[Necessary Disclosure: We want to be clear up front. There’s nothing wrong with going to therapy and if you feel like you need to talk to someone, there are a lot of real-life, trained therapists who are capable and ready to help you. We’re about to drag a bunch of fictional therapists for being straight up TRASH, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that therapy can’t be helpful, because it can be.]
Sending a fictional character to therapy makes for some excellent television. It’s a quick and dynamic way for the audience to get a better understanding of a character’s personality and motivations in a way that is more subtle than Tony Soprano turning direct to camera and saying “I have depression as a result of my mother and my crimes!”
Too bad not all TV therapists are known for giving out solid advice. For every realistic portrayal of how a therapist should behave, there are a dozen examples of TV shrinks with boundary issues or even severe mental problems of their own. While this can be forgiven if the bad shrink appears in a sitcom, it becomes really problematic when therapists on television who give bad advice pop up in a serious drama where the audience is meant to take them seriously. On that note, here are some truly horrible therapists from TV shows. Vote up the worst offenders.
Is Ben the worst fictional therapist ever? He just might be. At the very least, you have to hope that your therapist is extra-intuitive, but Ben doesn’t even pick up on the fact that most of his clients are actual ghosts. He treats ghosts for a while before it is finally made clear to him that he’s been talking to dead people, which means you can't count on him to pick up on some of your deeper issues. He also cheats on his wife with a student, has his wife institutionalized when she says she was raped and he reveals personal information to clients without a second thought. Ethics aren’t high on his list of priorities.
As a character on the show, Melfi is great. She allows the audience to gain insight into Tony Soprano and showcase his more vulnerable side. The problem is that she as a therapist is as excited about the dramatic goings on of a crime family as we are as audience members. In fact, Melfi puts her safety at risk due to her morbid curiosity about the inner workings of a mobster, even after he physically threatens her. It’s pretty obvious that Tony will never have the epiphanies she probably longs for, but she pushes him nonetheless because despite her moralizing, she still thinks it’s really cool to be dealing with a famous mobster. She’s faced with countless ethical problems (including knowing that Tony has killed and will probably kill again), but she doesn’t back out, proving once again that crossing ethical boundaries makes for riveting television.
#65 on The Greatest TV Doctors
Isaac Roa (How to Get Away with Murder)
Roa is tasked with preventing Annalise from falling off the wagon after she gets sober. A pretty straightforward job, one would think. And yet, their relationship becomes problematic in a matter of a couple of episodes. Viewers find out that Annalise is actually a trigger for Roa, who is dealing with severe mental health issues of his own. Instead of referring her to another therapist, he becomes way too invested in the lawyer’s life. He pushes her too hard to reveal information she’s not ready to share, even when she points this out. And he even stalks another client, Bonnie, at work after she quits therapy.
We’re not experts or anything, but we feel we should make a public service announcement for our less experienced readers here: if your therapist is full-blown stalking someone— even if that someone is also a client— you are dealing with a bad therapist.
Arnold Wayne (Mad Men)
Wayne is Betty Draper’s psychiatrist and he was pretty terrible even by awful 1960s standards. When Betty is having trouble, Don sends her to a psychiatrist to address her feelings which would be really good and helpful, except Dr. Wayne is all too eager to tell Don everything that he and Betty talk about. Don calls Dr. Wayne after all of his sessions with Betty and asks him some version of “So, what’s wrong with my silly, trash wife?” Dr. Wayne has no problem violating doctor/patient confidentiality and filling Don in on everything he learns. Therapy and psychiatry require a tremendous amount of trust, and that gets thrown out the window if your doctor is ready to hop on the phone with your husband to basically say “Yeah, you’re wife’s just annoying and crazy. Women, am I right?”