Counselling is a diverse, nuanced technique that covers a huge number of disciplines from psychotherapy, to cognitive behavioural therapy, to more humanistic approaches. To do it successfully you need to be able to empathise with and understand your patient while maintaining a certain level of professional detachment and unimpeachable ethical conduct. Unless, of course, you live in movie world, in which case you can apparently do whatever you want. Here are a few movie therapists who you really do not want to find yourself sitting across from.
In 50/50 Anna Kenrick plays Katherine McKay, a young, inexperienced therapist who is assigned to help Joseph Gordon-Levitt deal the fact he has schwannoma neurofibrosarcoma and presumably the fact that no matter how many great Christopher Nolan or Rian Johnson films he appears in, we’ll all always think of him as the kid in Third Rock From The Sun.
Throughout the course of the film Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character learns to cope with the disease, becomes closer to his best friend Seth Rogan, and sleeps with his therapist…
Throughout the course of the film Anna Kendrick makes a lot of mistakes that even a student of counselling ought to be able to avoid. She tells her patient details about her personal life. She gives him a lift home. And she becomes romantically involved with him, which is about the worst thing you can do as a therapist. Really! Don’t do this!
One of the prime rules of being a counsellor of any kind is that you don’t give the patent information about your life. Your family, your home address, your own likes, dislikes, fears and hopes, this is none of the patient’s business. This is because in normal conversation we’re prone to change our behaviour based on the people around us. In conversation we feel weird if we’re the only ones doing the talking, when we talk we worry about what others think of us.
A counsellor isn’t supposed to work like that, they create a safe environment where you can be yourself without worrying about other people’s judgements, and so the less you know about your counsellor’s personal life the better.
Now to be entirely fair, not all of the problems here are entirely Dr. Sobel’s fault. His patient is a mafia boss and has people that can hunt you down. But still, by the end of movie Sobel is far too close to his mafia boss patient, even to the point where his patient gets Tony Bennet to play at his therapist’s wedding.
Meryl Streep is possibly the worst therapist here. Ask any psychotherapist in London what they would make of a therapist who behaves like her and you’ll get gasps of shock and disgust. The trouble starts when her patient, Uma Thurman, starts dating a younger man. Initially Meryl Streep is encouraging, until she discovers that the younger man is in fact her son.
Now a professional in these circumstances would immediately tell their patient there was a conflict of interest and find them a new therapist. Meryl Streep, however, has no time for your puny human ethics and instead uses her position of power to try and destroy her patient’s and her son’s new relationship, managing the twofer of being a terrible therapist and a terrible parent in one go.
Chris Farnell is a freelance writer and in no way a professional therapist or counsellor.