‘In Treatment’, ‘Run the World’ among TV series normalizing therapy

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Thirty years ago, watching a character on television visit a therapist was often made fun of. At least that’s how Yvette Lee Bowser, then executive producer of A Different World, remembers it. There was still a stigma in the real world about seeking such mental health care, especially in the African American community, she notes.

Only five years later, when Bowser was working on “Living Single”, she was able to take up the therapy conversation again with a slightly different tone, because “Society, like our writing staff, was in a place where we wanted to help him to normalize”. . “

With talk therapy now a part of many people’s health journey, it will be featured as such in a number of new screenplay series by Starz ‘Rule the world“Which Bowser Executive produces, to showtimes” Black Monday “and more dramatic works like HBO’s” Mare of Easttown “and the return of”In treatment. ”And since therapy entered the public debate, authenticity in storytelling is more important than ever.

“What we do as writers and storytellers is to provide cultural mirrors, so we wanted society to see itself able to go to therapy and be comfortable with it,” says Bowser. “And now we’re in a place where it’s the norm, so we dealt with it at Run the World: it’s just something they do as part of their self-care routine. And you can’t really be healthy without taking care of your mental health. “

On NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” however, the title character (played by Jane Levy) enters therapy for the first time in season two because she realizes she’s so in tune with the feelings of others (admittedly, because of a metaphysical ability). hearing these feelings as songs) but not their own. She confesses this “superpower” to her therapist (played by Oscar Nunez), who takes her very seriously.

“It was really about, ‘Who do we go to in an emergency and who do we turn to for help?'” Says showrunner Austin Winsberg. “The first thing I wanted to make sure was that it was based on some kind of reality or truth. It’s not his job to judge, it’s just his job to listen and help. “

Dr. Helen Land, associate professor at USC, notes that there have been some “fairly problematic” televised depictions of therapy, even the original version of “In Treatment,” whose psychotherapist Paul (Gabriel Byrne), she says, occasionally exhibited “inappropriate behavior” towards customers. TV therapists “often push boundaries,” she says. The writers, producers, directors and actors of the shows “have to be very careful”.

For example, sometimes a therapist character talks about himself in a session scene to encourage interpersonal dynamics or to reveal a surprising commonality between the doctor and patient, to create a connection or simply to move the action forward. But dr. Land advises that licensed therapists “don’t share anything about things” [themselves] unless it is psychotherapeutic for the individual. ”Due to the HIPAA rules, they also do not share information about customers with another person, unless [they] Have a permit signed for a certain period of time. “

Another common misconception spread through television can be the level of education a person must have in the position they hold (“Having a bachelor’s degree in psychology doesn’t equip someone to do all about personality and profiling etc. ”explains Dr. Land) as well as confusing diagnoses.

Of course, the best way to avoid these missteps is to “hire a well-accredited therapist to review the information in the scripts”.

For the new version of “In Treatment”, co-showrunners Joshua Allen and Jennifer Schuur did just that. They hired a black therapist who had her own practice in New York City, says Schuur, as a counselor to convey the “really specific point of view” they wanted for their new character, Dr. Brooke Taylor (Uzo Aduba), needed as to some of the nuances of the work that would be done in their sessions. Equally important for her was to show what talk therapy is (including differentiating what makes Brooke different from what a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication would do for a client) and “who has access to it and what it can do” , Allen says.

“I think there is this Woody Allenish idea of ​​who goes to therapy, what therapy is for – that you only go when you are in a crisis and the label ‘You only have to see a therapist if you have a disorder has’ .’ We wanted to take the wool off, ”he continues. “Brooke has to reset expectations very early on: ‘If I start scratching and find something, I’ll keep going. We have no goal in mind. ‘”

Likewise, many such therapies do not have an end date or a promised schedule for “breakthrough” moments. Everyone has learned that if a doctor or client wants to end treatment, “professionally and ethically” a better course of action is to end it together than “flip a switch and say, ‘OK, see you never.'”

Dr. Land also emphasizes that people who go to therapy are often “very vulnerable” but they have the right to refuse to “go where the therapist wants to go” in sessions or further sessions. “We need informed consent to treatment,” she says. “We are employed by them.”

As the discussion about the importance of mental health grows in a world that will hopefully soon be a post-pandemic, Bowser notes that someone on the screen is “working on their individual problems as well as their problems with one another” on a universal level assignable. Hopefully, if the audience see themselves reflected in the fictional therapy sessions, that will inspire them to talk to someone too.

“We didn’t want to try to bring people to therapy. says Schuur. “But I think what we’re addressing at the core of these characters’ problems is the biggest things, namely about identity, self-worth, your story and how it shapes who you are and why you are who you are – that’s them deepest things that you can achieve in therapy. Ultimately, you go away, know more about yourself, and then move around the world [in a way] that is more authentic and true for you and you alone. Our goal was to show that this is the hope of therapy. “

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