I admit it. I’ve watched every episode of the Sopranos, since the very beginning. And I’ve relished hating the therapy. For a few seasons, I watched with another therapist. We would literally scream at the Dr. Melfi on the screen. Here’s what she did wrong:
1. Kept the process in Tony’s head at all times. She never helped him into his affect, just talked about it.
2. Never confronted his psychopathy.
3. Dealt poorly with her counter-transference and had a horrible consultant who is more interested in the glamour of the mafia than in helping Melfi deal with her client.
4. Wore little bitty skirts, showing her legs to a psychopath twice a week.
5. Never pulled him in with attachment behavior.
6. Didn’t really help him through any of his trauma, which would have allowed him to drop his defenses, and maybe find a new job.
So now, Tony’s son, Anthony, Jr. is suicidal. He’s traumatized by his dismissive and dangerous parents, the loss of his girlfriend, and the violence that goes with the Mafia lifestyle. And he’s seeing Dr. Vogel, a totally flat, non-intervening, affect-avoidant, idiot of a psychiatrist. In this week’s episode, Vogel is allegedly doing family therapy after Anthony’s recent suicide attempt. Vogel is nearly silent, letting both parents attack their son while encouraging Anthony to complain about things that happened years ago. There is no other intervention. It was a scary-bad session.
If I knew about therapy soley from watching the Sopranos, I would think that therapists are weak, confused, and unhelpful. I would think that interventions, if they occured at all, didn’t work well. I’d avoid therapy, especially if I was traumatized, depressed, in need of connection or anxious.
What other lessons do we learn about therapy from the media?
1. If therapy works, it’s because there’s a big catharsis, usually by the 2nd session. (Ordinary People)
2. Most therapists are crazier than their clients. (Good Will Hunting and many others)
3. Therapists will sleep with their clients or their family members. (Prince of Tides)
4. They’re silly, funny, stupid and ineffectual. (Bob Newhart, et al.)
5. They murder their clients. (Law & Order)
Of course, real therapy, even when it’s stellar, would often be boring to watch. Long silences, slowly leaking tears, the small moments of intersubjective affective interplay would not play well on the big screen, or the small one. Still, I’d like to know of one show that depicted good, connected, effective psychotherapy. Do you know of any?
Here is a link to another discussion of the Sopranos and therapy: http://drjohnriolo.newsvine.com/_news/2006/09/29/379592-psychotherapy-and-the-sopranos