As a therapist, I always enjoy seeing Hollywood's portrayal of the therapy session. Some therapists are relatable and others are more like counsellor caricatures—simply entertainment. When watching therapists on the screen, one can quickly establish who they would and wouldn't want to be working with.
Here are 10 screen standouts when it comes to counselling:
The movie begins with Dr. Wong, played by B.D. Wong (this guy is slightly typecast, also a Psychiatrist in Law and Order SVU), as the marriage therapist to Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis's characters, Lloyd and Carolyn Chasseur. However, the real therapy starts when Dennis Leary's character, Gus, arrives. After a blundered robbery attempt, Gus—the thief—desperately tries to conceal his identity by pretending to be the marriage therapist in front of visiting family members. He tries to fake the role to avoid the law, but eventually has seen too much and takes each family member to task, unleashing some raw and gritty truth, and likely saying everything any therapist that ever saw them secretly wanted to say.
Denzel Washington plays a naval Pscyhiatrist to a sailor with an abusive childhood. One of my mentors recommended this powerful movie to me as a convincing story about the power of the therapeutic process.
Grosse Pointe Blank:
I love the reluctant Dr. Oatman (the always fabulous Alan Arkin) with his client Martin Blank, a professional hit man. He tries to end the therapeutic relationship with Martin due to “emotional involvement with him”—in other words, fear of him. But Martin keeps attending weekly sessions despite. In the end, Dr. Oatman does give him the life changing advice of attending his high school reunion while instructing him to do so without killing anyone.
Analyze This and Analyze That:
Dr. Ben Sobel is a therapist who finds himself involved in the therapeutic process with a demanding, dangerous, and possibly unstable client who is also a member of the mafia. I think we all might want to see a Dr. Ben Sobel, because he truly goes above and beyond the therapy room.
When Lucy Fell:
Sarah Jessica Parker plays therapist Lucy Ackerman. One scene shows Lucy starting to fall asleep during a session with a client who is talking, yet again, in circles about why this person or that person doesn't call. She yawns, and when he asks if he bores her she says yes and proceeds to rip her phone out of the wall and throw it out the window. This too might be a guilty fantasy of anyone who has heard a story one too many times on the same looping topic.
Silence of the Lambs:
When it comes to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, disturbing doesn't even begin to cover it. Although he is highly intelligent, this would not be my therapist of choice. As a client, I prefer more digesting than ingesting!
Something About Mary:
Ted goes to counselling to talk about his struggle to get over a girl named Mary. His psychiatrist has the often featured therapist's couch where Ted would lie and talk while his psychiatrist faced away. During the session, the good doctor was actually eating and sleeping and not paying any attention to anything Ted was saying. Generally, he represents people's worst fears in therapy.
The Sixth Sense:
Dr. Malcolm Crowe had great remorse over not fully understanding and preventing the death of a former patient. This drove him to do all he could for his new client, Cole. He was patient, understanding, unconventional, and creative, but unfortunately, unwittingly dead.
Good Will Hunting:
After a slew of psychologists fail to connect with the brilliant Will, in comes Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), a psychologist that understands Will's roots and although he grabs him by the throat in the first session, eventually he connects with Will and endures Will's challenges to Sean about moving past his wife's death. Sean helps Will with the child abuse he endured and helps him take charge of his life. All in all, a great therapeutic connection minus the throat grabbing start.
Who are your favourite counsellors on screen?
For another therapy article wtih a touch of pop culture, see Crazy Stupid Arguments.
Getting the pulse on how our marriage is doing can be tough. With parenting, we know when we are struggling with our children. There is clear evidence when there is strain with our children, with changes in behaviour, sleep, and eating patterns, which we have to manage and keep on top of. We make adjustments—their bedtime, our bedtime, their routine, our response time, etc. Andrea Nair talks about filling your child's attachment tank with one-on-one attention and focused time, which helps their self confidence and helps with behaviour.
When it comes to marriage, attachment can also be affected. Struggling marriages are often a slow burn taking time before we notice the strain. Working on this relationship doesn't always have a sense of immediacy to it. We know that conversations are lacking, sex is infrequent, irritability is the norm, but we put off addressing it, believing it will eventually improve after things are under control with the kids. And it is understandable. Adults are able to wait, aren't they? Little personalities, minds, and behaviours are being moulded, trumping the adult work. While we are looking away, other patterns are forming, hurts growing, and marriages are changing and sometimes breaking.
Giuliana Rancic sparked some debate in February 2013 when she shared that she and her husband “put our marriage first and our child second, because the best thing we can do for him is have a strong marriage.”
