A recent exploration in The New York Times covers the standing of the on-screen psychotherapist, a classic role that seems to have been deteriorating for quite a while, despite a surge of interest in and use of therapeutic services. From illustrious beginnings depicting therapists as highly educated and insightful characters to modern representations that seem to delight in tearing down the credibility of the therapist, roles on television and in films have become less interested in the basics of psychotherapy, and far more focused on complex and often antagonistic characters that are somehow connected with the mental health professions.
As its case in point, the Times article points to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the infamous flesh-eating villain from the popular film series initiated by The Silence of the Lambs. Following the popularity of this character, who combines sometimes Freudian insights with a brutal and extremely violent “dark side,” creative media outlets have fashioned many other therapists who probably wouldn’t meet modern professional standards. Citing an upcoming movie in which actor Kevin Spacey portrays a drug- and alcohol-abusing therapist providing off-beat care to his clients, the article questions whether the decline of the on-screen therapist is a result of the need to deconstruct a profession often aimed at deconstructing its clients, or a simple and natural evolution of an archetype.
Though the article may prove true in describing the direction of mental health professionals on television and the silver screen, growing acceptance of psychotherapy and an increase in the number of people actively seeking treatment and exploring options for a deeper investigation of the self suggest that the phenomenon is strictly limited to what goes on in front of the camera.
© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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