Fictional accounts of therapy
October 4, 2013 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for fictional depictions of therapy, preferably ones where it's taken seriously. More along the lines of In Treatment and The Sopranos than What About Bob? and Analyze This!

I'm always interested in how modern television, film and books portray talk therapy to their audience. I'm less interested in fiction where the therapy is a punchline and also not keen on straight up psychiatric facilities with doctors and drugs and straight jackets (so, not Girl, Interrupted or the first season of American Horror Story. I'm mainly looking for serious depictions of talk therapy, like Dr. Melfi and Tony Soprano.

I'm aware of:

every single Woody Allen movie
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Jimmy P: The Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian
The Sopranos
In Treatment
early seasons of Mad Men

Thank you!
posted by zoomorphic to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hannibal (the new series with Mads Mikkelsen, not the film.) It has sessions with him and his patients, and then his sessions with his own therapist, played by Gillian Anderson.
posted by griphus at 10:31 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good Will Hunting
posted by mattbucher at 10:32 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Silver Linings Playbook (book and movie, but more the book).
posted by sweetkid at 10:33 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Er, although the character is a psychiatrist by trade, he definitely acts more as a traditional talk therapist than a prescribing doctor. Basically the same deal as Dr. Melfi.)
posted by griphus at 10:33 AM on October 4, 2013

posted by sweetkid at 10:34 AM on October 4, 2013

August by Judith Rossner. It's from the 80s; not sure how well it holds up.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:37 AM on October 4, 2013

By Blood by Ellen Ullman is one of my all time favorite books.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:37 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Prince of Tides. (Decent book, kind of crappy movie. YMMV.)
posted by mudpuppie at 10:39 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not exactly modern, but one of my favorite literary memoirs of psychoanalytic therapy is Marie Cardinal's The Words to Say It. I found it extremely compelling and relatable even though it is from the twentieth century. I believe it is one of the better accounts of how therapeutic change is subjectively experience.
posted by amileighs at 10:39 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gateway by Fred Pohl.
posted by Eddie Mars at 10:40 AM on October 4, 2013

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (both the book and the movie, they're very different)
posted by whenbynowandtreebyleaf at 10:42 AM on October 4, 2013

Robert B. Parker's novels frequently feature therapists and therapy. His main character, Spenser, is in a long term committed relationship with a therapist, Susan Silverman; while she doesn't analyze Spenser, she does offer her opinions on his cases at times.

Susan Silverman is also the therapist for another Parker character, the female private detective Sunny Randall. Meanwhile, Parker's troubled small town police chief Jesse Stone, a recovering alcoholic, sees a therapist (and former cop) named Dix.
posted by Gelatin at 10:42 AM on October 4, 2013

Ordinary People.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:42 AM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

There are a few episodes of Elementary where the Watson/Liu character is trying to figure out what she wants out of life and out of her weird relationship with Sherlock Holmes. If you check out the episodes with Linda Emond as Dr. Candace Reed you can see them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:42 AM on October 4, 2013

David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method is focused on Freud, Jung, and the birth of talk therapy.
posted by UncleBoomee at 10:44 AM on October 4, 2013

The Good Patient
Therapy: A Novel is from the psychologist's point of view.
posted by zizzle at 10:44 AM on October 4, 2013

Seconding Ordinary People, both the book and the movie. A must read and see based on your interests.
posted by msjoannabanana at 10:45 AM on October 4, 2013

There's hypnotherapy in the recent Trance.
posted by biffa at 10:46 AM on October 4, 2013

Yes, Hannibal is great for this. (If you can handle the somewhat over-the-top gore.)

There's also Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, which I believe takes the concept of therapy seriously despite being a comedy (but I haven't seen much of it, to be fair).
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:53 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also not to end-run this list generation but TV Tropes breaks down notable examples of therapy into three different sorts and it might be worth seeing if it jogs your memory for other examples.
posted by jessamyn at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2013

Sybil is fictionalised, if not entirely fictional.
posted by goo at 10:54 AM on October 4, 2013

The Bob Newhart Show
posted by Asparagus at 10:58 AM on October 4, 2013

The Manticore, by Robertson Davies, is the account of the Jungian therapy of one person.
posted by janey47 at 10:58 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, Bob Newhart probably doesn't fit your criterion of "taking it seriously." Sorry.
posted by Asparagus at 11:03 AM on October 4, 2013

I was watching this episode of Maude the other day (cuz Im gangsta as fuck jeah jeah) called Maude Bares Her Soul. It's just her talking to a silent therapist the whole time. It's a little hackneyed but groundbreaking for the time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:08 AM on October 4, 2013

David Lodge, Therapy.
posted by BibiRose at 11:09 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Departed has a therapist character who's treating the protagonist and living with the antagonist.
posted by carsonb at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2013

My mother, a psych/mental health nursing professor with years of clinical experience, was visiting once when Dream Team happened to come on TV. I assumed it'd be awful and she'd hate it, but she was interested, so we watched the whole thing. She (and I) was surprised at the rather sensitive and realistic portrayal of therapy and mental illness in general. It's a goofy silly movie, mostly, but it does fit your criteria.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? has direct depictions of Bechdel's work with a couple therapists, as well as a backstory about psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and some of his therapeutic work with children. The whole novel is infused with therapy, honestly. Her Dykes to Watch Out For characters had some storylines on and off about work with therapists, but nothing as extensive as AYMM.

