For a few years, I’ve been itching to write about the portrayal of therapy and therapists in movies and television. This was initially fueled by the desire to correct a lot of what I see. More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing therapy get some solid representation and airtime, particularly within a few of the newer television shows. We seem to have self-funded studios to thank for that. Isn’t it cool what happens with more creative freedom? We get more depth and authenticity. So now I have the pleasure of beginning my series with plenty of great examples to highlight.
Also, it has come to my attention that while psychoanalysis has long since been replaced as the primary form of therapy we use, it remains pretty firmly rooted as what most of us think of when we hear the word “therapy.” This misunderstanding is often reflected in media therapists’ choice of interventions and/or the setup of the therapy room. So it’s no wonder! This will be a particularly important part of my commentary, because it’s often the portrayals of psychoanalysis that are the most off-putting. (If you ever thought, “What an asshole!” while watching something, it was probably a portrayal of psychoanalysis… and probably a shitty one, at that.) There are reasons that analysis was a building block, and reasons that we kept building.
Also and of course, I’m irked at seeing the work I am so passionate about be so poorly represented. The field in which I work was born out of our need to be ourselves, and to love and connect and produce and play. Therapy helps us to do that by helping us to know ourselves and to act accordingly. We are served so well by being honest with ourselves. It takes a whole lot of practice, and that’s why it’s worth it. But the timescale of the work is a big part of why it’s often clumsily depicted. A dear colleague of mine resignedly called it “too quiet” for the entertainment industry. And here is where I get heated about the industry, because it is art, isn’t it? Shouldn’t our art push and prod and delight and frighten and uplift us? In an elegant and paced way, art pushes us to expand our experience of the world. And if it isn’t art, then what are we doing making or watching it?
Entertainment media is often a primary way that we get to see someone else have an experience. It’s a place outside of our own environments where options are modeled for us. It ought to include plenty of healthy ones.
It is my belief that emotional intelligence should be a subject in school. While this would not negate the need for therapy- the work is an experience, not an exercise- we would be afforded earlier opportunities to know ourselves and to choose useful and rich paths. As a therapist and as a client of therapy, I have experienced so much that I use every day that sometimes I can’t believe anyone would deny themselves such a thing. So, I’m here to interject your own daily experiences with some of these psychotherapeutic concepts. Many of them are blessedly simple and universally applicable. Wherever you are in your personal process, you can learn to recognize emotional intelligence (or lack thereof) in what you encounter everyday. Let this awareness always bring you back to yourself and your internal experience. That is always where all the best work is done.
I absolutely take requests, but know that I mostly write about what I watch of my own volition and whims. Below is the current list of requests. Feel free to comment with your own desires, or with any comments or questions. If your interpretations differ from my own, I would especially like to hear from you. Then we both get to know more about how we perceive the world.
- “Ordinary People”
- “In Treatment”
- “Grosse Point Blank”
- “The Sopranos” (Dr. Melfi)
- “What About Bob?”
- “Law and Order SVU” (Dr. Huang)
- “Prince of Tides”
- “The Bob Newhart Show”
- “Good Will Hunting”
- “Running with Scissors”
- “Friends” (Phoebe’s boyfriend, Roger)
- “The Royal Tenenbaums”
- “Analyze This”
- Woody Allen’s many references
- Feiffer cartoons (depicting Rogerian work)
- “Hope Springs”
- “Meet the Fockers”
- “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
- “Girl, Interrupted”