Sep 29

Therapist Not For Real: “Shrink Rap,” “Charlie Bartlett”

In this follow-up to yesterday’s post, I’m sharing trailers from two different movies—each happens to feature a student as the lead character. Both films illustrate how someone might get carried away not necessarily full-on pretending to be a therapist, as in Mumford, but nonetheless acting as a kinda-sorta therapist either to meet his own needs or to help others—or both.

In the little-known 2003 movie Shrink Rap, a bartender, Dennis (Kyle T. Heffner), is hired by a Malibu couple to work at a house party. Dennis, who is also a psychology student, feels pulled into the problems of various individuals he meets and starts to act as though he’s an analyst.

And, other than the clip below, that’s about all I really know—but it is available on Netflix.

Another film in the fake therapist genre that I haven’t yet seen is Charlie Bartlett (2007). However, it has both a good cast and enough favorable reviews to tempt me.

Sep 28

Is Your Therapist For Real? Practicing Without Credentials

Is your therapist for real? As in practicing with appropriate licenses and/or credentials? I mean, there can actually be “therapists” out there who lack the necessary education and credentials and/or licensure to practice.

When I worked in various agencies before entering private practice, it was never required of me to prove to my clients that I was indeed a therapist for real—I worked there, so obviously I was. Or was I?

Yes. I was. Looking back, though, I wonder how many of my employers even actually verified all of my credentials.

When I began my own practice, every now and then a client did ask about my education or experience. Whereas I freely shared this info, for the longest time I didn’t think it was necessary to display my diploma and other certificates in my office. Wouldn’t that be kinda showy?

Actually, no. Simply put, clients have the right to know that you’re for real. So now, all the framed evidence of the “letters after my name” hangs in my waiting room. Ha, joke’s on you—they’re fake! Anyone with access to the internet can…


In the 1999 film Mumford a man relocates to a small community named Mumford where he pretends to be a psychologist named, oddly enough, Mumford. It seems that in his previous life, Mumford—the man, not the town—had learned something about relationships even in the midst of some serious drug problems:

For some reason, probably because I was too stoned to talk, everywhere I went people would talk to me. Tell me everything. Their problems, their inner most thoughts. Sometimes they needed advice, but most of the people just wanted someone to listen.

Rehab then taught the man not yet named Mumford even more about how help is given and received.

When he moves on to become a fake shrink in Mumford the town and Mumford the movie, Mumford the man is remarkably successful—and greatly appreciated for his shrink-like capabilities. As you may have already guessed, no one has bothered to check out the credentials of this likable newcomer.

Eventually, though, in Mumford the movie and in Mumford the man and in Mumford the town, things do fall apart—as they should, given the deceptive circumstances.

Sep 27

Reality In Therapy: Who Gets to Decide What’s Real?

Reality in therapy. Reality as a concept comes up regularly in some people’s therapy—especially if either therapist or client has some doubts about the other’s sense of it.

There’s actually a whole form of therapy called reality therapy that places a lot of emphasis on choices being made in the here and now. You can see how some people could be turned off by that, though—maybe their present reality is what they’re trying to get away from.

But what exactly is reality and who really gets to decide? Philosophers have had a field day with this topic for ages, weighing in on such deeply complicated and competing ideas as anti-realism versus realism. I’m guessing it hasn’t all been figured out yet.

Many non-philosophers believe they’ve figured it out, though. They say that reality exists all over TV these days—on reality TV to be specific. These same believers, however, have probably never heard of editing—and how it in fact makes for a very strong dose not of reality, but of anti-reality.

Lily Tomlin is someone who’s been on TV for a long time. Maybe it’s her answer to the reality question that makes the most sense:

Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle drugs.

But wait. Tomlin as “Trudy the Bag Lady” in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, a play written by Jane Wagner, is probably wiser than any of us:

I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore. After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin’ but a collective hunch. I made some studies: Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.

So who needs that?

Sep 26

President In Therapy”: Fictional “West Wing” One, That Is

I’m feeling bad for President Obama these days. So much stress—and possibly no therapy. How does someone in his position manage it all? Has there ever been a president in therapy?

At a professional forum in 1999, Kitty Dukakis, social worker and wife of former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, reportedly stated, “If you’re running for public office and expect to be elected, forget about letting it be known that you’ve been in therapy. It’s a tragedy that it’s come to this.” Moreover, she was grateful her husband didn’t get to become the president, as it enabled her—as the wife of a politician—to seek treatment for her addictions.

Has much changed since then? Has anything? Has any politician at a higher level ever admitted to being in therapy while in office?

My own internet research came up almost empty. The exception? It turns out there was a U.S. president who consulted a psychiatrist during office—he was fictional, however.

On the TV series The West Wing that aired from 1999-2006, Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet saw Dr. Stanley Keyworth, played by Adam Arkin. At least once, possibly more.

In the story represented in the clip below, Bartlet has experienced a serious bout of insomnia following a conversation he’d had with staffer Toby about his abusive father, who’s deceased. Toby had suggested that Bartlet had never felt his father’s approval and thus still might be seeking it via winning votes.

I think it’s an interesting take on what it could be like to be a U.S. president in therapy:

Sep 22

Therapeutic Letters: One Way to Communicate More Effectively

Earlier this week I mentioned that Jane Lynch has recently written a memoir, Happy AccidentsI then saw her on The Today Show being interviewed about it.

Lynch spoke about the difficulty she had years ago coming out as a lesbian to her parents and how her therapist suggested writing them a letter. It was the fairly standard write-it/don’t-necessarily-send-it/maybe-you-should-show-it-to-me-first therapy thing.

Therapeutic letters are something I’ve not only suggested to clients many times but have also used personally. In fact, I did it for the very same reason Lynch did—over 30 years ago, I chose to come out to my mom this way. And like Lynch, when my letter was completed, I did decide to send what I’d written.

In my novel, Minding Therapy, the lead character Daryl has deep-seated issues with her mom and can’t get through to her. And her therapist suggests—you guessed it—that Daryl write her a letter. Daryl, who’s also a therapist, is surprised she didn’t think of it herself.

Following multiple revisions, Daryl is finally comfortable with her letter—and she sends it off without waiting to show it to Lauren, her shrink. Thus, when she does show it to her, she fears it may already be too late.

I read Lauren my copy of the letter and she seems to approve. But then, what else can she do now that it’s in the mail? She can’t very well say, No! That letter won’t do! Call the Post Office and have it intercepted at once! It’s going to kill her! And it’s badly written!

It does turn out okay in the end, of course. After all, letter-writing is awesome. It affords the sender a chance to say what she needs to say without being sidetracked by heated dialogue, and it affords the receiver a chance to think things through before responding. And thus, both parties can work together more effectively on their relationship.