Oct 05

Sitcom Therapists: Females on “Difficult People,” “Casual”

There are some new sitcom therapists in starring and/or recurring roles on series featured on the streaming site Hulu.

Difficult People has Andrea Martin as the therapist mom of a main character, whereas the about-to-be-released Casual is about a therapist (Michaela Watkins) and her brother, who are the offspring of therapist parents.

I. Difficult People

The eight-episode Difficult People premiered in early August and is available now in its entirety. Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, describes the series:

Julie Klausner, a comedian and writer plays Julie Kessler, ‘a New Yorker who recaps television shows and has an intermittent performing career but spends most of her time kvetching with her gay friend Billy Epstein (Billy Eichner of ‘Billy on the Street’). Billy is that most omnipresent of New York subspecies: an actor who waits tables indifferently while hoping for callbacks that rarely come.’

Rotten Tomatoes sums up the critical consensus: “Difficult People makes the unlikable likable with mean-spirited, unhappy characters who still can’t help but amuse.”

Marilyn (Julie’s mom), the first of our sitcom therapists, is apparently no exception:

  • A “grimly dismissive” parent and “both no-nonsense and unfair” (Louis Virtel, HitFix)
  • “brutally self-obsessed and nitpicking mother” (Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire)
  • “oppressively self-involved mother” (Molly Eichel, AVClub)
  • “a therapist who is surely more screwed up than any of her patients” (Brian Lowry, Variety)
  • “apparently not a very good [shrink], from what we can tell. Her latest gimmick to enhance her practice is to add hypnotherapy to her techniques, but she is no good at it” (David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle)

The trailer below shows a myriad of well-known guest stars and just a hint of Marilyn:

II. Casual

Casual, premiering on October 7th, is “(a) new comedy series about a bachelor brother and his newly divorced sister living under one roof again. Together, they coach each other through the crazy world of dating while raising her teenage daughter” (IMDB).

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter, states that the series is “funny, strongly realized, self-assured and a joy to watch. You want another when the last episode is over.”

A couple descriptions of Valerie, the main character and second of our sitcom therapists:

  • “a successful therapist who probably overanalyzes things” (Hollywood Reporter)
  • “…Valerie begins as a refreshing antithesis to the overbearing mother trope we see often see in sitcoms. She has a sexually liberated view on her daughter’s lifestyle, boasting that she has had her on the pill since the age of 12 and still buys her condoms. But what’s somewhat disheartening is that by the end of the second episode she’s in a more familiar place of being the uptight regulator, as her brother and daughter both need bailing out of trouble” (Benjamin Lee, The Guardian).

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, regarding the background of siblings Valerie (the therapist) and Alex (who were raised by shrinks):

[They’re] products of a dysfunctional upbringing, so much so that they’ve distanced themselves from their mother Dawn (Frances Conroy) for years. She doesn’t show up until a few episodes in to the 10-episode season, so it’s not clear what her presence will do to the family dynamic, but there seems little chance she’ll improve things very much. Mama slept around long before it was sugar-coated with the word ‘casual.’

Being the adult child of two therapists is a real thing, of course, for some. As Micah Toub, author of Growing Up Jung (2010), has said, though, “All parents…mess with their kids’ heads. My parents’ being psychologists only changed the language of it.

Trailer below:

Apr 24

Adult Children of Therapists: Should Be a Support Group

Adult Children of Therapists. Sounds like a support group, doesn’t it? To my knowledge, there’s no such thing, though some may desire it.

What’s it like to be a kid of a shrink? Thomas Maeder wrote the 1989 Children of Psychiatrists and Other PsychotherapistsPublishers Weekly stated: “His conclusion: ‘It is harder to be a good parent than a good therapist. The good effects that therapist parents have on their children are predominantly the result of their personalities and affection, not the consequence of theoretical training.'” In other words—no surprise here—results will vary.

Richard Socarides, the adult son of famously homophobic therapist Charles Socarides (1922-2005), once stated, “I don’t think my coming out to my dad was harder or easier than anyone else’s. I didn’t come out to the founder of conversion therapy. I came out to my father.” The elder Socarides practiced reparative therapy and believed homosexuality was caused by an overbearing mother and an absent father. Socarides refused to accept that being gay wasn’t a mental illness.

In 2008 therapist-parented Emma Cook wrote of her own upbringing (and that of other adult children of therapists) in The Guardian. On her own childhood:

I grew up, like many therapists’ kids, listening to conversations peppered with therapeutic terminology – words such as ‘dependent’, ‘defensive’, ‘in denial’ and ‘depressed’ were always in the air. Inevitably, it affects how you view other people; how you judge and classify behaviour. It’s fine if you’re the one with the authority and power to issue these judgments, or if you’re a patient paying to hear them, but not so good if you’re a child on the receiving end.

How do people respond to hearing your parent is a therapist? Cook states, “There is either admiration, along the lines of: ‘How marvellous — someone who can really understand you. Who could be more qualified to empathise with all your problems?’ Or the opposite: ‘Poor you. What a nightmare — did they try to psychoanalyse you all the time?'”

Cook believes, though, that the benefits outweigh the problems: “Some of my mother’s more creative interpretations could be irksome (I still wince when I think of a certain Sunday lunch during my adolescence when, fiddling with my hair, my mother informed me this enduring trait was clearly a ‘masturbatory habit’), but I am grateful for being encouraged to view the world in a more analytical way; always questioning other people’s behaviour as well as my own.”

Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks (2010) is a book by journalist Micah Toub. Both his mom and dad were Jungian psychologists who divorced during his childhood.

By way of introducing Toub’s book, mom-shrink-raised Jessica Grose says in Slate that “people without therapist parents assume that those of us raised by mental health professionals are total loons. After they ascertain that we are in fact not ‘insane,’ the question that follows is almost always: But did she shrink you?”

All parents…mess with their kids’ heads. My parents’ being psychologists only changed the language of it,” states Toub.

According to Grose, Yes, they shrunk him.

A brief excerpt from his book:

Our family culture was a particularly calm and encouraging one. ‘That’s good that I died in your dream, Micah,’ my father once told me. ‘That means you’re integrating your inner father and becoming more independent.’

We talked about our problems, and we understood that our issues with each other were often just issues within ourselves. ‘I am angry with you right now because the part of me represented by you is not being allowed to emerge into consciousness,’ we might say. ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’