I agree with this principle. If we persevere and work on creating healthy partnerships, then as a team we will work better for our kids. Cohesiveness at the top is important, even when it seems like it is the least urgent work. When we come together as a parental unit, helping each other with the huge task and gift of parenting, we will do better. Too often we divide and conquer parenting, each taking our roles, tagging each other in and out, like ships passing in the wee hours of the night. This can work for aspects of parenting—you drive her to soccer and I will get him to piano—but not necessarily as the main or only approach.
How much easier would parenting be if you felt loved by your spouse, and your “tank” felt full? How would you feel if you faced your week with regular adult connection time?
If struggling to find time to connect, try these Four Great Ways To Date Your Mate.
Another benefit to prioritizing your relationship is the model for relationships that you provide your children. If they see you honouring and cherishing each other, they will look to honour and cherish their mate.
Many parents are running on empty and most of us are hard pressed to find any other way to cope right now. The emotional reserves to address things are getting used up.
Children sometimes become the priority, not just because they are so important—and they are—but because the adult relationships appear to be, or actually are, a ton of work. It's easier, sometimes, just to pour into your children and not address what is going on in the relationship. Or maybe you have been trying, but have turned your attention away because you were the only one working on it. Your children might be the only ones interested in your attention and time. In more complicated cases, it might be time to bring in a professional, as it hasn't been divided focus keeping you from the connection you desire, but more difficult and pervasive issues that could benefit from professional support and aid.
In his book, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, David Code suggests that parents should spend less time trying to be the perfect parent and more time striving to be the perfect spouse. Prioritizing your relationship with your mate isn't about under delivering for your kids, obviously a great deal of sacrifice is in order when you are a parent—it is about not over-parenting and under-partnering, and finding some balance.
Does it ever feel like arguments with your partner have taken place before? New issue, similar rants. A simple discussion about kennelling the dog might turn into a venue for complaints about the financial struggles, disorganization, snide comments about the in-laws—who can't be asked, because they don't respect wishes about any of your parenting requests let alone dog training—and eventually your sex life will be tossed in there for good measure, because somehow this, too, comes up in the discussion. Recurring or cyclical fights are commonplace in my office, and it is almost as if one could insert any concern and eventually you would have your “argument issue defaults” appear.
Triggered by unrelated and minor issues, these all too familiar and repetitive arguments are common, and overcoming them is possible. The topic of the day may feel important, but the bigger issues, hurts, insecurities, and needs are lying beneath, fuelling the fire. These major issues never get dealt with, as they are lost in the seemingly scripted dialogue you have composed throughout your relationship that breaks down communication. And you blame each other, not always looking at yourself.
“Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet.”
—Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
During this cyclical fight, you might think, “This is stupid!” or “We don’t need to fight about this!” But you keep going, because the temptation is too great to stay in hoping to correct, be heard, or gain ground mode.
Another distraction from getting to the real issues is your fighting style. So you keep listing examples, bring up the historical evidence, and explain with greater emphasis your point of view. Or maybe you check out, refuse to discuss, and give the cold shoulder and your “fighting style defaults” appear. You counter his avoidance with your aggressiveness, which meets his passive aggressiveness.... and it's all been done before.
There is a way out. Interrupt the patterns of argument issues and fighting styles!
These repetitive cycles are just that, repetitive—repetitive issues, repetitive styles, repetitive... sorry to repeat myself. Your contribution to the cycle could be driving the behaviours and actions of the other and vice versa. Who started it becomes a little chicken and the egg. It doesn't really matter. The point is, don't engage. At least don't engage in the same way. Stop bringing in topics that aren't the specific issue. Try something new. You need to step out and do something different.
When I used to work in a long-term addiction centre, I taught an anger management class. For one of my clients, doing something different when he got angry was the most helpful approach. For example, he might interrupt his angry thoughts by checking his blood pressure or changing his position by subtly standing on one leg. It was just different enough to interrupt an angry pattern.
Once you do something different, the unhealthy pattern will break. If you don't always bring up his spending, you might interrupt him from his rant about your power and control issues. If he stops nagging you with his questions, he will interrupt your stomping out of the room. Stepping away from the pattern is hard and uncomfortable—we've all been there— as you have had a routine focused on defending your point. It is a known approach, but it's not productive. When you make a change, your partner may respond by making positive changes with you, or they may also try to bring you back in to the cycle, baiting you with examples or behaviours. Stand firm. The cycle can't be maintained by one and eventually your partner will also have to do something different
Here are a few examples and approaches to try something new:
If you tend to want to always correct or have your say, don't engage.
If you regularly shut down or duck out during an argument, try taking a moment to stop and hear what your partner is saying.
If you avoid apologies, apologize.
The important thing is to take responsibility for your behaviour and responses, despite the other person. Sometimes you try to do something different, but have gotten sucked back in. Keep trying. And when all of your good healthy actions and self control have not produced tangible results, it might be best to seek a therapist capable of facilitating a more constructive discussion and invitations for change.