I always finds it interesting to observe how psychotherapy and psychotherapists are portrayed in the media. I suppose there must be some examples in which fictional therapists are shown in a positive light or at the very least in a realistic fashion. What stands out in my mind of course is the other version, the PSYCHO-therapist. To some degree, just as what we believe about love and relationships is influenced by what we see on screen, I believe that these depictions impact what clients expect of the therapeutic process. It is this curiosity that led me to check out the show, Gypsy on Netflix after it was mentioned to me by a colleague. And it’s based on a female therapist living in Fairfield county Connecticut, what hits closer to home than that! While the therapist character is initially likeable and relatable, not just to other therapists but to mothers, to working parents, to people trying to keep their marriages intact etc, you soon discover that the therapist engages in unethical practice by seeking out and entering into relationships with people in the lives of her clients that they have discussed with her in therapy. I will not give too much away as I do not want to have to identify this post as a spoiler for the show, but it demonstrates a therapist working through her own internal conflicts in a manner that violates the trust that her clients have had to bestow in order to share some of their most intimate and painful stories.
What I would want to say first is that the majority of therapists go to great lengths to ensure that they are providing sound treatment to their clients and upholding their privacy and confidentiality. “Good” therapists engage in supervision with colleagues that they can reveal themselves to, as well as seeking their own therapy when necessary. “Good” therapists make mindful choices about what kinds of difficulties they will or will not treat at any given time as a result of what is going on in their own lives and based upon how is it informing the way that biases show up in treatment. “Good” therapists tell their clients if they feel they have lost objectivity or have offered as much help as they are skilled to provide. “Good” therapists refer their clients to other resources if they feel they are out of their depth. It would be a loss if someone in need of help were to be deterred from therapy as a result of media portrayals such as this one.
We’re all human
However, once you get past the absurdity of entering into clients’ lives in such an intrusive manner, what you find is that this character is also grappling with her own commitment to her marriage and the life she’s built. This character is struggling to be a supportive mother to a child that expresses some degree of gender dyshporia. This character, in ways longs for a former version of herself that wasn’t responsible for having or finding the appropriate answers. So what I would also say is that yes, psychotherapists are flawed human beings, just as we encourage our clients to have patience to be themselves. We carry distress and confusion and longing and pain. It is in this full range of human experience that we are able to walk beside our clients as they do us the honor of sharing their stories with us and being vulnerable enough to expose wounds that have yet to heal.