“Mistresses”: Therapist Ethics Go Right Out the Window

Last Monday night was the premiere of ABC’s Mistresses, an adaptation of a British soap-drama in which four female friends deal in one way or another with infidelity. A possible hint to its quality? Says the snarky “Bullseye” column of Entertainment Weekly, “Only one episode in and we’re already cheating on Mistresses.”

What caught my interest is that one of the four friends is a psychiatrist in private practice named Karen (Yunjin Kim). As I’ve neither seen it nor plan on seeing it, however, I have to rely on the reviews for further info.

If you’re looking for a portrayal that represents the field at its best or if you’ve been victimized by a therapist, beware. Karen has had a sexual relationship with her patient Tom who had terminal cancer. In addition, she’s prescribed him a lethal dose of morphine to assist in his choice of euthanasia.

By the way, Tom was married. And now that he’s dead, guess what? His son and wife are both receiving Karen’s “help.” As a result, there are further complications: Karen’s now stung from learning that Tom chose to spend the final moments of life with his wife, and Tom’s grieving son wants to figure out with whom Dad was cheating. Oh. And he’s hitting on Karen to boot.

A little over the top, just maybe?

Therapist ethics violations:

  • Having sex with a client–it doesn’t matter that the client was the first one to show interest; it doesn’t matter if he was single, married, whatever
  • Assisting in euthanasia of a client
  • Offering services to a dead client’s family members after such grievous as-yet-unknown-to-the-family violations

One saving grace: at least the script makes it known that Karen has screwed up, a matter often neglected in these kinds of shows.

It’s yet to be seen if Karen can eventually be redeemed in any way. (In the BBC series the character with a similar profile and behavior, Katie, was a general practitioner of medicine, not a shrink. If you happen to be interested in what happened to her, though, check out the Wikipedia article.)

What do the TV critics think of Mistresses? (They seem less than impressed.)

Jacob Clifton writes (Television Without Pity) that of the group of main characters, Karen is “the front-runner by a mile in terms of making ridiculously shitty decisions at all times during her waking life.”

Neil GenzlingerNew York Times: “Karen, an educated, intelligent woman, is made to sound like a naïve 20-year-old when talking about her lover’s death. ‘In the end he chose his wife: that’s who he wanted to be with in his last moments,’ she says. ‘Which means the whole time I was just’ — and here there’s a pause to allow her I.Q. to drop — ‘a mistress.'”

Cory Barker, TV.com: “Kim is saddled with the most ridiculous of the stories—going from the now-dead father to the grieving son is quite the journey—and she’s morose enough to almost make it work, but Karen’s choices were so poor that it’s going to be tough for people to root for her.”

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