Cinema, television series and stories of psychotherapy-4… The manipulation of psychiatrists/psychotherapists in cinema

This series of articles is excerpted from an article published in the Journal of Science and Utopia.

The emergence of new media in the digital age and the growing reliance on multimedia indicate that audiences will most likely form media-based opinions, attitudes and perceptions. Whereas cinematic images trump the power of print, information obtained through film (sometimes called infotainment) has a stronger impact, directly or indirectly, than information obtained through other media.[5]

The influence of the media on informing and misinforming the public is very important. With the technological developments surrounding us, the influence of the media is expected to become even more important. This is also true for films dealing with stories of psychotherapy and psychiatrists and psychotherapists. The image of the psychiatrist and psychiatrist candidates in a film can affect the attitudes and beliefs of those who do not know a psychiatrist and what he does firsthand. Taking the first step to seek help from a psychiatrist is often the hardest part, so people who are negatively affected by such films may find it difficult to take that first step. It is incomplete to think that a negative stereotype of the psychiatrist will only add to the difficulty of taking that first step or delay it considerably. Failure to make this request or making it late will lead to a prolongation of the process and even an increase in the rate of morbidity and mortality.

In other words, negative perceptions of our credibility as psychiatrists can arise. Unlike cartoons in print, feature films have tended to discredit psychiatrists and therapists in recent decades.

In a study conducted in the United States, 71.2% of characters were portrayed as male psychiatrists/therapists when examining films shot between 1940 and 1990, the age distribution (regardless of gender) was 22 .9% young, 50.8% middle-aged, and 26.3% listed as old. Of the 118 psychiatrists/therapists described, 44.9% were competent, 47.5% were incompetent, and the remaining 7.6% were treated with a condition that could not be fully assessed in terms of clinical competence. Additionally, it has been determined that there are remarkable rates of psychiatrists/psychotherapists who violate the boundaries between these characters. [6] So much so that 7 times as many border violations seen in real life are shown in these movie characters. [6,7,8]

What we mean will be better understood when we consider some of the films that have been widely watched and enjoyed in Turkey. Therapists have been treated with very different profiles, ranging from portraying the psychiatrist in Lethal Weapon 3 as eccentric or bizarre, to being a murderer in films such as Buried Alive (1990) and Lies (1983). This variety includes the image of the naïve to stupid psychiatrist, as in Do Not Look in the Basement (1973), or the variety of negative themes, as well as portrayals of the cognitively impaired psychiatrist, as in Raising Cain (1993) .

It is clear that the image of the psychiatrist/therapist in the movies is not flattering. The highlight is that psychiatrists/therapists are described as friendlier.

Despite the argument that films are not required to mimic reality, themes such as the depiction of psychiatric drug therapy as a tool of mind control and chemical restraint are frequently encountered and potentially erode the confidence of the public in psychiatrists. Psychotropics are presented to the public as anesthetics, that is, drugs used to constrain, sedate and control patients. Another common theme is delusional reality, which is constructed and justified against reality. In this theme, the common scenario is that the film’s protagonist has a certain belief that others (especially the psychiatrist who insists it’s a delusion) don’t share. While the film reveals that the patient was right from the start, it brings up the psychiatrist’s big mistake. Examples include Mel Gibson’s Conspiracy Theory (1997), where the pseudo-delusions are so true, and Twelve Monkeys (1995), starring Bruce Willis.

Despite many negative examples, there are also films that portray psychiatrists in a positive light. In Citizen X (1995), a forensic psychiatrist provided a very accurate psychological profile of the murderer, then assisted the police in interviewing the murderer in a productive and humane way. He is thus described as very competent in helping detectives catch a serial sex killer.

Accordingly, the image of psychiatrists/therapists in commercially available American films is less than flattering. Nearly one in two psychiatrists/therapists is characterized as having committed a direct offence. It is also very common to demonstrate clinical deficiencies independent of boundary violations.


There is a lot of research on how movies affect people’s behavior, and scholars continue to search for answers to these questions: Does violence and aggressive elements in movies encourage/provoke social or individual violence? ? Can seeing the violence portrayed in the film reduce the risk of being aggressive towards a viewer filled with raw and intense hatred, feelings of destructive attack towards others?

Regardless of the budget, country and producer of films shot in almost every corner of the world, people with mental disorders are treated quite exaggeratedly in almost every corner. So much so that having a mental problem has always been equated with a pervert, a murderer, an idiot, a bizarre actor, a voyeur, an aggressor, a serial killer. Especially in dark comedies, this reductive and stigmatizing attitude has become even more evident. Prejudices have been created about illnesses such as schizophrenia which are hurtful and result in patients being excluded from society and buried at home. The concepts of suicide, drug addiction and even the criminal type have unfortunately been characterized as if they were found in all mentally ill people, and social prejudices have become inescapable.

In a study conducted in Greece; We have seen that the mentally ill were never considered “sacred” in Greek society; on the contrary, they were considered handicapped and the cinema largely supported this judgment. When the protagonists of a total of 30 films that directly or indirectly show mental disorders are reviewed, which were made according to DSM-IV criteria, five cases were diagnosed with factitious disorder, seven with psychotic disorder and two with dissociative (hysterical) disorder. , and eight cases with personality disorders or character deviation were detected. It is almost impossible to diagnose in two cases. [9]

Psychiatrists and psychiatric patients will continue to be approached in cinema and on television. There are many examples in our country. What should be noted in these examples is that they correctly address the patient-physician relationship, and that they put psychiatrists and psychotherapies on the right ground.


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  • Bernsen A, Tabachnick BG, Pope KS. National survey of social workers’ sexual attraction to their clients: results, implications and comparison with psychologists. Ethics Behav 1994;4:369–388.
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