Nov 14

“HIMYM”: The Therapist’s One Helpful Contribution

So now that I’ve managed to get all caught up on HIMYM (How I Met Your Mother) I can weigh in again on what’s happening with Kevin, the therapist, played by Kal Penn.

  • Between him and his girlfriend Robin—very little chemistry. One can only hope it turns out to be an ill-fated romance because of his boundary-less choice to date a client.
  • As an individual character—nope, not much there either.

The most involvement he’s had, in my opinion, was in the HIMYM episode that aired on 10/24 entitled “Noretta” (a word blend of the names of “Nora,” Barney’s girlfriend, and “Loretta,” his mom).

Although the actual series title is How I Met Your Mother (the point of view of the single male character Ted who has yet to meet the mom of his future kids), this episode is sort of a “How I Married My Mother/Father—as in the translation “I married a woman/man who’s very much like my mom/dad” as opposed to incest. Then again, no one’s actually married except Lily and Marshall. So never mind. We’ll stick with “Noretta.”

Toward the beginning of this HIMYM episode, Kevin makes the general observation that people tend to pick romantic partners who are like their parents. We then witness the regulars proceeding to get grossed out by recognizing the similarities between their mates and their parents.

Regular character Robin, however, and her new beau Kevin are (wisely) excluded from this exercise. I mean, think about it—would the writers have had to make Robin’s father the perpetrator of incest? (Along the lines of Kevin crossing boundaries by dating Robin.)

Kevin’s insight is actually based on some solid ground, psychologically speaking. The work of Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., for example, is useful if you’re trying to figure out your patterns of choosing your mates and how you relate to them—and goes significantly deeper than just the idea of picking someone who subconsciously reminds you of a parent. Two relevant books of his are Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples (also in workbook format, co-authored by wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D.) and Keeping the Love You Find: A Personal Guide.

If you’ve been an avid Oprah fan, you may already know that she in turn is an avid Harville fan (as well as a You fan, in case you thought and/or hoped that’s where I was headed) and big believer in his Imago Theory. Her online Lifeclass “How Your Childhood Affects Your Adult Relationships” gives us a clip of a pertinent therapy session conducted by Harville. The set-up:

For Oprah, Harville Hendrix was the best teacher of validation. Harville developed the Imago Theory, which is that you end up imaging in your adult relationship what you most need to heal from, whether physical or emotional wounds, received in childhood at the hands of your parents or caregivers. In 2006, Harville facilitated an Imago therapy session for Louie, who was abused as a child and was verbally, emotionally and physically abusing his wife.

Nov 09

Therapy For Comedians Provided By Laugh Factory

Many people (who don’t know about the Stand Up For Mental Health, for instance) presume that people who perform stand-up comedy are inherently happy people—perhaps because our response to them makes us feel happy. But specialized therapy for comedians is needed because they too have their share of underlying issues.

Two notable comics who suffered emotionally were Richard Jeni (1957-2007), who eventually committed suicide, and Greg Giraldo (1965-2010), whose struggles with substance abuse issues led to death from an accidental overdose. These are just two examples; many others are either lesser known or haven’t died in the public spotlight.

But feelings about the tragic deaths of the two men noted above were apparently quite instrumental in the creation of a relatively new program at Laugh Factory, a top comedy club in Los Angeles, that now allows comics to seek therapy consultations, pro bono, right there at the club.

Jamie Masada, the long-time owner of Laugh Factory, is also a philanthropist. One of his longstanding projects, started in 1985, has been a summer comedy camp for underprivileged kids. Known to be a true believer in “laughter is the best medicine,” Masada has now found a way for stand-up comics—who help heal others through laughter—to receive their own healing. And from the numbers, apparently it is a needed service. A little over a month after the program started last winter, it was reported that about 80 comedians had already availed themselves of therapy.

Does being a comedian cause mental health issues or are people with mental health issues drawn to becoming comedians? Deborah Vankin reports in the L.A. Times that Ildiko Tabori, one of the two therapists who treats the comics, “…can only speculate about the chicken-and-egg question — whether it’s the pressure of being a stand-up comedian that leads to depression and other emotional problems, or whether certain personality types are drawn to stand-up as a profession in the first place. She suspects it’s a little of both.”

One well-known comedian who has offered patrons of the Laugh Factory her gift of warm and gentle humor, Ellen DeGeneres, experienced her own problems, including depression and anger, following her coming-out sitcom episode in the late 1990’s.

Her life has changed significantly since then. She’s now married to actress Portia De Rossi, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show has aired since 2003 and has been a huge success.

Nov 03

Dr. Melfi of “The Sopranos”: One TV Therapist’s Scary Dilemma

The Sopranos (1999-2007), now available on DVD, features mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in therapy with Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). She in turn has her own shrink, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg (Peter Bogdanovich).

One particularly scary episode is entitled “Employee of the Month.” States, “Very few Sopranos episodes have had as much written about them as “Employee of the Month” has.  And understandably so. It is a sharp and powerful episode, and one of the highlights of the series.”

