Analysts Respooled

There’s this recent Talk O’ The Town piece by Adam Green, it’s called Analysts Unspooled, and it documents therapists conferring to converse about how Hollywood depicts their trade. It centers around a book about the topic by Glen O. Gabbard, and then moves along to a Gabbard-moderated symposium covering a new analyto-centric movie, “The Treatment.”

Gabbard, a psychoanalyst and a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, is the author of “Psychiatry and the Cinema,” a study of Hollywood’s transference issues. Gabbard’s book offers a catalogue of pompous quacks (“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”), swingers with Prince Valiant hairdos (“What’s New Pussycat?”), sadistic enforcers of social conformity (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), love-starved lady doctors (“The Prince of Tides”), and serial killers who eat their patients (“Silence of the Lambs”). “I wouldn’t say that I’m angry about it, but I sometimes feel a little annoyed,” Gabbard said the other day. “It’s the buffoonery that gets to me.”

While interesting and everything, I wonder if the book and the talk address one facet of the Hollywoodification of therapists that I tend to notice: The parent-as-psychiatrist model. I take notice of this model because my mother’s a therapist. However, she didn’t move into the field until I was out of the house, and so I was, presumably, spared the clinical, medication-governed parenting that those children on the screen are nearly always subjected to.

I used to keep a list of all the depictions I encountered where the parents treat their children as they do their clients. But I lost the list.

“Garden State” is an obvious one. In it, Zach Braff’s character’s father has raised his son as a subject, substituting parenting for treatment. And Braff’s character, Largeman, struggles throughout the movie to kick the meds and therapeutic mumbo-jumbo that’s been dumped on him, and to start living life like someone who feels things deeply and is capable of learning from mistakes.

Then there’s “Six Feet Under.” I still need to watch a few seasons of this show, but from what I remember, siblings Brenda and Billy are way damaged from their dual-shrink parents.

I can’t recall any others at the moment. Does Murphy Brown have a shrink for a parent, or maybe an ex-husband?

In conclusion, according to Hollywood all children of analysts are treated as failed cases; as subjects who fall below expectations. And this of course reflects terribly on the analyst/parents. So, in typical fashion, the parent leans back in their shiny brown leather chair, hand on chin, and then, time almost up, coldly dumps all the blame for the situation/relationship directly onto the kids (Hollywood analysts, after all, serve as one-dimensional catalysts for the behavior of the real characters). The kids are then pumped with meds and trauma and sent staggering out into the world on their own, ready to rock a compelling narrative that’s rife with personal struggle.

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