Movies and Psychotherapy
Recently, I’ve had the honor of being a consultant for a movie, currently in production, where a lead character is a clinical psychologist in a futuristic world. I was approached to provide some insight about what it’s like to do my work, and imbue the character with some of my personal traits.￼ I have no doubt that the very talented actor in this role has numerous awards in her future, and it was a humbling experience to talk with her about what I do.
What’s interesting is the self-reflection required for the role “advice” I gave opened a window of inquiry for me, personally, that was reciprocally insightful.
Her: Are you able to touch your patients? (Holding hands, etc.) Or is that considered unprofessional and inappropriate?
Me: You shouldn’t touch your patients, Especially holding hands or hugging. You should hold them with your eyes and your attention. Once I’ve gotten to know somebody, I might touch them lightly on the shoulder, when they’re leaving. But mostly I use my eyes. People have a lot of feelings about touch, and they might end up feeling that it’s a sexual thing. Touch is highly personal. They may not be able to tell you that it makes them uncomfortable. Or they might not realize it later. You don’t have to touch to connect.
Her: Got it! That helps. Thank you. This is very helpful.
Her: If you don’t mind, I also wanted to ask you:
1.) What is your goal when you work with your clients?
2.) How does it make you feel when your goal is achieved? How is it rewarding for you?
Me: First, I ask them what immediate events have led them to seek therapy. Sometimes it’s something that’s been building for a while, other times it’s more acute- like a crisis. The timing of what is happening is absolutely important.
Goals- It’s hard to tell when your goal is achieved. Sometimes clients leave and you don’t know how well they did, or not, until later. Sometimes you never know. Other times when people are in therapy for a long time, you actually see their accomplishments as they occur.
Therapy is not linear, so you see a lot of ups and downs. It’s rewarding to me when people are doing well, of course. But more importantly, it is the process. For example: many people have never spoken openly about their traumas or mental health. It’s been forbidden in their family to talk about feelings. So, creating a safe space where they can actually speak is unbelievably moving and an honor to bear witness.
Success can also mean teaching people how to speak an emotional language, often unfamiliar,￼ where they can be themselves. Many people have never had the opportunity to be or experience who they really are, without punishment or criticism. It’s literally learning a foreign language. The inflection, parsing, syntax, and timing are completely new. And then you see them feeling heard. You see it in their eyes. There is nothing better, truly.
I call these seemingly small moments of accomplishment stones across the river in my practice. You can use these steppingstones to get across raging rapids. And you keep laying them down. Practice. You might fumble or slip, but you don’t fall.
Her: Beautifully said! This is brilliant! I’m using this for my work. THANK YOU!!! You’re amazing. I respect you. I’m dedicating my role to you.