- Despite the credentials, skills, and experience mental health professionals possess, they are often depicted as unprofessional, unhelpful, and unqualified.
- In many TV shows and movies, the characters who play counselors or therapists are often portrayed as unprofessional and emotional: they engage in unprofessional relationships with their clients and let their feelings get the best of them.
- They are also commonly depicted as very one-dimensional: they probe their clients about their feelings, and that is the extent of their job.
- Additionally, mental health professionals aren’t meant to be taken seriously in the media, as they are painted as lacking any real qualifications or using age-old techniques.
- In reality, mental health professionals are not only professional, but smart, qualified, and helpful to their clients.
Counselors are almost universally portrayed as unprofessional, unhelpful, and unqualified. In reality, they’re qualified health care providers, dedicated to helping their clients heal and recover mentally and emotionally. They possess a unique skillset that allows them to help their clients address difficult thoughts, feelings, and symptoms of serious mental health conditions. Furthermore, these professionals truly care about the wellbeing of their clients. However, they’re constantly betrayed by the media, or more specifically, the media’s portrayal of them.
Unprofessional and Irritable
Lisa Larsen, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, says that mental health professionals are typically portrayed as unprofessional figures who act on their emotions and cross important boundaries with their clients. This is seen in shows like How to Get Away With Murder, in which Annalise Keating’s therapist becomes grossly involved in her personal life. In other shows, like Atypical, therapists let their anger and frustrations get the best of them, leading to their lashing out at their client. In reality, however, mental health professionals understand the importance of maintaining these boundaries and professional relationships with their clients:
“I often cringe when I see how mental health professionals are portrayed in the media, especially movies and television shows because the kind of professionals who make for good stories are exactly the kind of therapists you would never want to see as a patient or client,” Larsen explains. “We are often shown as unprofessional, neurotic, insecure, and with poor boundaries and impulse control. Even more benign portrayals, like the psychologist on Atypical, show us as normal decent therapists, but once in a while we become unglued and treat our clients poorly, losing control of our anger or our ability to manage our impulses.
I understand that therapists who color in the lines and do our jobs professionally are not as exciting as the ones who turn out to be psychopathic or emotionally dysregulated, but I think it creates a distrust in the public about seeing a therapist. Why would someone want to open up emotionally to a professional when you can be badly hurt or deceived? I hope that there are more shows that show us as human, but not unhinged or unhealthy.”
“And How Do You Feel About That?”
Another common stigma surrounding counseling, which is often displayed in the media, is the notion that counselors simply ask about their client’s feelings—and their services pretty much stop there. Oftentimes, the characters who play counselors are shown asking their clients, “And how do you feel about that?” The client goes on to explain, while sprawled out on a couch with their hands behind their head. And that’s the extent of it! In reality, therapy goes much deeper and requires therapists to possess unique skills, which help their clients to confront the issue they present.
“Contrary to what the media may lead you to believe, the question, ‘How does that make you feel?’ is not the only thing we know how to ask,” Robyn Gold, licensed clinical social worker, explains. “Therapy is so much more than just talking about feelings; it is about helping my patients develop a deeper understanding of themselves so they can tackle life’s challenges in a healthy and productive way. Therapists like myself do this through a variety of creative techniques tailored to each individual’s needs.”
Additionally, mental health professionals aren’t always taken seriously—due in part to their portrayals in the media as those who use ancient methods or aren’t qualified to provide healthcare. This has real-life consequences, as it leads some to discount therapy or counseling as a real and effective approach to treatment for a lot of psychological or mental disorders; when in reality, therapy is just as effective (if not more effective) than medication.
“It’s always interesting for me to see psychologists portrayed in the media as though we use the same methods from 100 years ago, which creates the false impression that our science has not evolved,” says Dr. Amy Serin, PhD, neuropsychologist and founder of Serin Centers. “Psychologists actually go through rigorous doctoral programs and in many cases are required to complete just as many internship training hours as medical doctors. Cutting-edge neuroscience is infused in the methodologies and in most cases psychological treatments are more effective or as effective as medications yet this goes ignored when people are seeking treatments.”
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