Jan 11

Meet Dr. Sidney Freedman, “M*A*S*H” Psychiatrist

President Obama announced last week that services for wounded warriors (including mental health programs) and military families are top priorities.

What about the availability of mental health services during the war? Have those serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan received adequate mental health services while there? Unfortunately, indications (both anecdotally and from various official reports I’ve found online) are that such services have been deficient.

Dr. Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) was the psychiatrist who paid regular visits to the Army hospital unit of M*A*S*H (1972-1983), the comedy/drama TV series that was set during the Korean War of the 1950’s. Below is a montage of clips from episodes that featured him.

Although I’m a fan of Freedman’s wry sense of humor, progressive politics, and ability not to be fazed by things others may consider bizarre, I do need to point out that the schizophrenia joke written for this character has probably helped perpetuate the myth that schizophrenia consists of having multiple personalities. From the above clip:

Sidney Freedman: I’d like to go on talking to you, Flagg, but with your schizophrenia I’d have to charge you double time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve already kept Jesus waiting five minutes.

On the other hand, if the “Jesus” who’s waiting for Freedman is someone who actually believes he’s Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior, that someone is (probably) delusional and hence might actually have schizophrenia.

Jan 10

“Psycho Therapy” and “American Horror Story”: Shrink Updates


A new play scheduled to begin off Broadway next week (in previews starting January 17th) is called Psycho Therapy. Written by Frank Strausser and directed by Alex Lippard, “Psycho Therapy follows the strange relationship between Lily, her fiancé Phillip, and her ex Dorian. When Phillip blows off couples therapy, Lily’s hot, young ex-boyfriend, Dorian, jumps in to fill the void. When the trio ends up on the couch together, only therapist Nancy Winston can untangle the kinks.” (Broadway.com)

Click on either link above for further info and/or tickets.


The first season of the FX series American Horror Story, about a family relocating to what turns out to be a haunted mansion, was apparently popular as well as scary (as in “horror”) and weird. It wrapped up in late December with a main character, psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), denouncing his profession: “Therapy. Doesn’t. Work.”

In the following quote, writer Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly elaborates further. Tate, by the way, is a young man who’s been a client of the way less than appropriate Dr. Harmon. Tate also happens to be a “…mass murderer, psychotic homophobe and rapist…” (from an EW recap). “Dr. Shrinker” refers to Dr. Harmon.

I wondered to what degree the show actually agreed with his characterization of therapy as self-indulgent narcissistic blameshifting…When Tate asked him why people even did it, Dr. Shrinker thundered: ‘Because they don’t want to take any responsibility for their crappy lives. So they pay a therapist to listen to their bullshit and make it all feel… ‘special’ … so they can blame their crazy mothers for everything that went wrong.’ Ben’s cynicism seemed totally sincere…

If you’d like to catch this psychiatrist and his family next season, you’re out of luck. Soon after the finale, the creators of the series announced that next season will feature a different storyline and characters.


Jan 06

“What About Bob?”: The Need to Take Baby Steps

Rita Kempley, The Washington Post, once stated that the now-classic comedy What About Bob? (1991) “…addresses the way many a patient feels when his psychiatrist has the nerve to go away without giving a thought to his problems.”

What About Bob? also been called “…a revenge fantasy for anyone who’s ever resented hypocritical exploitative shrinks” (Jonathan RosenbaumChicago Reader)

The movie begins with another psychiatrist sending the challenging patient Bob (Bill Murray), a highly dependent man with lots of fears, to egotistical Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss). In the initial session, Dr. Marvin gives Bob a copy of his brand new book called Baby Steps (a book, incidentally, that many wish actually existed).

Marvin: It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself. One day at a time, one tiny step at a time—do-able, accomplishable goals.

Bob: Baby steps.

Marvin: When you leave this office, don’t think about everything you have to do to get out of the building, just deal with getting out of the room. When you reach the hall, just deal with the hall. And so forth. Baby steps.

In spite of its presence in what’s otherwise an unrealistic and zany dark comedy, this simple concept of “baby steps” has proven meaningful to many who see it. “Baby steps” cuts right to the heart of the process of achieving desired changes in one’s life.

Here’s the scene in What About Bob? in which Bob meets Dr. Marvin and learns about “baby steps”:

Incidentally, one real-life well-reviewed book about taking baby steps is called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (2004), by Robert Maurer, who teaches a Japanese technique that involves working toward “continuous improvement.”

One baby step at a time.

Jan 05

“Bridget Jones’s Diary” and New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are the cornerstone of both the 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding and its screenplay adaptation of 2001. The heroine (played by Renee Zellweger in the film) starts off her year with good intentions toward making significant life changes–and a diary to keep track of it all.

The book, which Fielding acknowledges is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “…was an instant success, and Bridget became a ‘cultural icon,’ the quintessential ’90s woman trying to balance a career and a love life while contending with ideas about how a modern woman should look and behave” (Gary Dowell, Dallas News).

Primed by the novel, many flocked to see the movie when it came out several years later. Stephen Holden of the New York Times elaborates further on Bridget Jones’s Diary:

Bridget Jones, in case you didn’t know, is a 32-year-old bachelorette who works in a London publishing house and frets with sad amusement about her increasingly iffy prospects for finding a long-term relationship. Summoning up her shaky willpower, she decides to adopt the usual self-improvement regimen to make herself more desirable. She will lose 20 pounds, cut down on alcohol, cigarettes and sweets, and land the boat of her dreams. Her diary entries are prefaced with meticulous records of her progress (and lack thereof) in achieving her stringent numerical goals.

What makes Bridget irresistible is that even when downhearted, she maintains a rueful sense of humor…

Below is the film’s trailer:

In the end, although Bridget feels compelled to admit that she hasn’t made the changes she’d wanted and that her diary is “foolish,” there is a significant measure of progress–albeit against her own inclinations–in one specific area. She’s managed to stumble into a decent relationship.

And it’s this special man, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who says the key words to Bridget that might make all those earnest resolutions seem not so important after all: “…I like you very much. Just as you are.”

Jan 04

New Year Resolutions: Some Pertinent Quotes About Our Goals

All the wisdom in the world about New Year resolutions not working never stops them from happening. Something about the calendar page turning, something about tradition, something about the excesses of the preceding holidays…

Some interesting and/or funny quotes about New Year’s resolutions found online:

Joey Adams: May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions!

Eric ZornMaking resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and, ultimately, reinforces humility. Breaking them is part of the cycle.

Jim Gaffigan (from Twitter): My new years resolution for 2010? I will be less laz

Jay Leno: Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average, which means you’ve already met your New Year’s resolution.

Mark Twain: New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

Anonymous: A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one Year and out the other.