Feb 23

Bad Therapy Boundaries and Beyond On TV and Film

Looks as though How I Met Your Mother has finally found a way to get rid of Kevin, he of bad therapy boundaries, he who never should have been dating his former client Robin.

Let me make this brief: Before knowing that she can never have kids, Kevin proposes. Robin discloses. He again proposes. She accepts. She discloses she doesn’t want kids either. He’s unfazed. She insists he really thinks this through. He un-proposes. Done.

So, this has gone the way of all of those inappropriate shrink/client relationships we’ve seen on TV or in movies that eventually crumble because in the end the client realizes he or she’s been exploited or because of other negative effects on the client’s well-being or…

Whoa. Wait a minute. Wait a darn minute. That actually never happened on HIMYM, and…well, has it ever happened anywhere on TV? In the movies?

Back around 1993, a study regarding therapy boundaries in U.S. movies showed that there were 22 that featured female therapists having sexual relationships with male clients; eight had male therapists getting involved with female clients. (In real life, by the way, more male therapists take advantage of female clients than the other way around.)

The psychiatrist behind this film research, Glen O. Gabbard, states: “Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the movie The Silence of the Lambs was probably more ethical than most screen psychiatrists–he only ate his patients.” (For more info, see the second edition—1999— of Gabbard’s book Psychiatry and the Cinema, cowritten with his brother Krin, a literature professor.)

As stated by Dr. Ofer Zur, Ph.D., author of Boundaries in Psychotherapy: Ethical and Clinical Explorations (2007) on his website:

Sexual relationships between therapists and current or recently terminated clients are always unethical and often illegal.

Whereas in real life, most clients who’ve become lovers of their therapists are significantly harmed emotionally, most of the celluloid clients and shrinks seem to suffer no such thing. Many of these films, in fact, have even been billed as exciting “romances” by their producers. And, Zur adds:

What is interesting about some of these movies is that they depict the sexual relationships as effective in promoting health and healing.

Fortunately, more and more of the public is aware that it’s wrong for therapists to develop romantic or sexual relationships with clients and/or clients’ family members. One way that I see this every day, in fact, is in the disproportionately large number of hits to this blog by people searching for info about whether or not the therapist in the movie 50/50 and Kevin on HIMYM have been unethical. It’s as though these searchers already know the answer but need some validation.

I don’t remember if the following scene from The First Wives Club (1996) happens before or after Annie (Diane Keaton) finds out that her therapist (Marcia Gay Harden) has become involved with her husband—probably before—but, in either case, it may serve as some small comfort to those who’ve felt betrayed by their shrinks:

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.