How therapists are portrayed in fiction

As someone majoring in counseling, I pay close attention to the ways that therapists, (and therapy in general,) are  portrayed in fiction. I’ve found some cases, in both adult and young adult fiction, where the therapist and therapy process was portrayed as being helpful, or at least not something that made the situation worse. In lots of other cases, I’ve read fiction where the therapist is really shown as a pritty bad therapist, and nothing good comes out of the experience for the  character. In young adult  fiction in particular, this bothers  me. I have one particular book I’m thinking of, that I’ve been re-reading recently,

 In After the Wreck by Joyce  Carol Oats, Jenna is involved in a car accident, in which she is seriously injured and her mother  is killed. She goes to live with relatives, and falls in with an emotionally unstable, drug addicted “friend,” who she even admits she can’t trust. Her increasing need to be “in the blue,” in a disconnected drug-induced place away from herself and her feelings, leads her to overdose on Thorazine, an anti-psychotic. After this incident she is sent to therapy with Dr. Freer.

 Dr. Freer, listed in  her town’s yellow pages, is supposed to specialize in  adolescents and young adults. But I wouldn’t go to her, or send any of my friends to her.   Throughout her last session, (only her second full session,) she insists that the overdose was just “an accident” a “stupid mistake,” not a suicide attempt. 

 Dr. Freer’s response, (on page 155) is:

 “An accedental  overdose of a potentially lethal drug, Jenna, on Christmas  Eve in circumstances like yours, you suggest isn’t in some  legitimate way    representative of you? Is that what you’re suggesting dear?”

 Ok, first of all, who talks like that? Particularly to a teenager? Particularly to a teenager who has no desire to be there. Wouldn’t be a better idea to come down to   earth, cut out the big words, (It took me three tries to spell legitimate and it was right in  front of me!) and actually try to build rapport? Even if I were the most  cooperative client in the world, I wouldn’t want to talk to that woman after hearing that mouthful. I would shut down just like Jenna did. 

  Shortly after  this question,  Dr. Freer askes Jenna to tell her  what associations she has with the words ”  accedent” and “accedental.” So she’s possibly a freudian on top of it all! This bugs me too, because it’s how therapists are     stereotypically tereotyply portrayed in movies and books, and perhaps there  are people who don’t know that there are many different  orientations to therapy out there. 

That aside, what is she  expecting the girl to do? Go, “ok, huh… let me think. Accident. Wait, it’s coming… I was in a car accident… with my mother… she died… about six months ago. I think I have PTSD, that’s why I took that drug on Christmas. Wow, it’s all so clear now!” Come on! 

 I think the most disturbing thing about the session was that while they were talking, Jenna was distracting herself from her feelings by clawing at her arms with her nails, discretely of course. When she went to the ladies room, her arms were all marked up and even bleeding. Self-injury, not exactly theraputic!


 No big surprise, Jenna skipped out on her next two  sessions, and never came back. What bugs me about the whole thing is that a teenager reading that could come to the conclusion that all therapists are like Dr. Freer.  Not that there aren’t bad therapists out there. Still it would be nice to have a balanced view.

 Does anyone have  any thoughts? Has anyone read any books where the therapist is portrayed as reasonable? I’m not saying that the therapy has to be successful or that the character in question has to enjoy the process. Results vary  in life, and that should come across in fiction. I’d just like to see some therapists portrayed where they’re not a total useless fluffball.





2 thoughts on “How therapists are portrayed in fiction

    • I agree, I read that book and I like Dr. Berger too very much. Jessica Coburn the therapist in A Hunger Scream is also very good. As is, I think her name is Dr. Saunders, in A Dance for Three.

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