We Need Better Representation of Psychotherapy on Screen
By Veronica Letourneau
Photo: Everyday Health- Source
Thankfully, art has finally decided to examine and depict mental health in more educational and honest ways. While some consider “Euphoria’s” portrayal of mental health and drug addiction to be detrimental for teenagers, the show demonstrates a candid depiction of drug abuse and its connectivity to mental health struggles. It shows the euphoric highs of drugs as well as the devastating consequences to the user and those around them. However, while mental health depictions on screen are progressively getting more authentic, especially when it comes to showcasing the sadder parts of mental health disorders, then why is there a lack of good representation of psychotherapy and the convalescences which follow?
Marvel’s latest show, “Moonknight,” tackles a character with a rare and unspecified mental disorder. Without revealing what the character has, the show appears to allude to symptoms of “Dissociative Identity Disorder” (“DID”), as the character has a “core identity” and an “alter ego”. The show does not shy away from the character struggling, and even portrays the traumas they endured during childhood - which is when symptoms of this disorder typically begin to manifest. The show also properly demonstrates that these “alters'' are essentially “different people” with their own personalities, thoughts, and beliefs. Yet, as the show addresses a serious mental disorder, it doesn’t include a “psychologist”. While there is no cure for DID, therapy does help people who suffer from it to manage it. But again, none of this is properly depicted in the show's first season in a way I feel it should be.
The Netflix show, “You”, is another great example of a character struggling with a mental health disorder. Similarly to “Moonknight”, this show doesn’t state what type of disorder the main character has despite showing him going to therapy. But since Netflix has to ensure that audiences will be coming back for more, they ended up eliminating the therapist character by having him turn out to be unethical. “Sopranos” was actually one of the first shows to come closest to depicting realistic therapy sessions on television. During his therapy sessions, Tony Soprano was challenged by his former beliefs. Yet, the show only uses this as an examination of the character by showing us why he is the way that he is while diving deep into who he could be. As a viewer, it certainly makes the character more intriguing and relatable; however, it still lacks a key factor of therapy: which is steering the patient in the direction of wanting to improve. This does not happen with Tony Soprano, he is still stuck in his toxic world and we never see him getting out of it.
“Bojack Horseman” is another Netflix show, which had a “better” representation of mental health. As “Euphoria”, the show followed a similar strategy via its honest and dark depiction of depression and the self-loathing that often accompanies it - and how it could lead to destructive behaviors toward oneself and those around them. Bojack, for most of the show, wants to get better, but he cannot seem to figure out how. This is relatable to those audiences watching, who also struggle with mental health. But Bojack, like Tony Soprano, has the same problem - showing lack of improvement. Whenever Bojack seems to be headed towards the right direction, he always finds a way to go back to bad habits. Unlike Tony Soprano, there are no therapy sessions for Bojack; just more and more self-loathing and destructive behavior.
Mental health and therapy have unfortunately been stigmatized for centuries, but in recent decades we have finally made positive traction. And storytellers have a responsibility to highlight this whenever addressing mental health in their projects. In my opinion, instead of always mainly depicting and romanticizing the characters’ darkness and struggles, there needs to be a stronger balance in storytelling of also showcasing these characters taking proactive efforts to try and better themselves (and for themselves) through various tools, which sometimes also include psychotherapy. Otherwise, it can potentially send the wrong messaging to audiences, especially youth who are more easily influenced by popular media, leading them to think that it’s “not cool” to seek out proper help and treatments.