Ellen Forney's Marbles also shows some work with therapists for bipolar disorder, and Phoebe Potts's Good Eggs shows work with therapists for depression.

I haven't read Philippa Perry's Couch Fiction yet, but I would like to. (As you can probably tell, graphic novels by women are kind of my thing.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

She's Come Undone, by Wally Lamb.
posted by Specklet at 11:24 AM on October 4, 2013

The recent BBC Sherlock has some brief depictions of therapy.

The movie Side Effects is more about psychiatric drugs than talk therapy, but there's some in the beginning.
posted by Sullenbode at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2013

Irvin Yalom has written several novels in which therapy plays a significant role, including:

Lying on the Couch

When Nietszche Wept

The Schopenhauer Cure

The Spinoza Problem
posted by janey47 at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg
posted by book 'em dano at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, I don't know if you know about the teenage-girls-with-eating-disorders subgenre of YA books, but those usually involve interactions with therapists.
posted by book 'em dano at 12:01 PM on October 4, 2013

It's Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini. Main character ends up in a psych ward, but he sees a regular therapist and a psychiatrist before that point.

There's a movie too, though I haven't seen it.
posted by ActionPopulated at 12:16 PM on October 4, 2013

Best answer: The End of the Road, by John Barth, features an unusual (but very serious) therapist.

In Local Anesthetic (Örtlich betäubt), by Günter Grass, the narrator opines that psychotherapy is dead, and gets his therapy from his dentist, who has a psychotherapeutic approach based on dental carries. But it's still serious.
posted by ubiquity at 12:16 PM on October 4, 2013

Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Vampire Tapestry both depict therapy sessions, as does Into The Wise Dark.
posted by spunweb at 12:21 PM on October 4, 2013

Equus -- its treatment of talk therapy isn't exactly realistic, but it is taken seriously
posted by phoenixy at 12:21 PM on October 4, 2013

House of Games.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:28 PM on October 4, 2013

I also came to recommend Yalom's books. I've only read Lying on the Couch and When Nietzsche Wept and they were great, especially the second one.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:08 PM on October 4, 2013

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
posted by Grunyon at 1:12 PM on October 4, 2013

The show Six Feet Under had a LOT of therapy. Several characters are shown in sessions with therapists, and a few more ARE therapists. There's also a lot of discussion about the practice of therapy.
posted by lunasol at 1:19 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

An Unmarried Woman.
posted by mefireader at 1:35 PM on October 4, 2013

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen is a fairly recent YA novel about a boy whose brother was a school shooter.
posted by morganannie at 2:10 PM on October 4, 2013

Will McAvoy on The Newsroom spends some time in therapy, as do several West Wing characters (Josh Lyman, President Bartlet). Aaron Sorkin seems to like therapy.
posted by decathecting at 2:19 PM on October 4, 2013

Best answer: The main character in the novel The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry is a psychotherapist, and therapy is depicted from her point of view as both practitioner and client.
posted by camyram at 3:51 PM on October 4, 2013

Portnoy's Complaint. I actually do think it's serious about people's relationship to therapy.
posted by brookeb at 3:55 PM on October 4, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers! I should have realized that Alison Bechdel's new book would be a lot like Fun Home, which was heavily influenced by her time in therapy. I'll check out many of these suggestions.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2013

My Mad Fat Diary (which is, awesomely, available to watch on YouTube) has several excellent scenes with Ian Hart as the main character's therapist.
posted by keever at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2013

In the movie Prime, Meryl Streep plays a therapist, and although there are some laughs I think it's intended to be a serious portrayal. (The character makes a choice that seems to me an extremely unlikely one for a therapist, so I have trouble taking her seriously, but ymmv.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 11:17 PM on October 4, 2013

In Hope Springs, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones have several sessions with a marriage counselor (Steve Carell). That is in fact what the entire movie is about. It was marketed as a comedy, which is misleading--a friend of mine who is a counselor said he thought its depiction of the sessions was very accurate and well-done.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:10 AM on October 5, 2013

Other Women by Lisa Alther concentrates almost solely on a therapist/client relationship. It sounds a bit soapie in some of the reviews, and it was written in 1985 so it's a little outdated, but I find the development of the therapy "journey" very interesting and still reread the book now and then.
posted by andraste at 4:20 AM on October 6, 2013

Being Erica might be too unusual for this, as the therapy involves time travel, but the episodes involving group therapy had echoes of my own experience. I don't know what 'normal' therapy it would correspond to, but the therapy takes the form of a visit to a doctor who then takes Erica through a past regret in order to realise something about her current situation, and it is taken seriously.
posted by mippy at 3:27 AM on October 7, 2013

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