Saturday, October 15, 2016

Shrinks in Books and Movies @LucyBurdette



LUCY BURDETTE: Having Dennis visit yesterday and talking about the essays of "true confessions from both sides of the therapy couch" got me thinking about how I got started in this writing business to begin with. And part of it was my dismay at the way shrinks have been portrayed in books and movies. Often we were shown as crazier than our patients or sleeping with our patients or merely bumbling fools… You get the idea. Two movies that come to mind are "What about Bob?" (crazier shrink than patient) and "Tin Cup" (shrink nuttier than her patient and sleeping with him too!)

From the very beginning, I wanted to use my training in clinical psychology by including reasonable psychologists in my novels. The challenge was to dream up characters who could use the principles of psychology to help solve mysteries without imploding with self-importance, stumbling over personal issues, or crossing ethical boundaries. If I put shrinks in my books, I wanted them to be complicated people with possibly difficult backgrounds, but aware of keeping boundaries and the general weight of their work. I didn't want them to scare off readers or watchers from trying psychotherapy if they needed it. I wanted to do it right.

For that reason I loved Judd Hirsch's gentle but firm therapist in Ordinary People. Did you believe in that breakthrough moment when Timothy Hutton, the younger brother of the dead boy, finally realized what happened the night his brother died? I sure did!

 

And even Tony Soprano's psychiatrist felt real to me, though I wouldn't have chosen to take on a mobster patient LOL. I can remember so clearly the moment when she struggled with the urge to use her patient, Tony, for revenge after she was raped, but ultimately chose not to.


Stephen White’s series featuring a clinical psychologist in Colorado was another great model for me. And Hallie's first books, written with Don Davidoff as G. H. Ephron, were wonderful examples of a decent psychologist. (And of course that's why we met!) I hoped that my psychologist characters, like Rebecca Butterman in Deadly Advice, would spring to life like those.



Now over to you Reds—do you notice fictional psychotherapists? Who are your favorite or least favorite shrink characters in books or movies—and why?

20 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I must agree, Lucy, that Judd Hirsch’s wonderful portrayal of Doctor Berger makes the character believable. I really appreciated that his characterization focused the therapist helping the patients.
I am not a fan of those “crazier than the patients” or the bumbling therapist portrayals either on the screen on in a book.

Kait said...

Jonathan Kellerman springs immediately to mind. His Alex Delaware in an intriguing character and both well written and respectful of his profession.

Dennis Palumbo said...

Naturally, I'm a fan of my own Daniel Rinaldi character, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. But my favorite TV therapists were Emil Skoda on Law and Order, played by J.K.Simmons, and Gabriel Byrne's therapist character on HBO's series In Treatment.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Yes Joan--I agree!

Kait, that's a good addition. I've read a lot of Kellerman's books and liked his character a lot.

Dennis--of course! You'll have a lot of new readers here I bet. And thanks for the suggestions on TV shows--I should have known that you'd know what's out there in TVland:)

Mary Sutton said...

Dennis! You didn't mention your books had a Pittsburgh tie-in (or I missed it). Now I have to find them (I live in the Pittsburgh area).

I agree - Emil Skoda was great and Simmons' portrayal was masterful.

Grace Koshida said...

I don't have cable TV anymore and seldom watch new movies, so my top picks for psychologists or therapists in movies are pretty old: Good Will Hunting and Ordinary People.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

The sixth sense! And I didn't know that's how you and Hallie met… Tell us more!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Roberta, you would not have taken a mobster client? How would you know? What do you think about that? :-)

Deborah Crombie said...

Loved Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting.

Halllie and Roberta, tell us more!!

Jim Collins said...

I loved Robin Williams too, as the disgraced shrink Cozy Carlisle in Kenneth Branagh's *Dead Again*. Michael ("Worf") Dorn was good as the shrink that Beckett saw on Castle. Alan Arbus was fun as Sidney the shrink on MASH.

Dennis Palumbo said...

Dear Roberta,

Thanks for allowing me that bit of blatant self-promotion regarding my own psychologist hero. And when you mentioned therapists on TV, I realized I'd left out Lorraine Broco's wonderful Dr. Jennifer Melfi on The Sopranos. I also liked the therapist portrayed by Julia Ormond for a couple seasons on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Dennis Palumbo said...

Dear Mary,

Yes, my Daniel Rinaldi series takes place in Pittsburgh. Though I've lived here in Los Angeles for many, many years, I was born and raised in the Steel City. I also graduated from Pitt, as did my series hero. Also like me, Dr. Rinaldi was raised in a blue-collar family and was the first in his family to go to college. I hope you do check out the series, especially since I've tried to make the city itself a character. Its transition from an industrial hub to a more gentrified, white-collar city creates some of the narrative tension in the book, since my character has one foot in each realm. If you DO read the books, please let me know what you think.

Dennis Palumbo said...

Dear Hank,

I forgot about Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Not a bad portrayal.

Dennis Palumbo said...

Dear Everyone,

FYI, I did a Commentary years ago on NPR's "All Things Considered" about the portrayal of male therapists on TV and film. Being a techno-idiot, I'm not sure how to post a link to the broadcast here, but if you Google it you can hear it. Thanks! And thanks again for all those thoughtful comments I got yesterday on this site.

Pat D said...

I like the shrink played by William Devane Jesse Stone talks to in his movies. For a while Stephen Fry played a therapist on Bones that Seeley Booth was talking to after he shot up the ice cream truck clown. Then there's the shrink on Lucifer; I haven't made up my mind about her yet.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Yes, good question Hank! Did Jennifer Malfi know that Tony Soprano was a mobster when she took him on? I can't remember...

As far as Hallie and me, she's away for the weekend so you'll have to depend on my memory. When my first golf mystery was published in 2002, I knew NO ONE in the mystery writing business. But I wanted to find a few others who wrote mysteries including psychologists to do a panel at the American Psychological Association in Chicago. I found Hallie on the Internet and emailed her. She put me in touch with her writing partner who was a neuropsychologist and he joined me in Chicago, along with Denise Swanson (school psychologist) and Abigail Padgett, who wrote about a social psychologist and also a social worker. It was a great hit. And Hallie and I stayed in touch--she introduced me to Sisters in Crime and so many other writers. Thank goodness because otherwise it's a lonely world...and I gained a wonderful friend:)

Coralee Hicks said...

I liked all the psychologists on the Law & Order franchise, especially B. D. Wong, who played George Huang. I like that he was a matter of fact gay man. In the same line I like Bill Brochtup, who plays Dr. Joe Bowman. He helps a major character come to terms with his homosexuality.

At first I liked James Patterson's Alex Cross, but he became more of a superhero and less credible.

Meg Gardiner's Jo (forgot her last name) appeals. A woman therapist living in San Francisco? Who could ask for anything more.

Karen in Ohio said...

Stephen Fry was brilliant in Bones.

Such a fun discussion. I've been monitoring, and enjoying it all.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Hmmm, sounds like I have a lot of catching up to do!

Dennis Palumbo sent on this link to his NPR interview about male therapists:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6642908

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Aw, so wonderful, Roberta! What a lovely story..

Coralee--yes to Meg Gardiner! She's amazing.