Counselling and Psychotherapy in Cinema

Few films present therapy or therapists in a straight-forward manner
We’ve put together a collection of articles on the historical relationship between psychotherapy and cinema

Some history of film and psychoanalysisThere are countless depictions of psychotherapy in film but Judd Hirsch’s portrayal of a psychotherapist in Ordinary People is widely regarded as one of the passable few.

In a session with the teenage protagonist, he muses: “Hm, now we’re back to the rotten kid routine. She (your mother) can’t love you because you’re unlovable. What about your dad? He loves you [but] You’re a rotten kid, doesn’t he know that? … Oh, I get it, he’s got no taste, he loves you but he’s wrong.”

The number of comedy, spoof and satire depictions of counselling and psychotherapy on screen since the 1960s far outweigh attempts at a straight reflection of the profession.

In a now-classic example, the comedy Analyze This has Billy Crystal’s therapist treating mobster Robert de Niro’s ‘anxiety disorder’ and panic attacks. Dr. Ben Sobel: “Let me get this straight: you flew all the way down to Miami and kidnapped me from my hotel room in the middle of the night just because you couldn’t get an erection?” Boss Paul Vitti replies: “Don’t that prove I’m motivated?”

The film Freud: The Secret Passion, the 1962 biopic directed by John Huston and starring Montgomery Clift (fantastic trailer here), comes with interesting trivia: the screenplay was penned by John Paul Sartre, who subsequently took his name off the credits, and Marilyn Monroe turned down a role as analysand.

Current films with a psychological twist:

Out now: Gone Girl. Read Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker article What “Gone Girl” is Really About.

Coming soon: The Falling, Carol Morley’s psychological drama about swooning girls, reviewed in the Guardian here. 

Further reading on the relationship between therapy and film:

Celluloid Couches, Cinematic Clients, Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in the Movies, available on Amazon here.

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