Pop Culture

Top 7 Movie Therapists

As much as TV shows love to put their characters in therapy, so do movies.   A lot of movies really like to focus on the mental illness and the therapy is only a small part of it.  Here are a few good movies where the therapist has a more prominent role.

Nurse RatchedOne Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – While not actually a therapist, psychiatric ward Nurse Ratched needs to be on any list of movie therapists just for the sheer WTF-ery of her character.  Manipulative, evil, and with a loose hand for dispensing medication she does more mental harm than good. If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.

Analyze This – Billy Crystal as the bored therapist whose life gets  turned upside down when a mobster comes to him for therapy.  Hilarity ensues!  Actually this movie isn’t half bad and I like when they have therapists who have their own problems they have to work through.

Good Will Hunting – It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this movie, but I think I prefer Robin William’s portrayal of a medical professional here to him as that obnoxious Patch Adams.

Sixth Sense –  Dead psychologists still count, right? (Spoiler Alert)  You have to give a dead guy credit to being that committed to his profession.  Plus, on my little list here I think he’s actually probably the best therapist.  You know what they say about shrinks?  The only good one’s a dead one!  I don’t know if that’s a real joke or not.Bill Murrary Screen Cap

What About Bob — I’ll admit it.  I like this movie.  Sometimes when I think about progress I am making in my own life, I think of Bill Murray’s OCD sufferer repeating “baby steps” to himself.  This movie has Richard Dreyfuss as a man who loves being a therapist so much, he has gone so far as to name his children Sigmund and Anna.

Ordinary People – Honorable mention in this list goes to Judd Hirsch’s Dr. Berger.  I’ve never seen Ordinary People, but Dr. Berger always comes up in mentions of good on-screen therapists.  If only they had it on Netflix Instant.

Silence of the Lambs – Say what you will about Nurse Ratched, at least she didn’t eat people.  Hannibal Lecter is, and always will be, my favorite on-screen psychologist.   Sorry Jack Crawford, but I do want Dr. Lecter inside my head. Hannibal Lecter, close up

8 replies on “Top 7 Movie Therapists”

Hey Luci,

How about a bad therapists post?

In the 70’s-mid 80’s female therapists, especially of the social worker variety, were portrayed as feminazi long-haired activist types. My mother, a demure Chinese woman who earned an MSW in 1962 greatly took offense at these characterizations.

Although she wasn’t 100% professional–didn’t cross the line, but toed it–I vaguely remember liking Jill Clayburgh’s therapist in “An Unmarried Woman” because she gives Erika the freedom to explore a new independent life. Vague because it’s been a few years since I watched the film.

And as unrealistic as it was written I have a soft spot for Lee J. Cobb’s Dr. Luther in “The Three Faces of Eve”. Also like Dr. Kik (Leo Genn) in “The Snake Pit”, Dr. Swinford (Howard Da Silva) in “Lisa and David”, and Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift)–but he shouldn’t have let Catherine kiss him–in “Suddenly Last Summer”.

I have never seen any of those movies! I need to brush up!
I have an MSW as well…I think your mom and I would have a lot to talk about with how much we dislike the way social workers are portrayed on TV. I’ve been contemplating a post about it, I’ll get on it. It’s funny because in my home town the therapists really are all like that ’60s stereotype – long hair, flowy-skirts, colorful scarves, making Mandalas and stuff. It’s so funny. And I definitely don’t fit that stereotype either. Now what drives me nuts is the social workers, especially on law and order, are all frumpy, dour, rude tired and overworked and half the time something has gone wrong and it’s blamed on the SW. I go off on rants all the time about it!

OH my mom. You should catch her up on all things modern. She stopped practicing in ’71, and her thinking is frozen in time. Oy when I first explained my son’s and my diagnosis of ADHD I had to reach back and discuss hyperkinesis. LOL

Because I live in “Bankersville”, CT the social workers I’ve encountered are rather traditional professional types, apperance wise. No mandalas here.

And I urge you to go watch those films, especially “Lisa and David”. That is still a good film, although it’s dated in its accuracy. It’s very sympathetic to the main characters and to the mental health professionals. Cannot speak about the Oprah Winfrey production remake starring Brittany Murphy and Lukas Haas.

Personal story: I met and spoke with the star, Keir Dullea (David), during a showing of the film in our hometown a few years ago. Towards the end of the film, during the climactic reunion scene, I heard Mr. Dullea quietly sobbing at the back of the room. After the film ended he shared with us his feelings. He told us that the film was an act of love, that everyone involved knew it was special, had meaning, that they were all doing important work with the movie’s messages. And seeing it in its entirety so many decades later brought back the experience of the production. It was a very touching moment.

Don’t remember if in your original TV therapist post if anybody mentioned Dr. Cornelia Wilbur,as portrayed by Joanne Woodward and Jessica Lange, in the TV miniseries, “Sybil”.

I unabashedly love What About Bob, too. If Bill Murray’s character’s “Baby Steps” book existed, I would read it.

I’ve never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it’s been in my Netflix instant queue for several months now; I think I need to go dig it up and finally watch it…

The first time I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I was in my very-late teens, and man, did I hate Nurse Ratched (but I love you, Louise Fletcher!); and I cheered McMurphy’s efforts!
I saw it a second time in my early 30s, and you know, I had a lot more sympathy for Nurse Ratched. I felt that she was doing her best (without a lot of support) for these men who were very ill, and Jack’s character was doing them <i>more</i> harm by insisting they didn’t need help.
Maybe I need a third viewing now that I’m 40… perhaps I’ll have yet another reaction to it.  :)

Leave a Reply