"Mirror Image" (Poisoned Pen Press) now at your bookseller's.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Gabriel Byrne: He's No Hannibal Lecter!

A lot of my therapy patients watch the new HBO series, "In Treatment," and many wonder how accurate the portrayal of the therapist is. Paul, the therapist, is very well played by Gabriel Byrne.

But is he really representative of what therapists are like? Do most therapists have similar struggles in their personal lives?...with their relationships, their children, their sense of themselves?

The answer is simple: therapists are people, and people have issues. Therapists, like everyone else, handle some issues better than others. Therapists, like everyone else, are both insightful and clueless, sometimes in awareness and sometimes in denial, have good days and bad days. Nobody has the key to a stress-free, problem-free, issue-free existence.

In other words, no matter what the self-help gurus say, there's no cure for life.

So I guess I like that the therapist Byrne portrays is a flawed, conflicted person. Even when he does (and says) things that make me wince. Even when he's too intrusive with his patients, or too knowing. Hell, even when he seems like a selfish, self-pitying jerk.

Why? Because at least he's not depicted as diabolical, manipulative, and psychotic. Or, worse yet, homicidal.

Think about it: have you noticed how often male therapists are used as the villain nowadays on TV and film? Hollywood used to see male therapists as models of the patriarchal system: wise, nurturing, compassionate. Like Claude Rains in Now, Voyager. Gregory Peck in Captain Newman, M.D. Lee J. Cobb in The Three Faces of Eve.

So how the hell did we get from there to Hannibal Lecter?

Well, I happen to have some thoughts on the subject... If you're interested, you might want to listen to the Commentary I did for NPR's "All Things Considered." Here's the link:

Click here: NPR: A Male Therapist on Screen? Odds Are, He's a Heel.
Let me know what you think. --Dennis

Dennis Palumbo
15300 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 402
Sherman Oaks, CA. 91403

Phone and fax: 818-386-2070, Email: dpalumbo181@aol.com
Website: http://www.dennispalumbo.com/


gslade said...

Hollywood has a long love-hate relationship with analysts. I haven't seen Gabriel Byrne on HBO but will look for him now. (the Coen brothers' "Millers Crossing" was once my favorite movie...)My favorite screen psychiatrist is still Dr. Fritz Lehman (played by Fritz Feld)in "Bringing Up Baby" who explains Cary Grant's hostility to Katherine Hepburn as misguided energy deriving from the mating instinct. This encourages her to pursue Grant. Lehman is a cypher, but there should be a history of this important motif in American films. The time has come...

KEN LEVINE said...

Did he charge Alex's father for his hour, that's what I want to know?

Dr. David Levy said...

Yes, I can say with utter certainty that "In Treatment" is entirely accurate. I can't even count the number of times my therapy clients have had sex with each other simply to get back at me for not returning their affections.

Colleen said...

Hello Dennis, thank you for pointing me at your blog which I've been reading and enjoying immensely.

My husband and I are "In Treatment" groupies (we've seen every show). My favorite character is the therapist Gina (played by Dianne Wiest). What about her characterization? Right-on for a therapist?

Peter Anthony Holder said...

It's interesting to get the views of someone who is a therapist and a screenwriter.

As a fan of the show I tend to wait until the end of the week and watch all five episodes back to back.

Just yesterday I was asking a friend who is a therapist as to how realistic it is. Realistic or not, I think it rivetting, well written television.