Fans of Sex and the City might remember this scene…
Carrie: (about therapists) First they want you to come there two times a week, then three times a week, and eventually you’re starting every sentence with “my therapist says…”
Miranda: My therapist says that’s a common fear.
Full disclosure – I absolutely love watching therapists portrayed in movies and on TV. It is fun to see writers and actors interpret and represent our profession. In addition, I love watching their treatment techniques (good or bad), noticing their office décor, etc. On a macro level I also like to think about how these portrayals of therapists help or hurt the mental health field.
I believe overall the more we see our beloved characters participating in therapy, the more it decreases the stigma of mental health problems. Stigmas often present as resistance to treatment. Here are a few examples I hear often.
- Going to therapy makes me weak.
- I should be able to solve my own problems.
- I can’t afford it.
- People with mental illness are dangerous (AHHH! Don’t even get me started on that one – that is a whole other blog post – coming soon)
Exhausting right? Here is my response to the above statements.
Knowing when you cannot get through something alone is a strength, not a weakness. It takes real courage to say, “I need help”. The idea that you can solve all your problems on your own is not reality, everyone needs support and there is no shame in that. Finally, consider the “cost” of doing nothing. Can you put a price tag on your inner peace and happiness? An investment in yourself and your mental well-being is an investment in a healthy future.
One way I think these portrayals hurt our field is that the vast majority of therapists on TV or in movies are portrayed by Caucasian actors. We need therapists of all races and cultural backgrounds reflected in the media. Social work is a field grounded in ethics, justice and inclusion, which I hope will find its way to a theater near you.