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Analyze This: Best and Worst of TV, Film Therapists

(Posted February 27, 2006)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Mark McKellop, assistant professor of psychology at Juniata College, has centered his research on how psychologists and their professional ethics are portrayed in film and television roles.

Here's his take on the best and worst psychologists ever portrayed on film and TV.

Best

--Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) on the first season of "The Sopranos."

--Emil Skoda (played by J.K. Simmons) and Elizabeth Olivet (played by Caroline McCormick) of the original "Law and Order" series. "They are not perfect but they are pretty good," McKellop says. "Skoda really sticks to the science. He quotes studies and doesn't go beyond his scientific opinion."

--Dr. George Huang (played by B.D. Wong) on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit." "He sticks to his guns and doesn't give in to the district attorney's pressure or pressure from the cops to violate patient rights."

--Malcolm Crowe (played by Bruce Willis) in "The Sixth Sense." "His interaction and questions with the boy (Haley Joel Osment) are very good. If you forget the fact that he's dead, he's a very good therapist," McKellop says.

Worst

--Susan Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand) in "Prince of Tides." "She's treating Nick Nolte's suicidal sister, then she starts treating him, and then she starts sleeping with Nolte. That's the cardinal sin. This is probably the worst movie for psychologists, they all hate it," he says.

--Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) in "Color of Night." "He visits a colleague and sits in on a therapy session and when the colleague is killed he takes over the group session, both unethical moves. Also, group therapy sessions usually have some kind of theme, such as drug abuse, alcoholism. This group seems to be made up of a hodgepodge of afflictions--psychotics, phobics, neurotics."

--Isaac Barr (played by Richard Gere) in "Final Analysis." "Gere is treating Uma Thurman and he meets her sister, played by Kim Basinger. He starts sleeping with Basinger. Therapists should have no relationships with family members of patients," McKellop says.

--"Don Juan DeMarco" with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando. "This isn't a bad movie but the plot has Depp's character, who thinks he is Don Juan, teaching Brando's character, the therapist, the true meaning of life. The message is that 'Shrinks don't understand how life works, the crazy guy understands life better.'"

--Leo Marvin (played by Richard Dreyfuss) in "What About Bob?" "People love this movie, but it's message is that this therapist has screwed up his entire family and it takes this goofy patient, played by Bill Murray, to set things straight."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.