The Cinematic Therapist: An Exploration of How the Portrayals of Mental Health Therapists in Films Impact Novice Therapist Trainees
Date of Paper/Work
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.)
Type of Paper/Work
Tatyana Ramirez, Nathaniel Nelson, Len Jennings
This study is focused on the portrayals of mental health professionals in popular films and their impact on novice psychotherapist trainees. Three Master’s students enrolled in their first psychology practicum participated in three focus groups and individual interviews. Each focus group consisted of participants jointly viewing and discussing one of three films depicting a mental health professional. The choice of each film was consensually agreed upon by all participants. The three chosen films were Good Will Hunting (1997), Bad Therapy (2020), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
Interpretive phenomenological analysis of data suggested that movie portrayals impacted novice trainees on several levels, including the levels of emotions, awareness of the client experience, self-efficacy, professional identity, and views of the field of psychotherapy. Results indicated that novice psychotherapy trainees experienced the portrayals of mental health professionals in films as stereotypical, although a mix of both positive and negative qualities was identified. In response to the portrayals, participants experienced negative emotions of anxiety and anger, positive emotions of hope and commitment to their future careers, as well as increased awareness of the importance of diligence in ethical practice. Viewing the films helped participants develop a greater understanding of the client experience, including the effects of misinformation and stigma propagated through films. They discussed their personal experiences of stigma associated with the mental health profession, exploring how film portrayals of therapists perpetuated this stigma, and they also shared that watching the films evoked a sense of pride in their professional identities and a sense of connection to the field.
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Schurman, Kate, "The Cinematic Therapist: An Exploration of How the Portrayals of Mental Health Therapists in Films Impact Novice Therapist Trainees" (2022). Professional Psychology Dissertations 2015-. 82.