In this episode, Dr. Melfi is brutally raped by a guy named Jesus Rossi (who turns out to be said employee at a sub shop she goes to). He gets arrested but is soon released on a technicality. Naturally, this fuels Melfi’s distress and rage.

In a dream, Melfi sees a large menacing Rottweiler, then her actual rapist, who starts to assault her again. But the dog saves her by violently attacking Rossi.

Melfi wakes up feeling relief. Later, she describes the dream to her therapist.

The Rottweiler in her dream is deemed to represent her client Tony, whom she knows could be her protector if she so chooses. All she’d have to do is say the word—Tony would have the guy killed. As it is, though, he has no idea what happened to her.

Although she assures Elliot, her shrink, that she will not in fact take this route—which of course involves serious moral and ethical ramifications—she’s seen in an ensuing session with Tony seeming quite close to doing it. There’s a nine-second silent pause while she considers whether to admit her plight…

But then she doesn’t.

Nov 02

Clown Phobia: Getting Exposed to One’s Intense Fears

Today’s theme: clowns. The fear of clowns, that is. Clown phobia.

First, a little comic relief about clown phobia: Dr. Frasier Crane (played by Kelsey Grammer from TV’s Frasier) tries to help a client overcome her fear of clowns by using exposure therapy.

Fear of clowns can lead to a variety of symptoms associated with phobias. From “…(I)ndividuals report feeling ‘shaken and traumatized’ at the sight or even the mere thought of clowns. A study conducted by a Hospital in UK showed that decorating a children’s ward with images of clowns actually backfired when more than 250 children (in the age groups of 4 to 16) reported disliking the images.”

Having some degree of this fear, sometimes known as coulrophobia, is apparently pretty common. However, states VeryWellMind, “It is important to note that, while many people experience discomfort with clowns, those feelings don’t necessarily represent a true phobia.”

Two  who have admitted to clown-fear publicly are Carol Burnett and Daniel Radcliffe.

And Johnny Depp explained his fear of clowns to the Courier Mail: “I guess I am afraid of them because it’s impossible — thanks to their painted-on smiles, to distinguish if they are happy or if they’re about to bite your face off.”

Update, 2019: As with other types of phobias, though, not everyone who suffers from this knows why, and it’s not usually necessary to figure out the causes in order to treat it successfully. Treatment is often done with behavioral techniques via cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and relaxation therapy (

At least in part, then, because causation has not been firmly established, emphasis is on changing one’s response to clowns. Lisa Fritscher, “Until more research is performed, the causes of clown phobia will remain firmly in the realm of speculation. Fortunately, it is possible for mental health professionals to treat clown phobia, as any other phobia, without learning the precise reasons for its development.”

Nov 01

“The Prince of Tides”/”A Dangerous Method”

Kind of continuing the Halloween theme, today I present clips from two movies, The Prince of Tides (1991), and an upcoming release, A Dangerous Method (2011). The scariness today, though, relates to therapist boundaries.

#1.  The film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy could have been better in many ways. But, even though many readers were disappointed, it did receive a good number of film/acting award nominations. Here’s the trailer:

So, did you get the picture from that? Nick Nolte‘s married character, Tom Wingo, travels to New York and tries to help Dr. Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand) help his suicidal sister. In essence, he’s a family member also receiving therapeutic services from Lowenstein—but can you tell that she doesn’t appear to see it quite that way?

The following brief clip zeroes in more closely on a pivotal point in the evolution of Wingo and Lowenstein’s inappropriate relationship:

This film is scary because (A) Nick Nolte actually earned a Golden Globe for this, (B) many of the movie’s fans thought it was a great romantic drama, (C) the film was actually billed and marketed as a romantic drama, or (D) the therapist violates major ethics.

If you answered any or all of the above, well, at least you agree that this clip is scary.

#2.  A Dangerous Method is new and won’t be released in the U.S. until 11-23-11. Its plot borrows from a chapter in psychoanalytic history when Freud mentored Jung. This excerpt from the Variety review (the film was seen at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year) further introduces it:

Less concerned with the treatment of mental illness than with the way social norms encourage the suppression of human impulse, Christopher Hampton’s exceptionally coherent, literate script (adapted from his play “The Talking Cure” and John Kerr’s 1993 book “A Most Dangerous Method”) hinges on an unorthodox experiment Jung undertook with Sabina Spielrein, a Russian Jewish woman whom he treated for hysteria, and who later became a significant psychoanalyst in her own right.

Now, watch the trailer to see what kind of “experiment” was allegedly undertaken:

Reviewer Shaun Monro recently called this movie “…a well-acted skewering of overreaching psychology.” Overreaching. Good word.

Interesting that we have so few movies that attempt to represent the field of psychotherapy, and when we do, so few of them are not about the violation of therapist boundaries and ethics.

And that’s scary in and of itself.