Examining Portrayals Of Mental Health Professionals In Movies & TV

Examining Portrayals Of Mental Health Professionals In Movies And Television Shows

Unless you specialized in psychology, went to medical school, or sought therapy, you probably learned the majority of what you know concerning psychological disorders and how therapy works via media sources.

According to research findings, the media is a major source of influence on the general public concerning their understanding of issues like bipolar disorder, psychosis, and depression. It also serves as a vital resource for the general public in terms of learning about mental health practitioners and what they do.

Additionally, studies show that the majority of media representations of psychological disorders and mental health practitioners are stereotypical, judgmental, or factually untrue. As a result, many people easily form an unfavorable or misleading opinion of people who suffer from mental health disorders and also how therapy is carried out.

Despite having qualifications, expertise, and training, mental health practitioners are frequently portrayed as incompetent, unpleasant, and unprofessional. The figures who play counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists are frequently depicted as inconsiderate or overly emotional in movies and TV shows.

They start having unprofessional connections with their clients and allow their emotions to control their behavior. They are frequently portrayed as quite one-dimensional individuals who do nothing more than ask their clients questions regarding their emotions. Additionally, because they are portrayed as having no true credentials or employing archaic methods in the mainstream media, mental health experts aren’t taken seriously.

In actuality, mental health practitioners are not only competent, knowledgeable, and beneficial to their clients, but also extremely professional. Furthermore, they are determined to assist their clients to speed up their psychological and emotional recovery. They have a special set of abilities that enable them to support their clients as they struggle and deal with challenging thoughts, emotions, and manifestations of severe mental health issues. Unfortunately, television, or more precisely how the media portrays them, consistently betrays the great work they do.

Fortunately, some movies and television shows portray mental health practitioners quite accurately, which helps to eliminate the stigma that would otherwise prevail. Ordinary People is one such movie that showcases a therapist (Dr. Tyrone C. Berger) realistically.¬†Conrad, played by Timothy Hutton, first sees Dr. Berger once his older brother passes away during a boating accident, followed by Conrad’s failed suicide attempt as well as his stay in a psychiatric facility. Like several other fictional as well as actual patients, Conrad joins therapy hesitantly. Amidst Conrad’s agitated claim that what he needs is to feel more “in charge”, Dr. Berger understands that the real objectives of psychotherapy are considerably more complicated.

During their sessions, the therapist guides the distressed client towards some much needed insights wherein he makes him understand the damaging relationships in his supposedly ideal family.

Another excellent depiction of a therapist is in the TV show The Sopranos. This show is among several series to explore the realm of psychotherapy. Professionals have long acknowledged that the representation seems to be pretty realistic, even though Dr. Jennifer Melfi, the psychiatrist who treated legendary mobster Tony Soprano, might not have always been ethical in her treatment methods. For instance, in one sequence a furious Tony shattered things in Dr. Melfi’s workplace. She coolly informs Tony that his acts are unacceptable and that he had crossed a line instead of flipping out. Tony apologized thereafter which was unusual for the fictitious gangster.

Experts in the field of mental well-being also highly value Dr. Melfi since she wasn’t too rigorous in her methods and was prepared to be adaptable in order to assist Tony deal with his issues; otherwise, he might have not continued with her. Dr. Melfi was made more human in The Sopranos. For instance, in one sequence, she did not ignore Tony when they arrived at the same place, but instead greeted hello and proceeded with her day.

Sadly, in many movies and tv shows, mental health practitioners are represented as being inconsiderate, unprofessional, and crossing crucial boundaries with their patients. This is evident in sitcoms like Two and a Half Men. Chuck Lorre’s comedy series Two and a Half Men is unquestionably a hilarious masterpiece in the genre of sitcoms. There are humorous psychological theory-based undertones in the show, and you can learn a thing or two from it. Having said that, it also makes fun of therapy and distorts it to the point that it becomes inexcusable. In the show, Charlie Harper’s therapist regularly uses sarcasm, and condescension, and is rude to him during their sessions.

On our list is yet another Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady comedy sitcom. In the world of sitcoms, this hilarious classic is unquestionably irreplaceable. While watching this, one not only laughs but also picks up some interesting facts about physics, microbiology, psychology, and neuroscience, to mention a few.

Having said that, the depiction of a mental health expert in the sitcom is not appropriate. One of the protagonists’ mothers is Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, a judgmental and outright rude psychiatrist, and neuroscientist.

The Big Bang Theory portrays Leonard’s mother as a psychiatrist who lacks empathy and emotional intelligence, the exact antithesis of what a mental health professional should be. Moreover, she exploits her kid solely as a tool in her experiments. Conversely, in practice, those in the mental health field are aware of how critical it is to protect client confidentiality and professional relationships. Additionally, therapists are typically empathetic and emotionally intelligent individuals.

In TV series such as Lucifer, the protagonist’s mental health professional gets excessively immersed in his private life. Additionally, she engages in a physical relationship with him, which is against the rules of professional conduct for psychologists. In shows like Atypical, practitioners let their rage and disappointments get the most out of them, which results in them emotionally hurting their clients. However, in practice, mental health practitioners are aware of the value of maintaining boundaries and conducting client interactions in a professional manner.

The majority of therapists receive in-depth training in morality and ethical behavior during graduate studies, they must pass standardized ethics exams to obtain their licenses, and are well-versed in the professional norms of the American Psychological Association, which are incorporated in legislation in many countries.

Psychologists rarely breach ethical lines when working with clients, generally. Hollywood, conversely, wants audiences to think that unethical behavior in psychotherapy is typical. For instance, a psychologist in the movie Bliss engages in avant-garde sex therapy with his clients and justifies his actions by saying that it is a successful solution for individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder.

A hospitalized patient who is pleading receives manual sex from the central protagonist, a mental health worker, in the 2000 film The Princess and the Warrior. Barbara Streisand portrays a psychotherapist in The Prince of Tides (1991) who has a close friendship with her client’s brother while also working as a psychotherapist. In Mr. Jones (1993), a psychiatrist engages in a passionate sexual encounter with her bipolar client.

Understandably, practitioners who obey the guidelines and perform their tasks effectively are not as interesting as those who reveal themselves to be cruel or mentally unbalanced, but this leads to mistrust on the part of the general population about seeking out professionals.

If one seeks therapy, various psychotherapists may employ a variety of therapy approaches, including psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, humanistic therapy, etc. While some techniques are more effective in certain situations, others might be useful for a variety of challenges. What one does for each session varies on the therapist’s chosen techniques and the difficulties one wants to address. Unfortunately, the majority of tv shows and movies primarily focus on one type of therapy, notably psychoanalysis, and fail to highlight this element as well.

Another common misconception about counseling is that counselors only ask their clients about their emotions, and their job essentially ends there. However, one film that does a good job of portraying therapy and the positives it can do comes from Good Will Hunting. Within the movie, Will Hunting is a mathematical genius but he’s also erratic and has problems with authority. He ends up in therapy with an eccentric and brilliant therapist called Sean, eventually leading to a big break and an emotional ending.

So while there are positive influences to be had, there are also a lot of negative portrayals too. As we approach an era of understanding and more inclusive portrayals of characters on screen, hopefully the same can be said for mental health professionals too.


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