. Treatment varies by individual, but Gibbs said he would probably start with such a traumatized patient by breaking down the events they’ve experienced — like the plane crash itself, the first night, Doomcoming, etc.

“If you do it in large chunks, it overloads their system and they shut down,” he explained. “It’s like a log. If you clear a path, the system can naturally take over a bit and do some of the work to help digest it. And then you do another piece, and then you digest it, and then you do some more—and over time, you can really see the things that were so present and powerfully triggering quiet down a little bit.”

This could be part of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which Gibbs and Szpitalak specifically mentioned. For stressful situations, Szpitalak highlighted breathing exercises that are often recommended in cases of fear and anxiety because they automatically calm the body.

“If you have a calming breath, it creates a calming sensation,” he said. “If you consciously and strategically deepen your breath, if you can breathe deeply from your diaphragm, and if you can slow down that process, you can also invite the right emotion into your system.”

The problem, of course, is that none of the “Yellowjackets” characters follow the typical mental health protocol in the wilderness (“I hate that,” Gibbs said) — whether it’s breathing, controlling movement, or keeping a journal of specific incidents and events. triggering factors – which makes the psychological burdens on their adult selves even more believable.

Ahead of the show’s premiere in March, the cast told IndieWire that audiences should be worried about everyone, and that doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

New episodes of “Yellowjackets” air Fridays on streaming and Sundays on air.

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