Written by Pam Brown, Executive Director
Media misrepresentation and what we can do about it
Since joining Insight Counseling Centers in January, I’ve become more attuned to the ways in which therapy and therapists are portrayed in the media. Here are two examples I recently noticed.
1. A couple was meeting with their therapist for marriage counseling. The actor playing the therapist approached the part as a loopy, clueless character whose suggestions elicited eye rolls from the husband and wife. Before our very eyes the couple bonded over shared opinions about the therapists’ stupidity. Magic!
2. A family gathered to give encouragement to their hapless adult son. The parents disclosed they intentionally set the bar low for him because they felt he didn’t have the skills to be successful in life. The sister-in-law was the “loser’s” only true champion. She pulled her brother-in-law aside and told him that she knew he could do anything he set his mind to. When the family reconvenes in the kitchen, the son declares that he has decided to become a therapist, just like his sister-in-law, because that’s a profession that, “if she can do it, I can do it!” The camera zooms in to a close-up of the sister-in-law as her expression falls. Everyone is snickering as she becomes the new butt of the family joke.
These scenes caused me to contrast the TV characters with the therapists I have come to know and appreciate at Insight Counseling Centers. They are anything but loopy and hapless. They’ve each spent many years in formal education to become highly skilled in providing spiritually-integrated counseling, and each of them feels called to help their clients experience mental, emotional, and spiritual wholeness.
Media representation is important because if all someone knows about therapy is what they see on TV shows and in film, they might develop unrealistic expectations around what therapy is like and how therapists behave. The portrayal of the inept therapist can become a barrier to people seeking out qualified, caring professionals who can make a difference in their lives. Brown University offers the course Psychology and the Media which studies the ways psychology and psychologists are misrepresented in popular media. I recently stumbled upon this article which lists common media portrayals of therapy and counters them with a more realistic views.
I was chatting about this topic with a millennial colleague who told me she’s noticed a couple of recent TV shows depicting therapists and therapy in a more accurate light. In one episode, the main character was describing an event that the therapist interpreted as a panic attack. The therapist provided sound information on what to do if it happened again. While there’s hope, we still have a long way to go before therapy is accurately portrayed consistently.
So what can be done about the misconceptions of therapy? For starters, those who understand the value of counseling can share their stories of hope and healing. Insight Counseling Centers is providing a forum for that. We are creating a Speakers Bureau so that we can share our message to audiences in religious, civic, and corporate settings via speaking opportunities and manning our booth at health fairs. I promise we’ll provide excellent training and ongoing support. If this is an opportunity that interests you, or if you’re just curious and want to learn more about our new Speakers Bureau, give me a call at 615-383-2115, ext 108 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to chat!