Posted on October 18, 2016 - by

Shrinks in Books and Movies

Recently I read a book of essays called “true confessions from both sides of the therapy couch”–and this got me thinking about how I started in this writing business to begin with. And part of it was my dismay at the way shrinks have been portrayed in books and movies. Often we were shown as crazier than our patients or sleeping with our patients or merely bumbling fools… You get the idea. Two movies that come to mind are “What about Bob?” (crazier shrink than patient) and “Tin Cup” (shrink nuttier than her patient and sleeping with him too!)

From the very beginning, I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology by including reasonable psychologists in my novels. The challenge was to dream up characters who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries. If I put shrinks in my books, I wanted them to be complicated people with possibly difficult backgrounds, but aware of keeping boundaries and the general weight of their work. I didn’t want them to scare off readers or watchers from trying psychotherapy if they needed it. I wanted to do it right.

For that reason I loved Judd Hirsch’s gentle but firm therapist in Ordinary People. Did you believe in that breakthrough moment when Timothy Hutton, the younger brother of the dead boy, finally realized what happened the night his brother died? I sure did!

And even Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist felt real to me, though I wouldn’t have chosen to take on a mobster patient LOL. I can remember so clearly the moment when she struggled with the urge to use her patient, Tony, for revenge after she was raped, but ultimately chose not to.

Stephen White’s series featuring a clinical psychologist in Colorado was another great model for me. And Hallie Ephron’s first books, written with Don Davidoff as G. H. Ephron, were wonderful examples of a decent psychologist. (And of course that’s why we met!) I hoped that my psychologist characters, like Rebecca Butterman in Deadly Advice, would spring to life like those.
Do you notice mental health professionals in the books you read or movies you see? Which are your favorites?

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