I have been enjoying some hilarious, sardonic comedies as of late (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Difficult People) are the notable ones that come to mind. All of these shows feature characters going to therapy and the depiction of the therapist and therapeutic process. Now I get that these are comedies and they’re designed to be silly and evoke a laugh and, let’s face it, real therapy doesn’t really do that (though it can at times, it’s not all sadness, tears, and fears), but I do have to question the messages that are being sent about being therapy.
Particularly what I have noticed is that in TV shows, not just the ones mentioned above but others as well (The Sopranos, Hannibal) are two others that come to mind, the therapists are often depicted as extremely sick individuals with their own issues that they are not dealing with and then project onto the client. Some shows portray gross boundary and ethical violations, like therapists starting up relationships with their clients or having dual relationships. Again, I wonder what messages this sends to people who have not yet explored therapy and are considering it.
As a Registered Psychologist, I strongly value the therapeutic process and think it has tremendous growth potential for people involved. It is meant to be a non-judgmental, safe, neutral space in which people can share things that sometimes they have not disclosed elsewhere. As a therapist I certainly have my own issues (perfectionism, shame, high standards, self-doubt to name a few) and these likely would spill out into session more if I was not aware and working on them, but most professionals are trained to be there to support the client with boundaries and ethical standards in place.
I hope if you are new to therapy and are considering it that you can appreciate these portrayals in popular media are fictionalized as the rest of the show. I’m sure there are other shows out there that provide a more realistic perspective.
On the flip side of this, I am grateful that therapy is being shown in media because it normalizes it. If celebrities and people we admire in television shows and film go to therapy on screen and off, then maybe it’s okay for me, the common woman, to go too. I look forward to seeing how the depiction of therapy in media continues to evolve. For right now, I’m happy it’s out there and hope people realize not all therapists are total cuckoos!
By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist at www.sanapsychological.com