“FROM SCREEN TO THERAPEUTIC SETTING: IMAGES OF THERAPY INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE OFFICE“
by Prof. Dr. Pedro Oliveira,
Clinical Psychologist, Member of the Portuguese Order of Psychologists, MSc on Anthropology and Child Development, PhD in Social Anthropology, Portugal
In the Western world, the influence of American culture in entertainment, film and music is everywhere. Popular interpretations of Freud, expressed in authors like Woody Allen, The Silence of the Lambs or series like The Sopranos, abound in American culture. While film representations actively contribute to shaping an image of psychoanalysis for lay audiences, through film, the broader field of psychotherapy and clinical psychology has become equally associated with specific cinematic references.
Film representation does not stay outside the therapy office. Patients’ understanding of the psychotherapy process, at the point of deciding to enter therapy or especially in an initial phase, is likely influenced by popular conceptions of it. Despite the various negative representations of therapists on film (and the warnings of fellow psychologists to rise against them) I contend that patients’ spontaneous references to ‘therapy on film’ can be dealt with as significant clinical material. To achieve this, one should, ideally, practice a double-gaze over this kind of data, i.e., one that stems from a clinical view (setting the evoked image of therapy on film against the patient and their history) while simultaneously bearing a ‘culture-based view’ (i.e. placing the evoked image in its wider cultural meaning).
After tracing a brief cultural history of therapy on film, I move to a couple of psychotherapy vignettes where popular images of therapy are talked about in the session, while their meaning is interpreted and explored. Finally, I suggest that the perceived authenticity of the therapeutic process by the patient is probably partially related to perceiving the encounter with the therapist as not abiding by its cultural representation.
Trained initially in clinical psychology, with an emphasis on psychodynamics and systemic approaches (University of Coimbra), Pedro Oliveira moved onto doing an MSc in anthropology and child development (Brunel University, London) sponsored by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. A PhD in social anthropology, focusing on cultural and class difference in contemporary urban identities, followed. With clinical experience gained in Portugal and the UK (Tavistock Clinic and WLMHT), Pedro maintains a dual identity as a clinical psychologist and a social anthropologist working across different applied fields, from psychotherapy to consumer research.